How the Green Hornet became Chinese: Cross-racial mimicry and superhero localization in Hong Kong

Shan Mu Zhao

University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, United States

[0.1] Abstract The Green Hornet television series (1966–67), with Bruce Lee in the role of Kato, the Green Hornet's sidekick, was broadcast in Hong Kong in 1968. In subsequent decades, characters referencing the Green Hornet emerged repeatedly in Hong Kong popular culture, and instead of being Anglo-American like the original Hornet, they have all been ethnically Chinese. Scholarship suggests that fans of color are excluded from identifying with or performing white characters based on their racialization; however, this does not appear to be the case for Hong Kong fans. I apply the concept of colonial mimicry to argue that Hong Kong fans arrived at ethnically Chinese inhabiting the Green Hornet by exploiting Kato's partial inclusion as an Asian American and as a sidekick. In addition, as a colonial audience, Hong Kong fans were well positioned to poach from a transcultural text such as The Green Hornet and make this cross-racial move.

[0.2] Keywords— Asian American; Postcolonial; Superheroes; Transcultural fandom

Zhao, Shan Mu. 2019. "How the Green Hornet Became Chinese: Cross-Racial Mimicry and Superhero Localization in Hong Kong." In "Fans of Color, Fandoms of Color," edited by Abigail De Kosnik and andré carrington, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 29.

1. Introduction

[1.1] An early case of transcultural and cross-ethnic media fandom was the fandom around Bruce Lee. His films and their interpretation by international audiences have been well established by decades of Bruce Lee fandom and scholarship (Teo 1997; Prashad 2002). But Lee was not only a Hong Kong movie star; he was also an American television actor whose shows were seen in Hong Kong and beyond. Lee's appearance as the sidekick, Kato, in the Green Hornet television series (1966–67) was his first and the most popular in Hong Kong; Lee's widow, Linda Lee Caldwell, claims that it helped to launch his career there. Despite the popularity of Lee's films, a longer view of the decades after his death shows that Hong Kong did not forget his portrayal of Kato, as references to The Green Hornet cropped up repeatedly in Hong Kong film and popular culture, including an unauthorized Hong Kong adaptation of The Green Hornet (1994). Interestingly, in Hong Kong versions of the Green Hornet, the hero is always ethnically Chinese.

[1.2] This phenomenon can be read as fan racebending, where fans respond to the exclusion of nonwhite characters in popular media by changing the ethnicities of originally white characters (Jenkins 2015). However, while a race bent Green Hornet is the visible result, racebending cannot precisely enough describe the conditions or processes through which the Green Hornet has been remade. The racial hierarchies of the United States and Hong Kong, and the superhero genre tropes of The Green Hornet, meant that Asians were not excluded based on their ethnicity but rather partially included. As colonial subjects in Hong Kong or immigrants to the United States, Asians were incorporated as figures of support for the Anglo or Anglo-American elite—specifically, as Hong Kong commercial middlemen or laborers and domestic servants in the United States. This status is also what allowed the Green Hornet himself to be Anglo-American but take on Kato to be his sidekick—a role of support particular to the superhero genre. However, Kato's partial inclusion along both ethnic and generic axes also provided Hong Kong fans with an opportunity to transform his status. According to Homi Bhabha's theory of colonial mimicry, European colonial systems produce partial inclusion by making racialized others similar enough to the colonizers to fulfill a supportive role but not so similar that they could threaten the colonizer's mastery. This balance is rarely stable, however, and there is always a threat that the colonized might become too similar.

[1.3] I argue that Hong Kong fans of The Green Hornet implicitly recognized the potential menace in the figure of Kato and acted upon this observation to graduate Kato from sidekick to hero and take the Green Hornet's place. In turn, this strikes down whiteness as a prerequisite to be a superhero and opens the Green Hornet's heroic persona to embodiment by ethnic Chinese. This strategy is not simply crossracial but also transcultural, as Hong Kong fans take advantage of gaps in the series' American racial and generic structures to facilitate local storytelling. I will first discuss the superhero trope of the sidekick, then establish the partial inclusion of Asian Americans by examining the representation of Kato as an Asian sidekick and outlining the challenges that Bruce Lee faced when performing this role. After this, I will outline the media scene in Hong Kong and the reception of The Green Hornet there. The bulk of this paper will focus on three Hong Kong films: The Green Hornet (1994), Black Mask (1996), and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010). I will bring in Bhabha's theory of hybridity to discuss these films, then consider his theory of colonial mimicry in relation to scholarship on cosplay (the fan practice of dressing in costume to represent a character) to discuss how the films exploit the likeness between Kato and the Green Hornet to imagine the Green Hornet as Chinese. I will end on a discussion of the significance that Hong Kong recreations of the Green Hornet hold for thinking about race in transcultural fandoms.

