I.  HK GWG Genre Films and Film Theory

Audience Address

With respect to their surface texts, GWG genre films can perhaps be broadly grouped into four descriptive categories according to genre conventions that have been identified in Western film studies.  The first transparently involves conventionally beautiful female performers displayed primarily for male spectatorial pleasure.  HK titles such as “Cop Shop Babes” (2001) or “Martial Angels” (2001) reveal both their content and audience address in their English-language titles.  Despite occasional dramatic flair or strong individual performances, such films nevertheless present their female protagonists primarily as visual spectacle.  In some ways they might be considered HK counterparts of Western genre films such as “Barb Wire.”

Cop Shop Babes and Vicky Zhao in So Close
A second prominent HK sub-genre involves “law-and-order” or police procedural (Note 17) plots featuring one or more female leads.  This type of film has provided many of the best-known roles for performers such as Michelle Yeoh, Cynthia Khan or Moon Lee.  Representative titles such as the “In The Line of Duty” (1988 - 1990) series generally adhere to police action genre conventions in which power is delegated and used either to protect others or apprehend offenders.  In general, relationship possibilities for the principal protagonist are strictly circumscribed by a need to maintain perceived objectivity and professionalism.
Michelle Yeoh in Royal Warriors and Cynthia Khan in ITLOD5
“Muscle dramas” (Note 18) occupy a similar textual space to police procedurals, but place greater emphasis on physical action as a mode of visual display.  The narrative and plot structure may often serve primarily to provide opportunities for action scenes.  When these foreground the physical power or performance skills of women, films such as “She Shoots Straight” (1990) can raise ideological questions about gender role and power relations that occasionally diverge from the generally patriarchal conventions of the police procedural genre.
Joyce Godenzi and Agnes Aurelio in She Shoots Straight
A final category might be termed “relationship dramas,” potentially aligned both with Western film studies’ conceptions of melodrama (Note 19) and the women’s friendship film (Note 20), but framed by an action context.  Hollywood has only occasionally produced works such as “Thelma and Louise” or “Bound,” but HK cinema includes numerous superior works involving female assassins (e.g., “Beyond Hypothermia,” 1996), fugitives (e.g., “On the Run,” 1988), or films that span a broader developmental trajectory (e.g., “Portland Street Blues,” 1998).  The foregrounding of relationships in films such as “Roar of the Vietnamese” (1991) may compel an ideological reading of the film text by drawing the viewer into a conflict between action and affection.  The same can be said of revenge formats (e.g., “Her Vengeance,” 1988) or those involving disruption and upheaval (e.g., “Soul,” 1986).  All involve explicit links between the personal and the action that drives the narrative – whether in the form of an on-screen relationship or as a back story.  Any discussion of gender and film role eventually acknowledges links between the personal and the political.
Pat Ha in On the Run and Wu Chien-lien in Beyond Hypothermia
Of these four broad categories, two – those involving conventional display and law-and-order narratives – could be described as generally affirming traditional roles and patriarchal norms.  On the other hand, lead roles for women in those muscle dramas and action films that also foreground personal relationships inherently raise possibilities likely to bring these very norms into focus – and perhaps into question.  It is the latter type of performance that will be considered in greater detail below.

Notes:  HK GWG Genre Films and Film Theory

17.  For an outline of the narrative constituents and ideology of the  "action-detective" genre, see John Fiske,   "British cultural studies."  In, Allen, op. cit., pp. 284 - 326, esp. pp. 293 - 297.
18.  Fiske, op. cit., pp. 293 - 297.
19. Linda Williams, “Film bodies:  Gender, genre and excess.”  In, Sue Thornham (Ed.), Feminist Film Theory:  A Reader.  New York:  New York University Press, 1999, pp. 267 – 281.
20. Karen Hollinger, In the Company of Women:  Contemporary Female Friendship Films.  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1998.