The Xièxie Phenomenon
Before 1998, only a small percentage of the American population knew of Jackie Chan. Even though Rumble in the Bronx was eventually acquired by New Line Cinema, who gave it an English dub and a sweet soundtrack, Jackie Chan wasn’t on everyone’s radar. Then, Rush Hour happened.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, Rush Hour puts a twist on the classic buddy-cop movie by pairing Jackie Chan (a Chinese inspector with a thick accent and sweet karate moves to make up for it) with wise-crackin’ Chris Tucker (an African American police officer who has a problem with authority) for 98 minutes worth of choreographed fight scenes and comic relief.
Even if Rush Hour doesn’t make your top ten favorite movies of all time list, chances are you’ve heard it referenced once or twice:
Or better yet, this magic moment where Detective Carter (Tucker) reminds Inspector Lee (Chan) that his accent makes him difficult to understand:
However, the main takeaway that most Americans took from Rush Hour wasn’t the catchphrase “Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth?” or a temporary obsession with the song “War”. American audiences seemed to retain one tidbit of information: xièxie.
Xièxie, pronounced “she she”, is spoken by almost every title character in the movie. According to Survivalphrases.com, “Chinese characters have meanings, and the character 谢 (xiè) means thanks, to thank. As the phrase Xiè xie. consists of two of the same characters, it literally means, “Thank(s), thank(s).” However, it is translated as “Thank you.” Xiè xie nǐ. (Thank you.), or the politer version Xiè xie nin. (Thank you.[formal]), are common variations of the phrase Xiè xie. (Thank you.).”
Xièxie and Nĭ hăo (Chinese for “hello”) are common phrases in the movie. The fact that these phrases are short and easy to pronounce allows them to be archived painlessly. But these phrases are not without pain.
If they haven’t already asked me where I’m from, strangers will usually just come out and ask me if I speak Chinese. For China is the only Asian country that exists to people who are not from Asia. Although, Korea is getting up there in popular knowledge thanks to James Franco and Kim Jong-un. However, most still don’t know there’s a North and South Korea, and that it means something to be from one or the other.
Sometimes, people will simply say “xièxie” when I hand them something or do them a favor. They have a smile on their face – the one you get when you’re surprising someone. They’re so proud of themselves for realizing my slanted eyes must mean I eat with chopsticks and sit on pillows and write with paintbrushes. They’re looking for my gratitude. They want to be praised for taking the time out of their lives to tell me I’m not alone – that they understand me.
But to me, xièxie doesn’t mean thank you. It just means you’re another asshole who saw Rush Hour.