2.The Green Hornet, sidekicks, and Asian American masculinity

[2.1] The Green Hornet is not strictly a superhero franchise, because the characters lack superpowers, and the series' conception as a radio series in 1935 predated the generally accepted beginning of comic book superheroes in 1938, with the first appearance of Superman (Coogan 2006). However, it contains the core criteria for the superhero genre: figures who possess exceptional abilities, seek to do good for society, and represent themselves with a symbol that is closely tied to their identity (Coogan 2006). As such, the Green Hornet can be considered a transitional text between urban detective pulp stories and superhero comics. George W. Trendle and Fran Striker of Detroit's WXYZ station had previously achieved a high level of success with the radio series The Lone Ranger (1933–54) for children and created The Green Hornet as a spinoff series for a slightly older audience. The Green Hornet is Britt Reid in disguise; Reid is the wealthy owner of a newspaper, the Daily Sentinel, and uses the press to expose corruption and organized crime to the public. Kato works as Reid's valet, chauffeur, and mechanic. In addition to his reliance on superior technology (like Batman, he has a high-tech car, the Black Beauty), the Green Hornet also relies on Kato's martial arts. The Green Hornet and Kato do not have elaborate costumes and, other than domino masks, wear everyday clothes during crime-fighting operations. In the 1966 television series, Reid wears a suit, green overcoat, and green fedora, while Kato wears his black chauffeur's uniform and cap, since going out to fight crime requires him to drive. Reid's identity and true purpose is only known to himself and Kato, as well as, in some productions, Reid's secretary and love interest, Lenore Case, and the district attorney. These character dynamics and plot points generally stayed constant from the radio series' inception to the end of the television series in 1967.

[2.2] Kato's status in The Green Hornet reflects racial logic of pulp adventure stories in the early 1900s, expressed through the hero-sidekick dynamics of the superhero genre. The Green Hornet and the Lone Ranger both have sidekicks who are men of color, with the Native American Tonto and the Asian or Asian American Kato (though which specific Native or Asian community has changed with different versions of the stories) (note 1). As Julian Chambliss and William Svitavsky (2005) write, pulp stories in the late 1800s and early 1900s often embodied American anxieties regarding urbanization and changing ethnic patterns. As the American West was closed and new immigrants integrated into the United States, pulps transitioned from Westerns to stories suggesting the nobility of white lineages in the face of the world's savagery, with a prime example being Tarzan. The Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet are similar in this regard, and the earlier stories in the Green Hornet franchise especially portrayed Britt Reid as a pulp hero who went on adventures around the world, bringing heroism and enlightenment to exotic places. The two 1940s Universal Pictures Green Hornet film serials (The Green Hornet [1940] and The Green Hornet Strikes Again! [1941]) gave a backstory that Reid had saved a Korean Kato from "native Singaporeans" who tried to kill him because of his ethnicity. The initial description of Kato's relationship with Britt Reid barely presents him as a sidekick, more as an accessory; the first episode of The Green Hornet radio show describes Britt Reid as a wealthy clubman who is surrounded in his apartment by mounted heads of game that he has hunted and who says, "Kato himself was something of a trophy, brought back from a trip to the Orient" (Grams and Salomonson 2010, 72).

[2.3] Superhero comics also borrowed the trope of sidekicks in the 1940s (Fingeroth 2004), but sidekicks were often youths, so as to facilitate identification from younger male readers (Shyminsky 2011). This was not necessary as a marketing ploy, as young readers tended to identify with the titular adult hero (Shyminsky 2011), but sidekicks nevertheless became a superhero staple and also introduced a hierarchy of power that later reincorporated ethnicity. Neil Shyminsky (2011) notes that sidekicks and other supporting characters often display imperfections, weaknesses, and deviations from hegemonic masculinity that the hero never could, thereby serving as the hero's foil. Shyminsky highlights Foggy Nelson, supporting character for Daredevil/Matt Murdoch, who commits adultery and murder under the influence of a supervillain, leaving it to Murdoch to get him an acquittal in court. In this manner, superheroes can be "spot cleaners" for society, as long as their sidekicks bear the markers of imperfections and deviation (297).

[2.4] The fact that most sidekicks were teenage boys accompanying an adult male superhero implied that sidekicks were not as powerful as the hero because they were not yet men. As teenagers became a distinct identity and consumer category in the postwar period, teen sidekicks declined and teen heroes with their own titles, such as Spider-Man, became popular (Fingeroth 2004). However, the increase in teenage male heroes coincided with the role of the sidekick increasingly being filled by women (e.g., Batgirl, introduced in 1961) or nonwhite men (e.g., the Falcon, introduced in 1969). Apparently, as age was no longer the explanatory factor behind the sidekick's secondary status, ethnicity, and gender became markers of the sidekick's difference, as well as particular weaknesses. It is true that sidekicks of color in postwar comics were represented with greater respect and complexity than pulp characters would have been; the Falcon/Sam Wilson, for example, expresses reservations with his position as Captain America's sidekick (Nama 2011), and the series also changed its title to Captain America and the Falcon (1971–78). Nevertheless, as a black supporting character, the Falcon was open to manipulation in a way that Captain America himself was not. Adilifu Nama (2011), in his analysis of black superheroes, discusses a narrative arc where writers changed the Falcon's backstory to reveal that he was actually a gang member whose identity the villain the Red Skull reprogrammed to plant with Captain America. Nama's sociohistorical analysis is that this represents fears of black criminality in the 1970s; however, an approach comparing hero and sidekick would highlight how Sam Wilson's backstory was retconned to incorporate criminality according to racial anxieties, whereas Captain America, as a crime fighter, would have to keep his origin story clean.

