He was roundhouse kicked in the face by Sonny Chiba on three separate occasions. Gordon Liu broke his arm with a quarterstaff on Six Points of Death. Alexander Fu Sheng summoned the power of the Sobbing Spider and stomach punched him down a flight of stairs in Invisible Murder. You can talk about Mike Abbott and Bruce Baron and Jonathan James Isgar, but, in the early 1980’s in Hong Kong, if you needed a white guy to get his ass kicked to the point of near-death, Rick Shaw was your man.
-from Kick Flicks: The History of Martial Arts in Cinema by Tung Hui-Hu
There is a script, somewhere, but he has not seen it. They give him a Styrofoam container of noodles covered in a slimy black sauce. It tastes like the bottom of the ocean. Someone gives him a knife, tells him not to lose it. Finally, he is called to the set and, holding the knife like a microphone, he talks to the director. “Rick, okay, you see that guy?” the director asks, his English perfect. Rick looks over at a bare-chested old man in a white robe. “Try to kick him and see what that gets you. Okay?”
“Action!” and he strolls over to the old man who, Rick suddenly realizes, is not an old man but a young, very muscular, man in old man makeup. Rick goes to kick him, a nice, easy, front kick. The old man/young man catches his foot, twists his ankle and, as Rick hops on one foot, punches him so hard that Rick’s teeth, collectively, loosen. Rick makes a face like “Ma teef!” and falls to the ground. One hundred American dollars richer, Rick is done for the day.
That night, he talks in his sleep. Eight Diagram Pole. Charcoal March of Spiders. Reverse Swallow Charge. Ancient Fist of the Dying Mantis. With every word, he pounds a giant, gleaming, robot bear into submission with his bare hands.
Rick Shaw walks down Canal Street, past bootleg purses and CD’s. He stops at a blanket strewn with pirate copies of Shaw Brothers’ movies he’s not sure the Shaw Brothers even made. There is Princess Iron Fan, where the Monkey King climbs into Princess Iron Fan’s belly and punches her insides until she gives him her fan. There is a film called Rusted Penis that obviously has not translated correctly. As he readies to leave, he notices his own face, ridiculously grimacing, on the cover of a movie called Alligator Cop. He cannot place the title or the image; he is toting a shotgun, dressed in camouflage, one arm robotic. He picks up the box, searches for clues and finds none. “What’s this?” he asks the vendor, who says, “Very good movie.”
“What’s it about?” Rick asks.
“Everything,” the man responds.
“And Nothing. Everything and Nothing.”
“Is this guy the star?” Rick asks, pointing to his own image.
“Big star,” the man says.
Rick pays the seven dollars. At his apartment, he places the cassette in his VCR, adjusts the tracking, and watches three minutes of the Shanghai Sharks play the Bayi Rockets until the tape finally cuts to the movie, already started. The movie, in Mandarin, reveals no clues until Rick appears, no camouflage, no shotgun, no robot circuitry, about to lay a beating on the hero, Eagle Han Ying. He realizes instantly that this is a scene from Dragon City Bustup and he knows what’s coming for him. He watches as Ying sidesteps him and, with a ferocious roundhouse kick, sends Rick into the shark tank and out of the movie forever. He’s down seven dollars, half-drunk, chum for sharks.
That night, Rick forms the words that pass out of his dreams, Spinning Panda Backfist, Dialogue of Many Hands, Cosmos Palm, Steel Phoenix Blow. He shouts these phrases as he hurks wires out of his body, malfunctioning.
After third period English, To Kill A Mockingbird, Rachel Li comes to his desk. Rachel Li always comes to his desk. “You got a Boo Radley thing going on, teacher,” she says. He smiles and nods. “I saw you last night. Dragon Meets Monkey at Film Forum. You got your ass kicked.” Rachel has seen all his movies, discovered his secret late last year.
“Come see it with me tonight.”
“No can do,” he says.
“Well, you should see it,” she says. “I’ll be there. Fifth row on the end.”
Rick watches her leave. He wants to be Boo Radley but he thinks he is Bob Ewell. He’ll go anyways.
He finds her in the fifth row, the movie about to start. “How’d you end up in these movies?” she asks.
“I was in Hong Kong,” he says, “teaching English. Somebody asked if I wanted to act.”
“Do you know martial arts?”
“My grandfather was in the Russian army. He taught me sambo.”
“Wouldn’t know it from the movies,” she tells him.
The movie starts. Someone discovers an amulet that can grant wishes. Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung team up to steal it. Twenty minutes into the movie, Chan and Hung walk down a crowded street when Rick appears, fancy suit, hair slicked back, menacing.
“That’s you,” Rachel says. Rick nods.
Rick tells the pair to give up their search and, when they refuse, he pulls a gun. Before Rick can even aim, Chan kicks the gun out of his hand and Hung punches Rick so hard that he flies backwards, already unconscious, into an empty rickshaw. Chan pays the rickshaw driver and Rick is carted offscreen, never to return. “Goddamn, that was good,” Rachel says. “Rick Shaw punched into a rickshaw. That’s fucking meta.”
Later that night, Rachel Li in his bed, Rick whispers as he stares at the worst possible decision he could have made. Singing Tiger Strike. Judicious Shadow Touch. Palm of Forty Sorrows. Golden Monkey Gouge. In his waking dream, he waits for his opponent, fists clenched, pain seconds away from being unleashed.