The War Against WUXIA
(rough notes-- rewrite to follow)
"Down these mean streets a man must walk who is not himself mean." -- Raymond Chandler
Christopher Frayling is a cultural historian (Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone).
While talking to Terri Gross on NPR about his book Once Upon A Time in Italy: The Westerns of Sergio Leone.talking with a guy about Sergio Leones westerns, how they broke away from the 'code of the west' kind of hero, and he let ddrop a pearl of wisdom in passing: for better or worse, when the hero lost his code in these movies, he became all about style, "looking good" while killing, and the hero's goal (rescuing the peasant farmer's kitten from the burning orphanage) became incidental.
hey, i'm a guy, and i love a certain amount of that (Bogart in Casablanca, or Sigourney Weaver in Aliens 2, or Roddy Piper's immortal warning to aliens: "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I'm alll out of bubble gum.") And no one looks better than Chow Yun Fat when you need ten thousand bullets delivered.
but each of those is a "code hero", fighting FOR something other than their own aggrandizement.
the shift in movie heroes away from the code gives us the vicious pornography of Arnold Swartzenegger, current governonr of California USING AN INNOCENT BYSTANDER AS A HUMAN SHIELD (the audience is supposed to laugh when the body jerks) or Sylvester Stallone, the 5'" bodybuilder who bravely defended a Swiss girl's gym class against the Vietnamese, using an explosive arrow to turn an enemy soldier (enemy soldier? did anybody actually bother to declare war here? whose back yard was it, anyway?) into a bloody mist and the audience is supposed to cheer.