[2.5] The continued subordination of sidekicks based on race is arguably a factor in why the Green Hornet and Kato continued to be viable as a superhero and sidekick duo in the 1960s, even though they were created decades before. Kato's characteristics also reflected mainstream stereotypes of Asians, which enabled him to be the Green Hornet's foil in racially specific ways. While the stereotype that all Asians know martial arts was not necessarily in place in the 1930s or even the 1960s, martial arts also marks Kato as ethnically different from the Green Hornet. In his analysis of Bruce Lee's films, Vijay Prashad (2002) points to an important difference between spy thrillers and kung fu narratives, which is that the main characters in kung fu narratives are not members of the elite, and instead of having access to gadgets (and, more broadly, Western technology), they can only rely on their fists. While this is an empowering reading, Kato and the Green Hornet's differential access to technology paints Kato as more primitive than the Green Hornet, since he has to rely on his own body as a weapon.

[2.6] In addition, it is curious that while Kato does have access to technology and technical knowledge—from working as Reid's mechanic and chauffeur—he does not use them to fight crime. This partial technologization of Kato stems partly from his initial conception as Japanese, which the showrunners for the radio series were very careful to craft—in the introductions to the early episodes, Kato is described as "Britt Reid's Japanese valet" (Grams and Salomonson 2010, 77). The promotion department for the radio series was also careful when photographing Kato's first voice actor, Raymond Hayashi, explaining that "unless you get the angle right, there is danger of making him look like a Chinese, which of course to a Jap is next to hari-kari" (78)—implying that being mistaken for Chinese would drive Japanese to suicide. The emphasis on Kato's Japaneseness came from very different perceptions of Japanese and Chinese in the early 1900s. The Chinese came to the United States primarily as laborers, and China had been falling to foreign encroachment and domestic strife. The Japanese, however, had astounded the world by their military capability and rapid industrialization, and were associated with enhanced technology (Roh, Huang, and Niu 2015). Despite this respect for Japanese modernization, Kato is not placed on par with the Green Hornet when it comes to modernity—he knows enough to provide labor so that the Green Hornet can use technology but does not use it himself.

[2.7] In addition, Kato's position as Reid's valet mixes in stereotypes of early Chinese Americans. A large influx of Chinese men came to the United States for the California Gold Rush and the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad in the mid-1800s, but they faced a double bind when these projects ended. Most men had not earned enough to return to China, but Chinese Exclusion Acts were already in place to prevent them from entering the American work force. As a result, Chinese men picked up informal work such as laundry work and domestic labor. This is reflected in the choice to make Kato Reid's valet, which is a domestic position and quite different from Tonto's relationship to the Lone Ranger, despite both sidekicks being men of color. While these Asian workers provided domestic support, their status as single men in a household not their own also potentially threatened the existing structure of the family. As a result, popular culture portrayed Chinese male domestics as a desexualized "third sex" (Lee 1999, 101)—stabilizing the Victorian home by doing feminized labor—and by extension not really men. Over time, this supposed deficiency in masculinity and Asian men's subordinate status has become welded to their ethnicity, such that even today Asian men are seen as less masculine and heroic than men of other ethnicities.

[2.8] It is clear that Kato's character was written with this stereotype in mind. As a result of tensions with Japan on the eve of World War II, the radio series changed "Britt Reid's Japanese valet" to "Britt Reid's faithful valet" (Grams and Salomonson 2010, 77)—swapping out his specific Asian ethnicity for a personality trait that oriented him toward serving the Green Hornet. In addition, George W. Trendle seemed to have conceived of Kato as a limited character for the television series. While Reid can be seen in public and social engagements, The Green Hornet shows Kato either in his crime-fighting role or as a valet in Britt Reid's home, dressed in a white uniform. This is not simply a disguise. Frank Scanlon, the district attorney, frequently goes to the Reid residence to consult about crime; however, he reserves strategic conversations for Reid and rarely engages Kato beyond an initial greeting. In the first episode of the two-parter "Beautiful Dreamer" (1.07), for example, the camera frames Reid and Scanlon discussing threats against a man's life in the foreground for almost two minutes, while Kato can be seen between them in the background, musing at what they are saying, but not asked to contribute. During the filming of the Green Hornet television series, Bruce Lee wrote a letter to William Dozier, the producer, complaining that "it's true that Kato is a house boy of Britt, but as the crime fighter, Kato is an 'active partner' of the Green Hornet and not a mute follower." Dozier's response reiterated that Trendle envisioned Kato as an ally in the background, though personally he agreed with Lee (Grams and Salomonson 2010, 320).

[2.9] Kato's particular blend of some technological know-how combined with domestic work makes him a supportive character even if he isn't a hero's sidekick per se. Indeed, he slips seamlessly from the houseboy to the sidekick; unlike the dual identity of the Green Hornet/Britt Reid, his name, "Kato," seems to be adequate for both of his roles. His subordination cannot be overcome simply by putting him in the spotlight, as Bruce Lee tried to do. According to previous analysis of sidekicks, the superficial reason that they exist in the narrative is to lend the hero a helping hand, but the deeper, unconscious reason for their existence is that they take on markers of deviation and vulnerability so that the hero can compare more favorably. Similarly, while Robert G. Lee does not argue that the master of the house benefits from direct comparison with the Asian domestic servant, it is also clear that no Anglo-American master would risk feminization by taking up domestic labor; the masters preserve their masculinity and elite status by delegating domestic labor to racialized others. Ultimately, both the domestic servant and the sidekick provide support by being different and lesser, which means that the support they provide simultaneously places them near the hero/master but maintains their distance from them. Thus, simply giving Kato more presence within The Green Hornet does not necessarily overcome the way that exclusion is built into Kato's inclusion.

