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Pet Sins September 2001

Martial Law

Martial Law is a popular CBS TV series about the adventures of an African American cop and his Chinese exchange partner from the Shanghai police department. This series is highly popular because of the combination of Arsenio Hall's charisma and Sammo Hung's martial arts.

From what we've seen, U.S. TV shows featuring a multiracial pair of colored people tend to share power equally between the two. Martial Law supports the interracial egalitarian trend started by New York Undercover, whose two main characters, a black cop and a Latino cop, receive an equal share of the action.

On the other hand, a white-colored pair on primetime TV is much less likely to share power equally. The other popular interracial cop show Walker, Texas Ranger, features a black sidekick to Chuck Norris. This harks back to older trendsetters like The Lone Ranger and Tonto, and The Green Hornet and Kato.

Martial Law tries to stay non-offensive by having a multiracial bunch of cops (black, white and yellow) fight multiracial gangs of bad guys. The crime organizations featured often consist of black, white and yellow villains working together. While this is hardly an accurate depiction of most organized crime in real life, part of Martial Law's appeal is it doesn't take itself seriously. The laughing-at-ourselves sequence (a popular Hong Kong movie phenomenon) at the end of each episode has generated rave feedback from critics and viewers.

The natural, easy rapport between the Asian and black actors is a treat, considering its rarity on American TV. It won't be a stretch to say that Martial Law rode the success of Rush Hour. (a 1998 movie about a black detective and a Chinese policeman) After box office records proved the winning formula in the black-Chinese team of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, studios should be a little more confident that having only heroes of color in a movie/TV show will not necessarily jeopardize earnings or ratings. Martial Law in turn, paved the way for Romeo Must Die, a 1999 romance/action film a Chinese man-black woman partnership. I believe that Martial Law, winning over audiences of all races week after week, was key to increasing the acceptance level for the first mainstream release of a black-woman-Asian-man romance movie.