I. HK GWG Genre Films
and Film Theory
Western (primarily English-language) feminist
film theory has addressed women’s roles in genre films and represents a
logical theoretical framework for consideration of female action films.
“Post-feminist” developments such as cultural studies arguably offer an
even more flexible framework for examination of intercultural readings
of film texts. However, issues of cultural universality and relevance
also need to be considered. Aside from the inherent logic of invoking
such theoretical approaches to issues of gender and patriarchy in film,
it is also possible to point to explicitly intercultural features of the
films themselves in support of the applicability of Western film theory
Certain intercultural features are immediately
evident in many of these films. At least half the more than 200 GWG
genre films referenced here (Note 26)
feature non-Chinese Asians, Caucasians or Eurasians in prominent roles.
An American (Cynthia Rothrock) was one of the most influential early performers
and established many genre conventions – including prominent use of the
name “Cynthia.” Three principal female performers of Japanese origin
collectively co-starred in approximately 90 of these genre films (Note
27). This film genre has therefore arguably
foregrounded “Otherness,” substantially defined by foreign (non-Chinese)
women performing in convention-defying, subversive ways. Consistent
with this, genre film roles for performers of Chinese origin tend to adhere
to a more conventional “law and order” formula. Although culture
is clearly relevant to defining “Otherness,” it appears to be so in a relative
rather than absolute sense. Furthermore, with respect to the conventions
of civil authority and customs often contributing to the mise-en-scene
of these films, British cultural influences are often prominent.
This invites a further measure of intercultural reading. Even costuming
– the “gangster chic” (Note 28)
of so many HK action productions – can arguably be partly traced to the
screen persona of a previous generation of Western performers such as Alain
Delon. Certain defining scenes such as the “walk on glass” in “Burning
Ambition” (1989) can sometimes be matched to similar sequences in earlier
Hollywood productions (in this instance, “Die Hard”).
It is also the case that the inherent conventions
of continuity filming are generally associated with classical Hollywood.
Any cinema that embraces continuity filming arguably aligns itself with
Hollywood narrative conventions. This also includes the specific
language of Western cinema which may – for example – involve shots from
below or asymmetrical framing. The latter are now prominent features
of HK filmmaking but are not typical of the symmetrical representations
of classical Chinese art traditions. Thus, the very language of contemporary
genre films may be increasingly intercultural. Specific antecedent
influences on plot, narrative and action conventions of many HK genre films
can be identified in widely marketed Western films and television, suggesting
the likely presence of common elements. The evolution of some HK
sub-genres such as female vengeance films closely parallels the specific
course described by Carol Clover (Note 29)
for comparable Western genre films, suggesting common overall themes.
Furthermore, although produced for a home audience,
HK cinema is also marketed to sizeable overseas Chinese audiences as well
as a variety of Asian nations. Some films such as “Enter the Eagles”
(1998) or “Fulltime Killer” (2001) present themselves as explicitly intercultural
in the diversity of their performers and spoken languages. Hastened
by developments in digital media, HK action films have also been increasingly
marketed in non-Asian nations. Accordingly, their address is increasingly
not limited to a specific audience group.
Such influences have finally yielded what is perhaps
the first true GWG film to be made in North America. Released in
2002, Thai director Wych Kaosayananda’s “Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever”
is set in Vancouver and features Chinese-American Lucy Liu as a renegade
assassin. By privileging the physical power and autonomy of a female
Asian-American in a leading role unlimited by ties to anyone, this film
is virtually unique among contemporary North American productions.
The opportunity for Liu to display skills in Kali-Escrima provides a further
intertextual link to the traditions of Asian martial arts that have shaped
both the creation and international consumption of this film genre.
Notes: HK GWG Genre Films and Film Theory
26. See reviews of HK GWG films and performers
at this website (www.brns.com).
27. Yukari Oshima, Michiko Nishiwaki and Nadeki
28. Pamela Church Gibson, “Film costume.”
In, Hill & Gibson, op. cit., pp. 34 – 40, esp. p. 36.
29. Carol Clover, Men, Women, and Chain Saws:
Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1992, pp. 59 – 64.