[2.10] Similarly, Lee's performance as Kato impressed audiences and critics, but it did not lead to many opportunities in the US entertainment industry. Lee's kung fu was the first time that many audiences had seen martial arts on television at all and captured audiences even before his films. Filmmaker Reginald Hudlin recalls that "As a kid, we watched The Green Hornet for him—we couldn't care less about Green Hornet—he had a fly car, I'll give him props for the car, but Kato was incredible" (quoted in McCormack 2012). Grams and Salomonson write that based on the amount of fan mail sent to the actors, Kato was more popular with children than the Green Hornet was; his mask especially was in high demand, and Dozier kept replicas in his office to send to fans (Grams and Salomonson 2010, 320). However, The Green Hornet only aired for one season, which some believed was the result of being played too straight for an adult audience, in contrast to Dozier's Batman, which played up camp (Pollard 1967, 14). From the end of the show's run to Lee's return to Hong Kong in 1970, Lee only found supporting roles. Lee's pitch for a kung fu Western television series to Warner Bros. resulted in the series Kung Fu (1972–75), but the network cast the white actor David Carradine as the hero and not Lee. Despite stretching the representational capacity of the role of Kato, Lee remained a sidekick in Hollywood.

3. The Green Hornet in Hong Kong

[3.1] Lee's reception in Hong Kong, however, was quite different. His widow, Linda Lee Caldwell, claimed that The Green Hornet was airing when they went back to Hong Kong to deal with immigration for Lee's mother, and that it was popularly known as The Kato Show (in McCormack 2012). The international broadcast of The Green Hornet followed quickly after its American broadcast. The show first aired in the United States from 1966 to 1967, and in 1967, it was already being shown in Japan, Thailand, Argentina, Puerto Rico, and Canada (Pollard 1967, 18). In Hong Kong, it first broadcast in August 1968 on TVB Jade, in the Sunday 6 p.m. time slot, ending in February 1969, in the Wednesday 11:15 p.m. time slot, with a break in October.

[3.2] Whether Hong Kong audiences really referred to The Green Hornet as The Kato Show is difficult to verify, but they have certainly localized The Green Hornet in a number of ways. The Green Hornet finished its broadcast in February 1969. By the end of March, a young man calling himself Green Hornet began robbing residents in Kowloon and was apprehended in April along with a stash of jewelry and watches (Kung Sheung Evening News, 1969). The press did not release any statement from this Hornet, but perhaps this was his interpretation of the Green Hornet's social interventions. Hong Kong residents also later associated the Green Hornet with charitable work. In 1978, a relay race for charity featured a contestant calling himself the Green Hornet (Kung Sheung Evening News, 1978); and a team called Green Hornet also won first place in a 1983 shooting competition (Wah Kiu Yat Po, 1983). These were highly public and publicized events, suggesting that the competitors involved chose Green Hornet as a name that audiences and sponsors would easily recognize and associate with physical aptitude. In turn, they point to the place that The Green Hornet continued to have in the public consciousness. These competitions took place eight and thirteen years after the broadcast of The Green Hornet, so it seems that the generation who watched the show as children and teenagers brought the show forward as they grew into adults.

[3.3] Some of these audiences in turn also became part of the Hong Kong film industry, as evidenced by Kato's iconic getup of a black uniform and black domino mask appearing repeatedly in later Hong Kong films, such as The Green Hornet (1994), Black Mask (1996), and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010) (note 2). In The Green Hornet, the titular hero is a young man named Dong, who takes down a human trafficking and weapon smuggling ring backed by a neo-Nazi colonel while eluding the police and Tom, a journalist who falls in love with him and who attempts to uncover his identity. Legend of the Fist is the second sequel to Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury (1972) and follows the kung fu hero Chen Zhen (whom Lee played) as he returns from World War I to fight the Japanese occupation in Shanghai, this time adopting a costume. Black Mask features Tsui Chik, a supersoldier who escaped the People's Republic of China to lie low in Hong Kong but comes out of hiding to protect the city against other rogue supersoldiers; he uses a disguise to elude his friend in the police force. These films render the Green Hornet Chinese through a number of moves. First, there are no references to Britt Reid or any previous American version of the Green Hornet. The stories always take place in China, and the heroes are given Chinese origin stories. Second, racebending also involves genre bending; the narratives in these films use the superhero trope of the disguise in a story that is otherwise a kung fu tale.

