I.  HK GWG Genre Films and Film Theory

Cultural Specificity

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 and studies.

Cynthia Rothrock and Karen Shepard in Righting Wrongs
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.

Yukari Oshima (Story of Ricky), Seina Kasugi (The Stewardess)
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.
Kim Maree Penn (Oh Yes Sir!), Shannon Lee (Enter the Eagles)
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 Fujimi.
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.