Beautiful Blood on Your
Successors to GWG
Finding Worthy Successors:
Looking for Ms. Wrong
“I’ve waited for this moment for fifteen
(Ryoko Yonekura, “Gun Crazy”)
The present task of identifying a core group
of worthy contemporary female action dramas was guided by several principles.
Titles were limited to those available in DVD format produced since 1997
that foreground credible female action performers in contemporary narratives
emphasizing autonomy and effective use of power. These criteria guided
selection of an inclusive but surprisingly brief list of 18 films – six
from each national cinema. Although selected opportunistically, grouping
by national origin also suggested several possible underlying generalizations.
These are further described below, together with aspects of the narrative
and technical features that distinguish these films.
Fan writing, particularly concerning genre films,
often includes lists and recommendations. While such lists can inform
and stimulate, there may be little agreement between different reviewers,
and the potential viewer is offered little indication whether his or her
spectatorial experience will match the rater’s. This problem largely
stems from failure to apply genre analysis or comparable organizing principles,
and failure to operationalize the basis for ratings. The latter can
be narrowed by describing the general “reading strategy” of the reviewer,
then identifying the features within each film text that make that strategy
possible. In this manner, potential viewers can determine their extent
of alignment with the stated reading strategy.
By way of illustration, knowing that a particular
reviewer assigns a given rating to a film or describes the performance
of an actor favorably does not guarantee spectatorial engagement and emotional
responding by another viewer. For everyone who “likes” a particular
film there may be another who does not. The assigned rating fails
to discriminate precisely because it seemingly locates the rated attributes
in the film text itself rather than primarily in the interaction (“negotiation”)
between text and viewer. Questions about the merits of a particular
film may dissolve in endless subjectivity until perhaps re-framed as a
contingency – if the viewer enjoys (prior experience) this type of film
(genre) emphasizing the specified themes (narrative elements), a positive
viewing experience is likely (predicted positive viewer response).
By borrowing the language of cultural studies and viewer response theories,
we can view this as the conditional proposition that specification of a
general spectatorial position relative to a known genre assists prediction
of the film’s likely reception. If the film’s narrative and textual
structure favors this reading strategy at multiple points, a positive viewing
experience for viewers aligned with this perspective may be predicted.
It may even be possible to pick out the specific moments within the textual
flow that favor (or do not favor) the specified reading.
It may also be possible to review the same text
from the perspective of an alternative or subversive reading strategy,
noting the extent to which isolated moments offer the possibility of disrupting
or destabilizing the dominant ideology (as, for instance, in the “identity
politics” of feminist, queer or ethnic readings of film texts). Western
viewers of Asian film may to some extent already engage in alternative
reading strategies aligned with the suggestions of Third Cinema theorists.
This viewing experience is likely to be impelled by diverse motives and
interests, and Asian cinema obliges its increasingly global audience by
offering a diverse array of genre films favoring just about every reading
This review of selected contemporary Hong Kong,
Japanese and Korean female action films proceeds first by reference to
a particular viewing strategy, then considers the narrative and textual
devices by which these films facilitate that particular strategy.
In essence, this review seeks to delineate a specific spectatorial ideology,
then identify film texts whose reading is easily negotiated in accordance
with that specific ideological perspective. Preference, described
in this manner, cannot be located either within the text or spectator –
but is constructed by the act of viewing.
Many of the action film products of East Asian
cinema present their depiction of women and female roles as an ideological
problematic. This is most marked in exploitation genres, but is also
evident in more general questions concerning violence toward women and,
more intriguingly, violence by women. Given the sheer volume of films
featuring action roles for women in Asian cinema, it is necessary to refer
to entire genres or sub-genres rather than isolated film texts as in comparable
studies of Western films. It can be argued that there may be considerable
overlap between progressive, recuperative and patriarchal ideological implications
and specific sub-genres of Asian female action films, just as for Western
genre analysis. In this essay an attempt is made to identify a group
of Asian action film texts that facilitate progressive, non-recuperative
readings that may merit repeated viewing by ideologically aligned viewers.
Suggestions are offered concerning how specific narrative and textual features
in these films privilege female characters as “bearers of the gaze” whose
actions also shape the narrative conclusion.
In action films, conventions of individualistic,
competitive masculinity provide a framework in which the dominant ideology
appears “natural.” The technology, cars and guns that are typically
prominent in action films may themselves serve as symbolic attributes of
maleness and its culturally delegated rights and powers. In this
ideological context, masculinity is also associated with obligations of
duty and service. However, this dominant ideological construction
is challenged when such generic features are appropriated by female characters.