I. HK GWG Genre Films
and 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.
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.
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
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
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.