II.  Narrative and Genre


In support of an intercultural approach to the analysis of this genre, the direct influence of certain American and European action films may be identified.  “Ms. 45,” for instance, was directly replicated in the early HK urban vengeance GWG title “Girl with a Gun” (1984), while the well known “Black Cat” (1991) was an HK re-make of “La Femme Nikita.”  Other relatively direct cinematic influences included plot elements of Coppola’s “The Godfather” discernible in “Widow Warriors” (1990) or aspects of the mise-en-scene in “Thunder Cops II” (1989) seemingly influenced by De Palma’s “The Untouchables.”  In many respects HK GWG police dramas remained faithful to Hollywood police detective thrillers, both in narrative structure, predominantly urban setting and eschewal of sexual or romantic tension during investigative narratives, exemplified by the “In The Line of Duty” series (1988 – 1990) and its derivatives.

Black Cat and Widow Warriors
Other Hollywood thriller narratives more commonly foreground sexual and romantic tensions between the male protagonist and supporting female character(s).  Such relations may problematize female action roles.  One solution, that of passionate intensity fueled by external threat as in “Bonnie and Clyde,” has found relatively faithful resonance in a number of HK fugitive or “wild couple” films (e.g., “On The Run,” 1988; “Enemy Shadow,” 1995).  Another solution seems more distinctively characteristic of these HK action films – and perhaps Asian action film narratives in general – solving the problem via loss.  Extreme loss may emotionally and behaviorally transform the very persona of the female protagonist in live action to a magnitude as great as the “personal apocalyptic” (Note 5) physical transformations depicted in anime.  In effect, HK action films invert the conventions of romantic tension and attraction of the thriller genre to yield loss and estrangement instead.  For Western audiences these are more typically encountered in the horror genre.  Thus, noteworthy HK action films such as “Soul” (1986), “She Shoots Straight” (1990) or “Queen’s High” (1991) involve devastating familial loss while retaining audience identification with the female protagonist.  Here, she does not become a horrifying, abject or ambivalent figure as in many Hollywood titles such as “Fatal Attraction” (Note 6).
Enemy Shadow and She Shoots Straight
American and European films with their sizeable budgets, auteurs, and distinctive narratives nevertheless may not constitute the exclusive or even primary channel of entertainment influence.  Television may also contribute to understanding HK action films, and bears a number of structural similarities in budget, improvisational settings, filming techniques, and compensation for lack of narrative continuity (“weak” stories) via characterization rather than settings.  Television drama is also frequently serialized or characterized as “formulaic,” while such formulas may serve to diffuse audience interest across multiple, iterative episodes via heightening awareness and recognition of genre conventions.  Much the same could be said of HK genre films.  Efficiently and cheaply produced, their emphasis on character and convention rather than setting and narrative continuity arguably more closely resembles television drama than Hollywood feature films.  Such similarities include virtual “serialization” – common among GWG titles.  “The Inspector Wears Skirts” (1988 – 1992) had four episodes, “Angel” (1987 – 1989) three, “Black Cat” (1991 – 2000) three, while the “In the Line of Duty” series ran arguably to seven films (1985 – 1991).  Unlike Hollywood serialized action films (e.g., “Die Hard” or “Lethal Weapon”), setting is generally a secondary factor.
Inspector Wears Skirts I
In addition to film, the direct influence of English-language television on both sides of the Atlantic can be discerned.  The 1976 – 1981 series “Charlie’s Angels” directly inspired the HK film “Deadly Angels” (1984, Note 7) and the film “Angel” (1987), which in turn inspired a substantial number of Angel derivatives.  “Cagney and Lacey” that aired between 1982 and 1988 is recognized as a significant development in the police action genre foregrounding both personal and professional issues of gender and ideological significance (Note 8).  The 1983 – 1985 British television gangster series “Widows” is credited by Bey Logan (Note 9) with influencing the HK film “Widow Warriors” (1990), while “Juliet Bravo,” broadcast between 1980 and 1985 represented an approach within British popular culture to narratives involving singular female authority within the largely patriarchal structures of law enforcement that may have indirectly influenced HK cinematic depictions of policewomen.
Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima in Angel
None of the above is intended to minimize the originality of HK filmmaking.  But, just as David Bordwell (Note 10) has placed HK cinema in a universal context as well crafted popular entertainment, it is also possible to discern particular strands of continuity with certain widely distributed products of Western popular cultural media.  Contemporary HK action films have operated in a predominantly urban setting while adhering to conventions of film technique and genre that seem universal.  It has drawn from and enriched other national cinemas.  Culturally universal elements have contributed to the wide marketability of HK films.  Culturally specific elements and references occasionally dominate these texts, but typically not in action films although culturally specific elements contribute to defining “Otherness” for both Asian and non-Asian audiences.  The distinctiveness of HK action films, and GWG films in particular, seems more associated with specific genre conventions.  Relatively universal concepts of genre analysis can be applied to explicate how these films are experienced.

Notes:  Narrative and Genre

5. Napier, op. cit., pp. 29 – 30.
6. Haywood, op. cit., p. 348 discusses shifting identificatory positions among viewers of this film.
7. Weisser, op. cit., p. 51.
8. Julie D’Acci, “The case of Cagney and Lacey.”  In, Baehr & Dyer, op. cit., pp. 203 – 225.  See also Mimi White, “Ideological analysis and television.”  In, Allen, op. cit., pp. 161 – 202, esp. p. 186.
9. Logan, op. cit., p. 156.
10. Bordwell, op. cit.