Favorite Fictional Characters, #324: Ma Hon Keung
Unlike many, many of my friends, I've never been a martial arts aficionado. Kung Fu movies, Bruce Lee, ninjas, MMA, it's all fine, but has never really appealed me. I admire the artistry and athleticism and toughness, but it's just not my bag.
Except for Rumble in the Bronx.
Jackie Chan had been making movies in Hong Kong for years, but didn't break through in the American pop culture mainstream until 1995, when the release of Rumble in the Bronx showcased his unique combination of awkward silliness and awesome skill. These traits are on full display with Ma Hon Keung, the Chinese cop visiting family in New York. There's a plot in there involving a gang and a supermarket and diamonds, but mainly it's a vehicle for Chan to exhibit his matchless agility, superlative stunts, and kinetic antics. There's something charismatic about Keung, about his goofy squareness, the Clark Kent-esque cloak he wears over his lethal abilities. He really doesn't want to beat the tar out of twenty guys in three minutes, but if you stupidly force the issue, he's game: one at a time or all at once, it makes no difference. Using whatever is at hand - or just hands - Keung is capable of dealing out widespread pain and justice.
What makes Chan's characters like Keung so memorable and enjoyable is the impossible-seeming acrobatics that pepper his fisticuffs. He's a human happy fun ball, an unmasked Spider-Man, a contorting, quick-twitch bundle of reflexes and courage. That it all comes with the aw-shucks delivery and dopey smile instead of the surly glower of the usual action hero makes it all the better. What I particularly enjoy is his unfailing politeness, even to those he has just smacked around: "Don't ever make trouble here. Or I'll beat you up each time. Careful, mind the step."