I don’t normally talk about my research in film reviews, but NO JET LI, a collaboration between ALRA and Yellow Earth, sums up pretty much the issues that I want to investigate in my academic career. It is evident that the writer-director Lab Ky Mo has been thinking a lot about diaspora Chinese identities, and what such unique identities mean to us and to the others.
Throughout the years, Lab has been very active in film and TV making. Having directed many short films, a feature film, two TV episodes and several advertisements, Lab has been working closely with the UK Film Council, BBC, Channel 4, and many independent UK film companies. His rich experience also leads him to professional teaching at institutes and conducting workshops. The fact that Lab’s works have gained positive attention from the media is a proof of the Chinese oversea community’s contribution towards local arts and culture. His portfolio should continue to inspire the next generation. Until that day when identities, nationality, belonging and cultural clashes are no longer parts of our society’s consciousness, Lab’s films shall keep its important role not only in counter filmmaking, but also in liberating the voice of the subalterns.
… cultural stereotypes are like an economic circle – there are consumers because there are products …
Although NO JET LI is not stylish in comparison to Lab’s other works such as 3 MILE RADIUS, I recommend this film because of its political agenda and its investigation once again towards diaspora Chinese identities. By adapting a meta-narrative strategy, the short film tells a story about how a group of Chinese people plan to perform a Shakespeare play with some new faces, in order to make a point of the liberation of race and sexuality. There are certain rules established for this particular project: the group refuses to use any stereotype symbols, because they don’t want to enhance the stereotypical Chinese image in the West any further – therefore, “no Jet Li” (Kung Fu). However, cultural stereotypes are like an economic circle – there are consumers because there are products, the circle goes around and around, there is no way out. Although the rules have been established as anti-stereotypes, the actors end up importing Chinese culture aesthetics again to aim for a wider success.
Perhaps in order to have certain messages spreading, the first strategy is to produce what the audience is familiar with. A Shakespeare play with Kung Fu and dialogues in Chinese dialect visualizes the current problems that Chinese Diasporas are facing – a confusion about our identities, a desire to be recognized, and the helplessness in such situation. Perhaps the only way to get out of this endless circulation is to accept the existence of this cultural-economic circulation. We sought to look at the situation as an outsider rather than as someone within in order to find our way out. NO JET LI addresses this issue from an objective perspective, and Lab has made a successful liberation through situating his gaze as an outsider through the medium of a camera.
I recommend this film to any Cultural Studies course at colleges and universities. It will also make a good piece for any contemporary art exhibition that deals with the theme of identity.
No Jet Li was filmed in July 2013 alongside another project, GOD SPEAKS CHINESE, which you can view below.