Bruce Lee Characters in Shimizu’s Straightjacket Sexualities

I found Shimizu’s reading of Bruce Lee characters in Straightjacket Sexualities to be interesting, but complex. On the one hand, it makes a broader commentary about how US society’s definition of masculinity relies heavily on phallic, aggressive sexuality, violence, and the ability to dominate both men and women. While Bruce Lee’s characters in American films confront and interact with this definition of manhood, they do not come without issues. Primarily, Shimizu points out that his characters are a poor frame for privileging Asian American manhood on screen. At first, I thought this point was confusing and contradictory to her overall embrace of Bruce Lee characters pushing the limits and stereotypes given to Asian American male roles (of being unattractive, weak, or asexual). After all, she goes into how his range of male characters are attractive, sexual, and have the power to brutalize and physically dominate other men and attract and conquer women. Not only does this break various stereotypes, but it opened up the roles available to Asian American men.

And yet, Bruce Lee characters enactment of this manhood has strings attached. They cannot be completely reckless, mindlessly passionate, or feel good about their enemies defeats. Rather, the manhood depicted in his films is an ethical manhood, as described by Shimizu. I think this is what makes her reading more complicated. Valuing unethical acts of violence and domination for personal gain in male characters I would argue is bad. So for this reason, I would think Bruce Lee films not only break Asian American male stereotypes, but also upgrade the public’s perception of what is considered “manly”. However, it is interesting that Shimizu brings up other white male leads like Clint Eastwood who portray characters that seemingly have no moral compass or conscious in regard to their actions. Yet, they are still idolized as “macho” men, tough, strong, and dominating. The ethical (or unethical) decisions and reflections that accompany their acts of violence seem to relate to how their interact and treat women on the screen. This suggests a larger issue at play– the ability to look strong and be aggressive and violent is correlated with the ability to attract women, just as the ethical character attached with feeling remorse after hurting an enemy would relate to being attentive to the woman’s feelings rather than a simple act of conquer. Bruce Lee characters, therefore, employ other elements to romantic and sexual relationship that work very well on screen, as one group commented less is more. Overall, Bruce Lee characters are praised for their ability to combat two separate stereotypes at once, however Shimizu points out how they can perpetuate or set the stage for Asian American male roles who must always prioritize community and “the greater good” before his own desires, especially if he represents an aggressive, violent, or sexual character. This goes back to our discussion about roles in films. An individual may want to portray a certain character because of a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with race. In Bruce Lee’s case, he is actual representing the idea that one can be a man who is attractive, strong, and skilled, but also respectful and compassionate for others. However, when roles become de-individualized and broadened into a type-cast stereotype, this is how Asian Americans can be set into specific roles and characters which define how one gender or the other must act, starting the stage for yet another stereotype.


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