Heroes in Film & The Cross-Cultural Experience

Over the course of the last few weeks, I had the opportunity to exchange conversations via Skype with Jane Chai and Yang Mei, two students studying English at the Beijing Normal University.  During our first conversation, we got to know each other a little better and discussed our interests, favorite films as children (we both enjoyed the Smurfs and Tom & Jerry), and recent films we have seen.

Because I have not seen very many Chinese films (the first one was viewed in this course!), I was initially a little worried that my partners and I would have much to discuss.  However, I was surprised about how much we have in common and found it rather exciting to engage in a cross-cultural exchange.  While Jane and Yang Mei prefer films that involve romance and “girly” narratives, I mentioned that I enjoyed films about strong protagonists and struggles between man and society.  Right away Jane suggested that I view Let the Bullets Fly as I suggested Braveheart for them.


Brief Summaries of Films

BraveheartBraveheart is an Academy-Award winning American historical drama directed by Mel Gibson. The movie starts out with a young William Wallace as his father and brother are on their way to see King Edward Longshanks and the Scottish nobles.  However, Wallace’s father and brother realize the nobles have been hung.  In an attempt to fight King Edward, both men are killed.  Wallace leaves to live with his uncle and doesn’t return to Scotland until he is an adult.  He marries his childhood love, Murron, but she is soon after killed.  Infuriated by her death, he gets his fellow men together and they plan to take over the land from the tyrant, King Edward Longshanks.  He defeats the English in Scotland and advances to their land, going on to raid the city of York.  King Edward discovers this and takes the problem into his own hands.  He bribes the nobles with riches and land, and they turn on Wallace.  Wallace is eventually convicted of treason and sentenced to death.  However, when the Scottish finally gain independence from England, Wallace is remembered as the man who saved the people.

LTBFLet the Bullets Fly is a Chinese film directed by Jiang Wen.  The movie starts out in China during the 1920s. The main character Zhang is a leader of a group of bandits who waylay governor Ma Bangde’s train. Ma is headed to Goose Town to become governor; however the train flies through the air off of the tracks, killing everyone but Ma and his wife.  To save his own life, Ma tells Zhang that he is the governor’s advisor and will help Zhang imitate the governor.  As Zhang approaches Goose Town, he meets Huang, a powerful leader of the town’s gang.  Before Zhang, past governors usually split the taxes from the town’s citizens with Huang, however, Zhang believes in not stealing money from the lower classes.  Through a series of unfortunate events and complications, Ma and his wife are killed, and Huang is out to get Zhang to become governor.  When Zhang finally kills Huang, it appears that it is Huang’s look alike.  The real Huang appears on top of his castle, very much alive.  However, with his carelessness he kills himself with his own mines.  Zhang leaves Goose Town and travels to Shanghai.




Themes & Defining the Hero
In our second conversation, I briefly talked to Yang Mei about the themes in the film.  She claimed that Let the Bullets Fly had no theme because although Zhang is protecting the people, he is a cruel man.  This itself could be fit into the themes of corruption and heroism.  Both Let The Bullets Fly and Braveheart contain heroes that are not perfectly moral; however, they will do anything for their people.  They both remind me of Robin Hood, a bandit who steals from the rich and gives to the poor.  You see this exact scenario in Let the Bullets Fly and a little bit in Braveheart, as William Wallace attempts to free Scotland from the antagonistic British.

With that in mind, we also discussed the role of the hero in these films and how that role may change between American and Chinese Films.  This is what Jane Chai had to say about the role of the hero in Braveheart:

 “The image of hero in American film is always quite lonely and isolated. The power of individual is magnified. Like spider man, superman or other classic heroes in American film, the heroes are often expected to shoulder the duty of rescuing the nation or even the human being. However, heroes will always face friction from two sides. One is from the majority; the other is from the authority”

She also analyzes the American hero in context with Pluto’s Cave Theory:

 “Plato assumes that all human beings are like people living in a cave. One day a man turns back and sees the light coming through the hole of the cave. He goes out and find out the real well-lighted world. However, the people who haven’t discovered it will still believe that the light in the cave is the brightest light and the shadow on the wall is the only real thing in the world. People sometimes are like the prisoners who are imprisoned in a cave by governors. When the hero—the one who discover the real light outside the cave—try to lead them out of the cave, people will not believe him or will even regard him insane.”

In many American films you see the hero as somebody who is fighting against a higher authority for the greater good of the people.  They may not be perfect morally, but they still have the right intentions.  Like Jane Chai said, it is also common to find one sole hero, as the film focuses on his or her character’s flaws and actions.

The Chinese hero, on the other hand, is pure and is expected to be perfect like Gods.  Chinese heroes are less about the individual and more on guiding others morally and spiritually while focusing on the morality.  With this in mind, Let the Bullets Fly comes across as a westernized Chinese film.  It almost feels like it was made in America because it focuses on this one character that is morally corrupt.


The Cross-Cultural Experience
Through new media, we can make connections with others that were not possible years ago.  It’s incredible to be able to speak to someone on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds.  Even though we come from different cultural backgrounds, we still enjoy the same films and television shows.

I not only learned about Chinese films, but I also learned about Chinese values and traditions.  While a hero can be tied into a lot of different characters here in American (super hero, corrupt hero, etc.), heroes are mo divine in Chinese values.  Furthermore, I thought it was amazing how my partners were expressing their condolences about the Boston Marathon bombings that happened recently.  Through new digital media, we can stay up-to-date and instantly discover current events around the world, no matter how far away.  This whole experience how showed me that we are not really that different after all and that technology is the future; it is the way to stay connected to other cultures.