IV. Boundary and Role
“I’m gonna pretend you’re a man. A very
beautiful man with a perfect body, who I’d like to take to the movies.”
(Chris Tucker to Zhang Ziyi, “Rush Hour 2”)
The Monstrous Feminine
According to Barbara Creed (Note
1), female roles in horror may be broadly
described as those involving actual or symbolic destruction of the male,
those involving physical boundary violations, and those involving role
violations. Drawing on cine-psychoanalysis, these conceptions seek
to define the “horrific” according to violations of basic principles that
are presumed to underpin gender role. Thus, the traditional role
of nurturer may become horrifically modified into that of the destroyer.
In addition to destructive or contrary behavior, physical violations may
include structural changes to the body. Obvious examples include
distortions and mutilation, but more subtle instances include ambiguous
gender coding of appearance or contamination by dirt or bodily fluids.
According to cine-psychoanalysis these violate the “symbolic order” of
the fetishized (perfect) body, and raise anxiety in the presumed male viewer.
Although not explicitly articulated, the muscular physique or even the
physical skill of certain performers might also represent an implicit boundary
violation under the terms of this theory.
Cine-psychoanalysis proposes that such anxiety
may be stimulated in two ways by horror films. In the first, a primal
fear of actual annihilation can be evoked by enclosing or confining dark
spaces frequently coded “maternal.” In the second, an acquired fear
of real or symbolic castration can be evoked by female behavior or characteristics
that cross over into the realm of the “abject” and arouse unease or even
disgust. Roles with such features of category violation may be described
as “marginal” since their performers occupy a borderline space between
the realm of the symbolic – conforming to patriarchal codes for appearance,
behavior and order – and the abject – involving destruction of those codes,
chaos, and unregulated primal expression.
Jacqueline Wu’s chilling performance in “Intruder”
(1997) provides an example of activation of primal annihilation fear, while
several of Michiko Nishiwaki’s roles (“Angel Terminators,” 1990; “Princess
Madam,” 1989; “In The Line of Duty III,” 1988; “Hero Dream,” 1993) associate
the aggressive sensuality of a boundary-violating muscular femininity with
death. Films such as “Naked Killer” (1992) and “The Love That Is
Wrong” (1993) present an association between other female violations of
the patriarchal symbolic order – in this instance sexual orientation –
and death. Several assassin films (“The Other Side of the Sea,” 1994;
“Roar of the Vietnamese,” 1991; “Beyond Hypothermia,” 1996) associate their
female agents of death (Michelle Reis, Kara Hui, Jacqueline Wu) with national
origin (Vietnamese), arguably fueled by the then-current refugee crisis.
“Lethal Panther” (1991) went one step further, casting a Japanese (Yoko
Miyamoto) as a Vietnamese assassin.
When abject actions are associated with “Otherness”
– whether defined by the national origin of the performer or their character,
their character’s sexual orientation, or even their physical skills and
attributes – spectatorial distancing and identificatory remove are established.
After temporarily closing this gap with romance in several of the above
titles, the patriarchal and symbolic order may be finally restored by killing
off the still marginal female character. Films such as “Intruder”
and “Roar of the Vietnamese” may be considered quite political in their
problematizing of the lengths to which individuals may go to escape hardship.
Moreover, the resolution of each of these films ultimately fails to satisfactorily
re-establish the patriarchal order – an outcome commonly labeled “controversial.”
Other potential manifestations of the abject and
monstrous feminine (Note 2)
involve castration symbolism of the “toothed vagina.” Parenthetically,
this symbol in film is actually more than simply a figment of cine-psychoanalytic
imagination. It is explicitly present in the Japanese anime “Wicked
City,” for example. Examples from HK cinema include the (lethal)
physical proximity of the female protagonist’s vagina to a circular saw
in the finale of “Red to Kill” (1994), biting or castration performed by
Nadeki Fujimi’s characters in “Killer Angels” (1989) and “Pink Panther”
(1993) or use of sexual activity as an instrument of homicide (e.g., by
Rena Murakami’s character in “1/3 Lover,” 1995).
Possible examples of physical boundary violations
include the spectacularly muscled physiques of Michiko Nishiwaki (“My Lucky
Stars,” 1985) and Agnes Aurelio (“She Shoots Straight,” 1990), Yukari Oshima’s
transformations into a cat (“Devil Cat,” 1991) or a man (“The Story of
Ricky,” 1992), encounters with blood, sweat or filth (e.g., Yukari Oshima
in “Angel Terminators II,” 1993; “Spiritually a Cop,” 1991; Nadeki Fujimi
in “Rock on Fire,” 1994), personal disfigurement (e.g., Brigitte Lin, “Lady
in Black,” 1987), extreme physical suffering (unknown performer in “The
Deadly Rose”, 1992), or mental illness (e.g., Maggie Siu, “Sting of the
Scorpion,” 1992). Such boundary transgressions as these involve transformations
beyond the token bloodstain, torn clothing or scuff mark, and cross into
the realm of the abject.
Notes: Boundary and Role Violations
1. Creed, ibid.
2. Creed, ibid.