[3.4] These films are hybrid texts, not simply because they mix genres, but also because genre mixing challenges mechanisms keeping the Green Hornet and Kato separate. Drawing from colonial policy texts as well as postcolonial literature, Homi Bhabha (2004) explains that European colonizers attempt to legitimize their authority by asserting that European culture is wholly distinct from that of the colonized, yet also timeless and universal. Bhabha argues that this discourse did not actually exist prior to colonization; instead, it was a defense mechanism enacted when European culture was confronted with racial and cultural difference in the colonies. Thus, European colonial culture is actually articulated in relation to an Other and therefore arguably a hybrid product. However, colonists disavow this for fear of losing justifications for power and instead mask it with discourses of cultural purity and difference. Under these circumstances, "hybridity reverses the formal process of disavowal so that the violent dislocation of the act of colonization becomes the conditionality of colonial discourse" (163, emphasis original). In other words, making hybridity explicit forces power to acknowledge that its assertions of distinctiveness and universality are false. By combining kung fu and superhero tropes, the Hong Kong films I discuss reveal mechanisms of racial distinction for what they are.

[3.5] Of the three films, The Green Hornet responds most directly to the original franchise, with a character explicitly named after the superhero. The film was written and directed by Lam Ching Ying, who worked on action choreography in Bruce Lee's films and later became a well-known Hong Kong actor for Chinese zombie films. Lam's Green Hornet exhibits strong martial arts genre tropes, and in doing so counteracts some of Kato's racialization based on technological primitivism. Following martial arts genre tropes, Dong lives a simple life removed from society. He and his two uncles, who instruct and guide him in his missions, live as peasants outside Shanghai. Indeed, this Green Hornet does not take advantage of any modern technologies. In addition to kung fu, he only uses a boomerang, while the film suggests that high-tech weapons are the purview of the dealers and the Nazi colonel. For their part, the uncles correspond with their contacts in the criminal underworld via carrier pigeons. These details change the significance of Kato's partial technologization. As previously discussed, in an urban American superhero narrative with a high-tech Green Hornet, mastery of martial arts marks the sidekick Kato as different and implies his primitivism. However, in a martial arts narrative, it is hand-to-hand combat that is superior because it is untainted by dirty money and exploitation. By representing the Green Hornet as a hybrid of Chinese kung fu hero and superhero, Lam's Green Hornet also asserts that a Chinese peasant who does not have access to technology can nevertheless be a superhero. This means that Britt Reid's wealth and technological superiority are not prerequisites for being a superhero, which suggests that it serves another function, such as racial distinction.

[3.6] Legend of the Fist also exhibits hybridity, though its reference to The Green Hornet does not challenge the racial distinction of Britt Reid so much as it rehabilitates Kato's position as a servant. In Legend of the Fist, Chen Zhen leads a double life as a nightclub musician and a nationalist underground operative. Upon discovering a Japanese plot to assassinate a Chinese general, he steals a disguise from the closest source, which is a movie theater displaying a costume from an in-universe film called Masked Warrior. This costume is essentially Kato's crime-fighting costume, and after Chen Zhen rescues the general and his wife, he also chauffeurs them to safety. While the film follows up Lee's Fist of Fury, the original did not contain any superhero elements, and Bruce Lee's Chen Zhen did not adopt any disguises; the choice to put this World War II-era folk hero in a costume is reaching back further in Lee's performance history to Kato. One reason for Bhabha's emphasis on hybridity is that anticolonial movements can also resort to discourses of purity to establish legitimacy (Bhabha 2004, 171). Indeed, a common assertion from Hong Kong scholars is that Bruce Lee's films embody the spirit of Chinese ethnic nationalism (see Teo 1997); however, Lee's earlier work as Kato is never mentioned, most likely because Kato's status as a servant to a white American does not fit into this oppositional narrative. By evoking Kato and even his domestic work as Reid's chauffeur, Legend of the Fist brings Kato and his work into the Chinese nationalist tradition and suggests that Kato's service is not inherently demeaning. As hybrid texts, Lam's Green Hornet and Legend of the Fist narrow the gap separating the original Green Hornet and Kato by striking down some of the criteria that produces the Green Hornet's superiority and reframing the criteria that keep Kato a subordinate.

4. Mimicry, mockery, and Kato's implied menace

[4.1] Interestingly, the three Hong Kong films all reference Kato with their costuming choices, but Kato himself is never mentioned by name. Instead, all the heroes are (mis)recognized as the Green Hornet. Lam's Green Hornet is the most obvious in this regard, as the criminals in the film seem to know the hero by name. The film also establishes that the Green Hornet identity has been handed down throughout Chinese history, as evidenced by a history lesson from Dong's uncles when they become concerned that a potential relationship with Tom is distracting him from his missions. In a basement hideout reminiscent of Batman's batcave, the uncles point to exhibits of past Green Hornets and explain how violating Green Hornet codes of conduct has led some of them to misfortune. The first mannequin that the uncles point to is the Green Hornet from the Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE), and the second, the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE), each wearing historically contemporary armor with a mask covering the top half of their faces. Both of these Hornets, the uncles explain, fell to ruin for fraternizing with women. However, the last mannequin that the uncles point to is Bruce Lee in Kato's uniform; the uncles explain that he broke the code that forbids the Green Hornet from using the hero persona to gain personal fame and fortune.

