Enter the Fat Dragon

Defying American convention, HK film star Sammo Hung throws his heft at network television

The most magical part of the whole shebang, however, is Hung's ability to carry off the backflips, leaps, and falls as if nobody had told him what he looked like. The lithe, muscular, in-shape Jet Li would clearly have no problem flying around unassisted; but seeing Sammo Hung doing the same is, well, inspiring. It's like seeing Sancho Panza hop off his burro and kick Don Quixote's ass.

Yet to stay around, Martial Law needs to figure out something more than its fish-out-of-water scenario and the gravity of its leading man. (Its Saturday night sequel, Norris's Walker, Texas Ranger, might furnish an instructive example: It sticks around by expertly twanging the same populist vibe Chuck hit on 20 years ago.) So far, Hung's plots have been basic cop-show stuff: gangs, counterfeiting, rogue officers (in a story line lifted from Eastwood's Magnum Force). The much-missed New York Undercover, which ended its run on FOX last season, found its niche by disclosing worlds that white-guy shows like NYPD Blue ignored or distilled through the racism of Andy Sipowicz: rappers getting gunned down, Haitian immigrants fleeing the police. Given that precedent, think of the abundant possibilities offered by setting this show in a real, rather than a TV, California: home-invasion robberies, ATM theft, computer-chip heists.

Actions speak louder than words: Sammo Hung's tenuous grasp of English doesn't keep him from communicating in TV's international language--kicking ass
Actions speak louder than words: Sammo Hung's tenuous grasp of English doesn't keep him from communicating in TV's international language--kicking ass

California is home to millions of Asian Americans whose stories never get told in mass entertainment. Why can't Hung's back story root him in a community, make him part of a world and a history that are in but not necessarily of America, instead of another inhabitant of TV's placeless void? Margaret Cho's brief All-American Girl never had time to figure out whether or not it could live up to its name. Will Martial Law write Hung into the American story, or will it shove him to the margins, reduce him to a special effect to be played with and then discarded? It would be nice to see this placid warrior get a chance to stick around into the Pacific century.

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