Baze Malbus is so important to me, you guys. Specifically the actor that portrays him. I need to talk about Jiang Wen.
He is my favourite director and actor from Mainland China. And he’s just… so cool. And so brilliant. Man is a genius. I didn’t even know he could speak English until I saw Rogue One.
And now that he’s been in Rogue One, I can reblog fan art of Baze Malbus. I can buy a toy of Baze Malbus and have a tiny Jiang Wen to put on my desk and admire. There is currently nothing I want more in my life than a tiny Jiang Wen.
If you don’t know anything about him as an actor, imagine something like a Chinese Clint Eastwood with a hidden soft side, and you’re basically on your way to understanding the wonder of this man. For Western audiences right now, his appearance on the mainstream film stage is a chance to get to know another facet of Asian masculinities. Asian men in film can be stone-cold badasses without having to be martial-arts masters, without having to be made to seem asexual, without having to be set up as supervillains. They hit that on the head with Baze, who is super cool, genuinely heroic, and probably getting it on with Chirrut. And I am so, so happy that people in the West can get to know him now.
To look at an actor like Jiang Wen from the perspective of Chinese history is fascinating. He was an unsupervised army brat in Beijing when the Cultural Revolution was going on. That was a ripe time and place for youth gang activity, since everyone was either busy with revolution, or at labour camp. He’d likely have been part of/peripheral to that 1970s hooligan culture that romanticised heroism and bonds of sworn brotherhood like in Chinese kung-fu epics, and spent weekends clashing violently in the streets with bicycles and meat cleavers.
When the revolution was over, prominent male intellectuals were taking to the media to discuss how they felt ‘emasculated’ by Maoism, since gender roles (especially femininities) had been kind of in chaotic flux for ten years; now there were voices in the media calling for basically a return to gender essentialism. During that trend Jiang Wen sort of emerged as one of the faces of this ultra-macho post-Maoist masculinity, kind of a return to something essential and primal, something “natural” after all the political artifice of the Cultural Revolution. See Red Sorghum, a film that literally has him running around a stark yet idyllic rugged Northern backdrop, sweating and half-naked, getting drunk and engaging in ritual singing with his fellow male wine distillers. Of course, gender essentialism and machismo are problematic. Machismo in Chinese culture and history in particular has had and is still having tragic effects. But I’m inclined to believe that it’s the homosocial camaraderie that is the most important part of the work in this early part of Jiang’s career (from the 80s to about 2000), that offers space for exploration of a host of different Chinese masculinities, and that it’s important for Western audiences to be exposed to it. Plus, there’s that soft side I mentioned. The man brings his mum and dad on his shoots, for chrissakes.
All that is not even to say anything of his crazy talent as a director, which I’m way less qualified to talk about and I’ll probably vomit up a lot of meaningless words. Just go watch In the Heat of the Sun and Devils on the Doorstep right now, if you can handle gross images of war, violence and dubious sexual situations.
Anyway, tumblr, please keep the Baze art coming. I may or may not paper my office in it.