Bruce Lee, Keanu Reeves, and Jules Greene: A Research Journey
It's summer! I got my hat on backwards and it's time to heckin' party.
But seriously though, the summer solstice has passed, and summer as we know it has officially begun--UV rays and all. This is my first summer in Oberlin, as I am here as part of the Oberlin College Research Fellowship (which is meant for students who are at least one of the following: a person of color, a first-generation college student, and/or low-income) with the Office of Undergraduate Research. The subject of my research is analyzing Bruce Lee martial arts movies (specifically, Enter the Dragon and The Way of the Dragon) as well as the John Wick film series, starring Keanu Reeves, as a means of discerning how their bodies as multiracial Asian/Pacific Islanders intersect with larger mythologies around action hero bodies, and how that complicates Asian/Pacific Islander representation.
I thought summer in Oberlin was going to be really slow and boring (I spent Winter Term here, and while I was happy to make my architecture documentary, I'm hesitant about spending another one of my birthday months away from home), but it's been really lovely so far! In fact, I can now understand why people say that summer is their favorite time of year at Oberlin, because aside from the lack of air-conditioning (I've discovered through trial-and-error some old-school ways of keeping my room in Keep Cottage cool), it's a beautiful place to be! Personally, I am big on enjoying the land of wherever I am, and it's been nice to be able to do that here without being distracted by classes and extracurriculars (the Midwestern breeze!). The fact of the matter is is that, as much as I adore it with all of my heart, I absolutely hate New York in the summer time. And all of the things that I think make New York a somewhat miserable place in the summer (not limited to: the sun heating up the concrete and making everything that much hotter in the city, the smell of burning garbage, getting depressingly sweaty on your commute to work, getting depressingly sweaty any time you step out of your house, your pores freaking out because of how sweaty you are, etc.) don't really exist in Oberlin, which I can thank my lucky stars for. I have been able to live a pretty simple life here, with only a few needs: a substantial breakfast every morning, loads of sunblock, some alone time, and to physically exert myself (AKA exercising) every day to every other day. I've also been making dinner for myself every night, and have discovered that lentils take longer to cook than you would think.
There's also been some great events in town that have made Oberlin a lively place to be in the summer. I went to the Juneteenth celebration, and passed by the Chalk Walk where the sidewalks were decorated with chalk drawings. I saw Spiderman: Homecoming three times at The Apollo (and loved it every time). I watched fireworks on the Fourth of July in a part of town I've never been to before, and rode back to my dorm on the bike path (which I hadn't ever seen in real life before). The Oberlin Summer Theatre Festival is happening, and I'm looking forward to getting to see their production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. I've won gift cards to Slow Train (one of two coffeeshops in town) from Slow Train Trivia Night, which I didn't know was a thing that happened until this summer! I've also been able to get out of town with some of my friends, as one of them has a car, so that's been fun too!
I'm grateful to be here this summer because I think there's something psychological about Oberlin for me, in that the environment itself gets me into an intellectual headspace. Knowing that I am in Smart Brain Mode is a gratifying feeling for me, probably because I love school so much and doing scholarly work. I think this feeling has been an important one for me, because thinking of myself as actually really smart is a fairly new thing that began after I got my grades back from my first semester at Oberlin. Before, I thought of myself as "smart," but not that smart. I knew that I was in the top fourth of my class in my high school, or something like that, but I got the sense that there were always people that were "smarter" than me based on how they were treated by teachers. I had a learning disability that made going to prep school that much harder, academically, which I weirdly internalized as a "fact of life" that I wasn't going to get the highest grades because of my disability (which is really messed up!). Looking back on this now, it's sad for me to think of how much I sold myself short in high school, but it's ok because now I have an understanding that my brain is super powerful, and I just need to believe in myself.
So doing this research fellowship has cemented in my mind that I have a worthy place in academia, and that my specific interests within Cinema Studies (Bruce Lee, Keanu Reeves, martial arts films, and the action film genre as a whole) have a place too. The program itself has been wonderful to be a part of, because I've gotten to know the other Mellon Mays (another fellowship program that OCRF students have our weekly workshops with) and OCRF scholars and hear about their projects too. It has reminded me of what I appreciate about this small liberal arts college, which is that we have the time and space to become invested in each other's work on an individual basis. And my fellow researchers are doing absolutely INSPIRING things with their research that makes the whole vibe of the program even more energizing. Because I'm also a filmmaker and screenwriter, one of my favorite parts about those particular creative processes is helping workshop other people's work, and ultimately collaborating with others who believe in what you're doing. I've found there to be a similar dynamic in the OCRF and Mellon Mays community, and for that I could not be more thankful for, as it's both fulfilling for the brain and for the soul. The experience of doing OCRF has been really positive for me, because I've learned to not doubt myself as a scholar in an area of academia where folks like me (women of color, or more specifically, multiracial Asian/Pacific Islander women) are underrepresented.
So what does doing this research even look like? Unlike some of the other researchers, I am not working in a lab because I'm a humanities person, so I've had to basically structure my own project myself, with the help of my research mentor. I've, of course, had to watch the movies I'm analyzing dozens of times, often with varying things "to look for" as I'm watching them, and write theoretical essays about them. But I've also done a significant amount of primary source analysis besides the movies, as a means of analyzing the ways that mainstream media has perceived Bruce Lee and Keanu Reeves, racially or otherwise (though the two are often very connected), which has consisted of digging through old Variety film reviews and newspaper/magazine databases. I've discovered how rich the library resources are through an appointment with one of the librarians, and it's blown my mind how much INFORMATION I have at my disposal. I've been reading up on what other scholars have written about Bruce Lee and Keanu Reeves, the mechanics of Eurasian identity in Hong Kong from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th, and reacquainting myself with some details in Asian American history.
A few days ago, I completed my final assignment of the summer, which was a video essay that captures a part of my research (I've attached it at the end of this post). I really had no idea that I would amass so much information that I could talk for hours about everything I've learned, but I did! I'm looking forward to coming back to Oberlin next summer to continue doing research, since OCRF is a two-summer research fellowship. Considering that I'm going to be studying abroad next semester, I was really happy to get an extra dose of Oberlin in before I leave the country for four months, even if it has meant living without air-conditioning.
(Content Warning: violence, gun violence, blood, death, yellowface, language, alcohol, car crashes)
Content Warning: violence, gun violence, blood, death, yellowface, language, alcohol, car crashes.
Created as part of the Oberlin College Research Fellowship on multiracial Asian and Pacific Islander representation.