I just spent a bizarrely balmy weekend in Vermont with my visiting parents. Despite the constant, nagging reminder that global warming is upon us (hello, 78 degrees in October!), it was a forced–and necessary–respite from work. Nothing was more indicative of that than surfing the On-Demand features in the Hilton at eleven p.m. As much as I want to see Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, since I missed it on its first run in the fall, I just couldn’t make myself do it. Instead, Herr Meyer and I settled on Live Free or Die Hard. It was late, I know I wasn’t going to think too hard, Bruce Willis activates some sort of sick Moonlighting nostalgia in me. It seemed like a fine idea at the time. How bad could it be?
It’s not just that I think that action genre is dead. This film had some pretty original takes on the usual handful of stunts (including, but not limited to driving a car into a helicopter and crashing half of the interstate flyovers in the D.C. metro area). the interaction between the battered John McClane and the hacker kid was funny in spots (although, since Justin Long is playing the hacker, I couldn’t help but expect him to say “but I’m a Mac!” throughout the movie). All well and good, and slightly better than par for the course.
So what’s the problem? Early on, they introduce Maggie Q as the archetypical Asian villainness. I’ll spare you my lecture on the image of the dragon lady here, because in many ways the archetype has moved so far beyond that image that it’s working as simulacrum at this point. I should have turned the film off the moment they introduced her. Because I know what’s coming; she’s going to die in some brutal way. Involving violence. And as audience members, we’re going to be set up to cheer about it.
Sure enough, an hour in, Maggie Q and Bruce Willis are beating the living crap out of each other. He throws her into a set of shelves at one point, which then collapse on her. I was hoping that that would be the end of it, but instead, we’re treated to a 10 minute scene in which, after Q throws Willis out the window, he finds an SUV and drives it into her and halfway down an elevator shaft. They struggle, blah blah. In the end, she falls down the shaft and the SUV lands on top of her, igniting a giant fireball that immolates her and the car. Cue cheering.
I knew it was coming. And I should have expected that it would continue, but I only really braced for the violence. I hadn’t really prepared for the ways that McClane would use her death to taunt her villain boyfriend. “She’s at the bottom of an elevator shaft with an SUV shoved up her ass,” he tells him. And later, he calls her an “Asian hooker,” something that will be “hard to replace.” [These are, for the record, paraphrases.] Is it necessary to note that while Q strolled around the movie in tight clothing and stilettos, she managed to avoid either nudity or sex scenes? So from whence comes the talk about her and sex?
Here’s the thing: I deeply, deeply resent the necessity of pairing violence against Asian women with sexual connotations. And it keeps showing up lately. X-Men II, Ransom, etc. What’s up, Hollywood? It’s not enough to just go for violence without the sex? The competition with internet culture has driven you to imitate the worst of the web?
If I’m in the mood for a mindless action movie, the last thing I want to worry about is having to watch a sister get whacked and then called a whore. There’s a reason a girl wants mindless entertainment sometimes. And it can’t be mindless if I have to expend energy assessing racist ideology, dammit.
Someone could make a bunch of money screening films and issuing them a rating based on their level of offensiveness to women and people of color. Get right on that, will you?