[4.2] Black Mask also references Kato in its costuming choices, yet again the costume is recognized as the Green Hornet's. In a behind-the-scenes interview with Tsui Hark (the writer and producer) and Jet Li (in the role of Tsui Chik/Black Mask), the camera briefly focuses on one of the costume department staff holding a book with a photo of Bruce Lee in the role of Kato (Shuiyuzhengfeng900 2015), which is clearly the reference for Black Mask's costume. However, a scene from the film shows Black Mask fleeing the scene and accidentally dropping his cap, to be picked up by his friend, police inspector Shek. Shek puts it on and spins around quickly to face fellow officers who come running after him, causing his coat to flare dramatically. His fellow officers stop short in surprise, but then applaud and comment that with this getup, Shek "has become the Green Hornet."

[4.3] The screenplay does not have the officers compare Shek to Kato, despite the conscious choice during production to model Black Mask's costume on Kato. In addition, it is interesting that the officers do not simply say that Shek looks like the Green Hornet, but specifically that he has become the Green Hornet. This also characterizes the aforementioned Kowloon thief and athletic competitors who call themselves the Green Hornet—in particular moments, they fully took on the Green Hornet identity. The frequency and ease with which Hong Kong audiences performed the Green Hornet across racial lines differs from how nonwhite fans are generally positioned relative to white characters. When discussing cosplay as performance, Nicolle Lamerichs writes that cosplayers tend to choose to play characters who match their identity, role, or physical attributes (2011). Ethnicity is frequently a factor in this assessment. In "Negotiating Fandom: The Politics of Racebending," Jenkins writes that "children of color often have to struggle for the right to play characters that are white in the original, often forced to play subordinate or marginalized roles" (2015). For The Green Hornet, such a role would be the sidekick Kato, yet he is not named in Hong Kong popular practice and media. Kato's elision is not likely due to Hong Kong audiences forgetting which role Bruce Lee played, nor does it seem to be the result of audiences identifying with more powerful heroes over their sidekicks. What seems to have happened is that audiences implicitly acknowledged that Lee played Kato but over time substituted Kato for the Green Hornet, perhaps unconsciously.

[4.4] I argue that substituting Kato for the Green Hornet overcomes the fact that Kato is the Green Hornet's sidekick, but this process was also facilitated because Kato is the Green Hornet's sidekick. Two related factors contribute to this double articulation. First, the sidekick is a figure of partial inclusion in the narrative, as they are differentiated from their heroes by weaknesses yet also emulate their heroes to some degree. Second, one area where the sidekick tends to emulate their hero is their disguises. However, costuming conventions in the superhero genre favors iconicity rather than individuality, potentially counteracting markers of the sidekick's difference. Together, these two factors make the sidekick's subordination unstable. The sidekick's position is very similar to the partially reformed colonial subject in Homi Bhabha's theory of colonial mimicry. The colonial project seeks to reform colonial subjects according to the principles of Western civilization; however, it would disadvantage the colonizer if subjects were to be entirely reformed, since the colonized would be the same as the colonizers and thus entitled to the same privileges. This is one kind of threat that colonial subjects can present to colonizers. Colonizers defend against it by implementing partial reform (Bhabha 2004, 124), where colonial subjects are similar to the colonizers, but not quite the same—Bhabha points to colonial middlemen who are anglicized to work for the English as an example (125). While this partial reform is by design, it is still potentially subversive. Colonial subjects who bear only some of the colonizers' attributes can no longer be representatives of their supposed civilizing mission, and so this mission is revealed to be insincere. In addition, Bhabha argues that having partial attributes points to mimicry and not representation (128–29)—that is, partial and superficial imitation that does not reflect any cultural essence. This becomes subversive because bearing some attributes of Western civilization no longer reflects an essential right to power and authority on the part of the colonizers (129). Thus, mimicry has the potential to become mockery of colonial authority.

[4.5] In the superhero genre, Bhabha's partially reformed subject is the sidekick. The tendency to continuously differentiate them from the hero can be read as a way of managing their potential threat. Especially when the sidekick is a younger hero or a hero in training, the implication is that he will grow to be a hero, such as Robin becoming Nightwing; the threat is that the sidekick may grow to be the hero he works for and take that hero's place. Kato poses a similar threat, especially since Trendle, Striker, and other writers for The Green Hornet have, perhaps inadvertently, given him the tools to be the Green Hornet. Kato is not a sidekick like Robin, who is a sidekick because he is young and untrained. To be the Green Hornet's sidekick means that Kato must fight as effectively as the Green Hornet, have technical expertise to maintain the Green Hornet's equipment, and share the Green Hornet's dedication to justice. Thus, Kato's Asian ethnicity and the association of Asianess with servility are the most salient criteria to justify his sidekick status. In general, by marking sidekicks with gender and race, which are seemingly insurmountable biological conditions, superhero narratives seem to succeed in safeguarding the authority of the hero. However, Hong Kong fans of The Green Hornet have solved this problem—not by making Kato white, but by making the Green Hornet Chinese.

