Asian Film Pouncing on Hollywood

From Jackie Chan to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Asian cinema has pounced on Hollywood with all the force of a Bruce Lee kick.

And there will be even greater Asian influence in U.S. movies than just the façade of Mann's Chinese Theater. Promising more Hong Kong-style balletic violence, the heroes of The Matrix 2 and The Matrix 3 are flying into theaters in 2002 and 2003. Jackie Chan is reprising his role as a goofy but deadly cop in Rush Hour 2. And still flush with Oscar acclaim, Taiwanese director Ang Lee will sink his teeth into a Crouching Tiger prequel.

"I suspect we will see a lot more people flying through the air or at least leaping and bounding and spinning," GQ critic-at-large Terrence Rafferty told Fox News Channel.

As if we haven't already. The influence of highly choreographed Asian movies can be seen in many action flicks nowadays. If it wasn't ready-at-the-fists heartthrob Jet Li in Lethal Weapon 4, it was the karate-kickin' sirens of Charlie's Angels or, more briefly, in Josie and the Pussycats. There was perhaps no greater proof that Asian action has made it to silver-screen mainstream than when it was spoofed, without need for explanation, in the Wayans' Scary Movie.

But not to worry: Hollywood's craving for cinematic spice from the East isn't the first step of a Manchurian Candidate-style scheme. In fact, its primary cause can't get any more American: money. Crouching Tiger has taken in over $110 million domestically, making it the highest-grossing foreign-language film in history. The Matrix's slick fight scenes, orchestrated by Hong Kong filmmaker Yuen Woo-ping, not only created a sensation and a loyal fanbase, they helped the film rake in $170 million domestically and $285 million worldwide. So don't be taken aback if Haley Joel Osment cyclone kicks 20 feet in the air in Steven Spielberg's A.I.

"Hollywood does have a tendency to latch on the latest big thing," John Burman, international editor and executive director, Star Power at The Hollywood Reporter, said. "You saw the same thing with Something About Mary, and then the gross-out films became the thing of the moment."

And there's a reason why Americans are plunking down cold, hard cash.

"People are looking for something new," Rafferty said. "In something as technically impressive as The Perfect Storm, well, we've all sort of seen big waves before, and likewise in a conventional action movie with a lot of chases and explosions and gun fights ... these things do get tiresome after a while."

The intricately planned combat scenes from the East combined with the emphasis on moody heroism in the movies of directors like Ang Lee, Takeshi "Beat" Kitano and John Woo create a cultural tsunami that, if it hasn't washed away the shopworn Hollywood formulae, has shaken them up.

But style's not the only thing that's made Asian flicks — specifically those from the mainland Chinese — hotter than Crouching Tiger’s Zhang Ziyi in a bad mood, according to East Asian studies professor Gene Cooper of the University of Southern California.

"Things are much freer now there than it ever was before," he said. "Chinese directors are in the U.S. all the time, where they see American films and European films and attend festivals in the U.S. and Europe. And there's access both ways."

Although the so-called "Asian invasion" has reached new peaks, it's not completely new. In the wake of World War II, Akira Kurosawa revolutionized American and European cinema with classics like The Seven Samurai or Rashomon. His Yojimbo series was mimicked by Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood's series about the Man With No Name. And his Hidden Fortress was an explicit model for Star Wars.

"But the Asian influence is happening now more than ever," Cooper said. "The world is getting smaller."