III.  Ideology and Spectatorship

Feminist Readings

The superficially progressive foregrounding of women in so many action roles in HK cinema is immediately subject to two obvious constraints.  The first involves the prominence of recuperative narratives that re-inscribe women into the patriarchal order through narrative closure involving conventions of romance or re-assertion of patriarchal power.  The second concerns the social construction of gender itself.  According to this view, the prominence of women wielding symbols of power and authority (such as guns) in conspicuously individualistic, competitive ways within narratives predominantly identified as supporting patriarchal ideology simply identifies them with that ideology.  Merely changing the gender of the principal protagonist(s) in muscle dramas without changing other gender signifiers essentially leaves the patriarchal text intact.  This masculine genre is further supported by the male “look,” comprising elements of objectifying, fragmenting or fetishizing the female body, within a voyeuristic context that has been characterized by Laura Mulvey as involving a “sadistic” male gaze (Note 9).  Many HK action films do, indeed, involve prominent elements of costuming, female suffering at the hands of men, and graphic sexuality.  In many instances the gender and sexuality of a powerful female protagonist is questioned.  Authority roles are typically associated with absence of sexual expression.  The patriarchal frame of delegated male authority seems almost universal.

Notes:  Ideology and Spectatorship

9. Mulvey, op. cit.