Before watching it you can already say, "Oh white guy in Asia show." And perhaps looking at my face you may think, "Well of course he's going to like it."
And indeed I usually try not to be the one to cry wolf about things being racist or sexist or fetishizing Asian women. But for certain right of the bat, there is definitely a difference between this series and the Return of the Condor Heroes, or the more recent series about Ghengis Khan.
I think I really had to examine the Asian fetish thing with the scene where the Imperial Consort, her brother having given permission for some generals to have sex with her, starts off doing a Tai Chi/ Ballet influenced dance naked. I was like, "This is hot.... but this definitely has not happened in the Chinese series I watched." I mean maybe in a porno. But usually in those period pieces the woman is stripped down to "underwear" which still covers her arms let alone everything else and it's already like, "Ahhh I'm naked even though I'm practically wearing a sweater."
So this is totally something an American would do, what with the Tai Chi move thrown in there too.
But then she uses her jade pin like a "ngum hei" and does a butterfly aerial kick (Naked still!) and fights the soldiers. At one point a Gik is thrust at her which she passes and drives into the chest of one of the soldiers behind her. She kills the last dude and then gets into "arrest me position" of the modern era hand on her head and on her knees.
There could be an argument that this was empowering. Sure it was. It was also hot, and exoticized and innovative because I've never seen a martial arts scene quite like it.
I mean, probably wouldn't have done that with an Asian male right? Where he is hyper sexualized and naked and kung fu-ing the hell out of dudes naked. I had actually thought of filming a scene like that myself. 10 years ago.
In the end she is a prostitute, a high class one but still. There is a Mongolian female character that is also strong... and more wholesome. Also ends up doing Marco Polo outside after wrestling him to the ground.
She's on top.
So is this a step forward from Anna Mei Wong in Charlie Chan or from the Tai Pan? I think it's actually along the same lines. But this article isn't a "boycott Marco Polo" piece. Nah. I love it. I'm going to binge watch it. But it's definitely got some issues. To be fair, it's more like Game of Thrones in Asia... except as always they main character has to be white... and he learns Kung Fu... and he gets some Asian girls.
But I think some of the Mongolian Characters might actually be Mongolian actors. I mean I can't be sure but I feel like it's possible. I mean if you want to say "racist" Mulan sure was racist against the huns right?
And like a lot of the older generation Asian Actors said about being on Kung Fu.. at least it meant they got work. I think Pat Morita talked most about that. That the ones complaining about the roles being racist usually were not the ones hired for the role.
But yeah it's racist and sexist. But I think it tries.
I like it better than Daniel Wu's series... which I totally watched only because he was in it. But the fight scenes were the same old thing, violence for the sake of violence, and I actually felt dirty afterward like I had watched violence porn. Whereas Marco Polo, problematic as it is, I do feel like I get something out of the series. It's good. You should watch it. Of course others on the blog may disagree and I welcome their opinions in posts or comments.