[4.6] This maneuver seems simple but actually factors in what mimicry means for the superhero genre specifically. As Ellen Kirkpatrick writes, the superhero genre is particularly conducive to cosplay, since the concept of dual identities of many superheroes means that identity shifts are a part of the genre, and "changing the visuality of the body through costuming allows a different reading in identity, be that alter ego to superhero/villain or cosplayer to source character" (2015, ¶ 3.3). Kirkpatrick notes in passing that this kind of translation happens in superhero narratives as well, since superheroes are continuously revamped with different individuals inhabiting the heroic identity slightly differently. While she focuses on how a cosplayer's individuality can change the superhero they represent, the reverse is also true. As discussed previously, Coogan (2006) notes that a convention that defines the superhero genre is that the hero presents themselves with an iconic identity. Coogan also draws on Scott McCloud's discussion of icons to argue that iconicity also leads to simplification and abstraction. Thus, for superheroes, the identity shift in the superhero genre is not simply from one identity to another but often from an individual identity to a symbol or icon, and with it comes some loss of individuality. Coogan writes that the superhero persona usually has two components—the codename and the costume. Especially when the costume functions as a disguise, it further pushes iconicity and effaces individuality.

[4.7] This abstraction of identity inherent in much of superhero disguises also affects ethnicity. In shots of the Green Hornet and Kato as costumed vigilantes, it is not immediately obvious who is who. The domino masks, which are meant to hide individual identity, also serve to obscure ethnic identity. For the ethnically Asian Kato, hiding the area around his eyes also hides the privileged marker of Asian racialization, the eyes. Thus, Kato's hero image both literally and figuratively masks his Asianess. It is important to note that as the Green Hornet's sidekick, Kato is following the Green Hornet's costuming imperatives as a subordinate member of their crime-fighting duo—or, stated in another way, he is mimicking the Green Hornet's means of disguise. However, this mimicry has an effect of obscuring an identity marker that naturalizes his sidekick status and thus enables his image to become less racialized, and more iconic.

[4.8] Costuming does not only tone down Kato's ethnicity; it also tones down Britt Reid's ethnicity. Arguably, the one attribute that no colonial or subordinated racialized subject can have, even under complete reformation or cultural integration, is skin color and features associated with whiteness. This is also the reason that in the history of American racial formation, ethnicities once designated as nonwhite, such as Jewish and Irish, have gradually been counted as white, but Asians, Latinos, and blacks continue to be racialized despite socioeconomic gains (Omi and Winant 1994). In Bhabha's analysis, mimicry calls into question the equation between having Western cultural attributes and an inherent right to power. If whiteness is associated with the right to power, then Reid's hero persona dilutes his whiteness. As a wealthy newspaper mogul, Britt Reid is an Anglo-American, but there is no ethnicity inherent in the Green Hornet, his superhero persona. Thus, being costumed vigilantes pushes both Kato and Reid toward ethnic neutrality and dilutes their difference.

[4.9] Similar to how partial reform undercuts the colonial project, including a character such as Kato opens The Green Hornet to a revisionist audience, who can actively fulfill the menace that Kato implies. Since the Green Hornet persona has no associated race, and Kato the sidekick is as capable as Reid, Kato is the natural successor to the Green Hornet persona, or Kato should have been the Green Hornet in the first place. Seeing a fellow Hong Konger—Bruce Lee—in the role of Kato was the final invitation Hong Kong fans needed to make this move. Thus, in Lam's Green Hornet, the previous Green Hornet is shown to be Lee in the role of Kato, and Dong, a peasant, is his successor.

[4.10] Finally, it is no accident that the fans and producers who took advantage of Kato's partial inclusion were the audience of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong of Bruce Lee's time was still a British colony, and the prospect of governance from the PRC was still relatively far off (note 3). In many ways, Hong Kong encapsulates Bhabha's colonial middlemen. In his discussion of the history of television in Hong Kong, Eric Kit-Wai Ma gives some background to the cultural environment: "The British government had always stressed the economic value of Hong Kong as a middleman in Sino-British trade. The colonial government did not want to produce colonial subjects loyal to the British government; it aimed at making a Hong Kong Chinese who was able to speak the language of the dual centers of China and Britain" (Ma 1999, 29). In addition, accounts of the cultural climate in Hong Kong suggest that rather than directly impose racial ideologies, British rule enforced them subtly. Rey Chow reflects on her education in 1970s Hong Kong, where Cantonese and Chinese languages were included in the curriculum, but "a good level of English was the key to future success" (2014, 44). Bruce Lee's own films speak to Hong Kong's decolonial preoccupation, and accounts from his family and friends report that when he lived in Hong Kong as a child, he used to get into fights with British schoolchildren for picking on Chinese students (Lee 1989).

[4.11] The British government adopted a relatively laissez-faire approach to Hong Kong media, and this resulted in a great influx of foreign media and with it, foreign ideology. A glance at newspaper advertisements for films of the 1968 shows American productions such as Nobody's Perfect (1968) and The Green Berets (1968), and the British production The Face of Fu Manchu (1965). I highlight these three films since they contain American or British representation of Asians according to varying degrees of racist stereotyping. It is true that Chinese media in Hong Kong flourished alongside imported media—Ma specifically argues that the cultural imperialism thesis did not fit Hong Kong well, since Chinese programs exhibited melodramas and kung fu genres that are quite culturally specific and local. However, because they were local, they were arguably ill-equipped to deal with the compounded American and British dissemination of racial stereotypes on a global scale. The popularity of Bruce Lee's films in Hong Kong is accounted for significantly by his ability to blend kung fu tropes with a direct challenge to international racialized inequality, which was quite novel at the time. Although Kato is quite a servile character compared to Lee's film heroes, it seems that Hong Kong audiences first saw themselves in him, and Hong Kong fans were also uniquely positioned to notice and exploit the possibilities of Kato's partial inclusion as a racialized sidekick.

