I.  HK GWG Genre Films and Film Theory

Film Theory

This essay explores the extent to which elements of Western film theory, including aspects of production, cine-psychoanalysis, feminist film theory and reception approaches might suggest avenues for discussion of experiencing selected GWG films in relation to subjectivity.  Key concepts for understanding spectatorship include such considerations as narrative, structure, genre, patriarchal discourse, visual pleasure, “the look,” the monstrous, identification, and negotiated readings.  Their potential contributions are considered below.  This discussion is prefaced by a brief consideration of culture, and concludes with an appeal to a pragmatic perspective proposing that the meanings of film texts may be essentially “produced” by the uses to which they are put.  Audience reception studies increasingly suggest that differing “readings” may be negotiated by different viewers (Note 21).  Consequently, the constructs that have guided film theory may not necessarily describe inherent features of the genre films considered here, but might provide limited accounts of particular viewer responses to particular film texts.

Almen Wong (Her Name is Cat), Chingmy Yau (Raped by an Angel)
One aspect of film studies seeks to describe how elements of plot, narrative and character are technically rendered to produce recognizable genres.  Some of the distinctive characteristics of HK GWG films are discussed here in relation to genre, including reference to influential Western film and television productions.  However, given the unique privileging of female action performers in these GWG films, consideration of their ideological address is also relevant to any discussion of viewer response.  Feminist film theory has drawn heavily on cine-psychoanalysis to explore the symbolic codes for gender relations and female roles – particularly in entertainment genres such as action and horror rather than art house productions – and offers an obvious framework for examination of any body of films foregrounding women.  Much feminist film theory has maintained that most genre films – and especially action films – tend to affirm traditional gender roles and thereby reinforce patriarchal power structures.  Considerable emphasis has been placed on such elements as fragmentation of the body (e.g., close-ups on parts of women’s physiques), visual spectacle, and the gaze of characters or the camera to argue that popular cinema inherently sustains notions of women as objects to be looked at or acted upon, while men typically drive the narrative to its resolution.  The validity of such notions when applied to action films that explicitly privilege women is clearly open to question, although feminist film theory also challenges as implicitly patriarchal the very structure of action genre films.
Gigi Leung (A War Named Desire), Jade Leung (Peeping Tom)
If, as Wendy Arons (Note 22) has argued, certain HK female action films may offer identificatory or sensual attractions beyond the conventional patriarchal male address, they can actually be viewed from a variety of potential spectatorial positions.  These may involve oppositional readings that seek out challenges to convention and suggest the relevance of post-structuralist analyses (Note 23).  The possibility that many of these films can offer a reading opportunity similar to Ridley Scott’s “Thelma and Louise” – hailed as politically feminist (Note 24) – is enhanced by intra-cultural comparison between HK GWG films and HK Cat. III titles on the one hand, and with Japanese GWG films on the other.  Both the latter genres conspicuously display women’s bodies in male-coded contexts as male visual pleasures.  These films frequently occupy the same textual space as pornography, sharing characteristics of excess, gaze and audience address, as well as highly ritualized genre conventions.  By contrast, many of the classic HK GWG films of the late 1980s and early 1990s invite a potential ideological reading of their treatment of gender roles, personal and institutional power, personal relations, honor and violence.  The subtlety of these themes is not always matched by the sophistication of the productions, but even relatively Spartan productions can express a range of ideological perspectives.
Chingmy Yau in Naked Killer, Carmen Lee (The Odd One Dies)
Strains in feminist film theory have been brought about by the notion that meanings are invariably bound up with film texts to be “deciphered,” and that popular culture is inevitably constrained to produce narratives that only support the dominant ideology.  Clearly, neither is entirely accurate, and further complications are introduced by the necessity of allowing different viewer perspectives on gender, gender relations and identification with the protagonist according to cultural factors or sexual orientation.  Cultural studies (Note 25), with its emphasis on “negotiated” reading strategies suggests that diverse viewers are likely to construct (“negotiate”) diverse meanings and significance from film texts according to their specific history and perspectives.  Similarly, filmmakers are likely to address (and perhaps help shape) a broad range of viewer perspectives in an attempt to capture audience.  This approach suggests a more dynamic relationship between film text and audience – one that may shift across time (and culture).  This is of obvious relevance when attempting to discuss contemporary Western viewer responses to HK films from up to two decades ago.

A final perspective is more pragmatic.  Invoking more empirically grounded concepts of how emotions are read and how preferences may be established and changed, this seeks a brief, non-symbolic, non-ideological basis for intercultural consumption of film entertainment.

Notes:  HK GWG Genre Films and Film Theory

21. See Fiske, op. cit., and Noel King, “Hermeneutics, reception aesthetics, and film interpretation.”  In, John Hill & Pamela Church Gibson (Eds.), Film Studies:  Critical Approaches.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, pp. 210 – 221.
22. Arons, op. cit., p. 46.
23. Susan Haywood, Cinema Studies:  The Key Concepts.  London:  Routledge, 2000, pp. 362 – 363.
24. Hollinger, op. cit., pp. 116 – 125.
25. Fiske, op. cit.