I. HK GWG Genre Films
and Film Theory
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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
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
20. Karen Hollinger, In the Company of Women:
Contemporary Female Friendship Films. Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 1998.