5. Conclusion: Transcultural poaching

[5.1] The maneuvers to make the Green Hornet Chinese also nuance theories regarding fan agency and transcultural fandom. Bertha Chin and Lori Morimoto (2013) have proposed the concept of transcultural fandom instead of transnational fandom, as focusing on the nation-state can privilege national culture over all other kinds of culture and result in judgments of good or bad fans based on whether they align with or resist state cultural policies. Thinking about fandoms as transcultural enables scholars to consider fans as multiply situated by virtue of affinity to particular transcultural texts. In a recent essay, Chin and Morimoto broaden their earlier framework even more to argue that most fandoms are now transcultural, as increased global flows of media and fandom presence online make contact between different fan cultures and subject positions unavoidable. They also place more emphasis on power, writing that in conceptualizing fandoms as groups of homogeneous affinity, "we lose sight of the disparities and disjunctions that may characterize transcultural interactions within fandoms" (Morimoto and Chin 2018, 174). This leads the authors to define transcultural fandom according to Mary Louise Pratt's idea of contact zones, with which cultures negotiate and grapple in the context of power asymmetries (Morimoto and Chin 2018).

[5.2] Chin and Morimoto do not return to the nation-state, understandably to avoid reifying it as the guarantor or withholder of power. Indeed, especially with their focus on online fandoms, other axes of identity such as race, gender, and sexuality potentially play a greater role in fandom experience and interaction. However, it would be remiss to ignore how racial ideologies often define national culture and state policies, and this affects both media content and fan strategies. The original Green Hornet, for example, exemplifies racializations of Asians that were particular to the United States. Similarly, while a series of decisions brought the Green Hornet to Hong Kong, the majority of audiences there would not leave Hong Kong or be able to speak back to William Dozier and Greenway Productions and had to summon highly local responses to grapple with the series and its foreign ideologies.

[5.3] As a result of power disparities, local responses on the part of Hong Kong fans to American racial construction in The Green Hornet also comprise textual poaching (Jenkins 1992). Texts and their producers impose dominant interpretations on audiences, but audiences may use elements from the text in unintended ways to build their own interpretations and creative work. When Jenkins discussed this concept, he did not look at transcultural fandom or racial ideology in particular. However, as the Hong Kong fandom around The Green Hornet demonstrates, fans of color who cannot engage in dialogue with media production centers have to poach from imported texts to work against racist ideologies—to combine scholarship on textual poaching and transcultural fandom, we can call this transcultural poaching. In the case of The Green Hornet, transcultural poaching took advantage of superhero genre conventions and Kato's partial inclusion as an Asian character to make him a local Hong Kong hero. In comparison, it took until 2014 for Marvel to publish comics where Sam Wilson/the Falcon, long-time sidekick to Captain America, takes on the role of Captain America. With a great deal of recent controversy over nonwhite characters stepping into superhero roles, we should not overlook how Hong Kong fans ushered Kato into the role of the Green Hornet, perhaps before his time.

6. Notes

1. The timing and nature of shifts in Kato's ethnicity often reflected the prevailing contemporary attitudes that the United States held toward various Asian countries. For example, although he was conceptualized as Japanese, during World War II the radio program consciously emphasized Kato's Filipino identity (Grams and Salomonson 2010). In the two Universal Pictures film serials produced in the 1940s, Kato's ethnicity was changed to Korean.

2. These films are not first and foremost fan works, since they are commercially produced films with input from many parties. However, fandom studies can be used as a general reading strategy when we acknowledge how both canon or commercial media and fan works are intertextually linked and that fannish behaviors can exist in a variety of contexts. While media convergence and digital fandom have facilitated the legitimization of fan works and derivation in the cultural industries, these phenomena are not limited to the last couple of decades. Anne Jamison (2013) notes that much of postmodern literature responds to previous literary texts or extends them in new directions, and such derivations enable these texts to be read as fan works. In addition, Kristina Busse's distinction between fannish identity and fannish behavior (2009) is also useful here. Fan behaviors, such as affective investment and derivation, can be found in activities and communities that are not traditionally considered fandoms. These nuances mean that in addition to a topic of research, fandom studies offer a methodology with which scholars can look for traces of fan investments in a wide range of texts and practices. This approach also has the advantage of enabling fandom research on times and places where the concept of the contemporary fan as a particular kind of mass media audience did not or does not exist. This is certainly a problem for research on popular culture in 1960s Hong Kong, especially prior to Bruce Lee's fame. Thus, in this article I use secondary sources to infer fan motivations and strategies.

3. Black Mask does seem to display some anxiety regarding the impending handover. It was based on a Hong Kong comic book that did not feature government testing in the protagonist's backstory, and the geopolitical backdrop of the stories is also unclear. On the other hand, the film opens with an explanation that the government testing took place "in a certain country up north," most likely referring to the PRC, possibly encapsulating an anxiety regarding how socially engineered, "unnatural" people from a Communist regime may affect Hong Kong.

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