II. Narrative and
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.
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
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.
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.
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.