VII.  Pragmatic Reading

Closing Remarks

If, as seems likely, the very category “fan” is itself constructed by the act(s) of viewing (“reading”) multiple texts, it is likely that other aspects of viewership – including the readings actually negotiated – will also depend on experience.  Varying from viewer to viewer, such experience may include not only matters of culture, gender and ideology, but also familiarity with intertextual matters such as a performer’s martial arts skill or other roles.  While films obviously vary in the ease with which their textually constructed meanings can be disputed, it has been argued here that HK GWG films offer unusually rich opportunities for readings from a variety of ideological and identificatory perspectives.  Such opportunities, and the pleasures accompanying them, may be enhanced by awareness of those principles and conventions of narrative cinema concerning gender that these films sometimes foreground, as well as intertextual knowledge of the performers, culture and symbolism.  These factors all combine to produce viewing pleasure.

Michiko Nishiwaki in In the Line of Duty III and Michelle Yeoh in Yes Madam
Linda Williams’ characterization of genre films that foreground emotional excess as “non-linear spectacles” (Note 5) suggests that they may ultimately resist linear attempts at classification and, above all, explanation.  Salient images such as Cynthia Khan’s machine gun toting bride (“Queen’s High”), Michelle Yeoh’s motorcycle jump onto a moving train (“Supercop”) or Michiko Nishiwaki’s spectacular musculature (e.g., “My Lucky Stars”) resonate at a primal, emotional level.  Within the context of gender role, perhaps such elements function as “strange attractors” (Note 6) serving to destabilize and collapse conventional meanings.  Cine-psychoanalysis may be correct in pointing to the significance of boundary violations and threats to the traditional symbolic order, while being wrong about the underlying theoretical explanation.  The spectatorial experience seems as have as much to do with the thrill of chaos and disruption as with an orderly process of gendered identification.  GWG films seem to poke a thumb in the eye of many traditions.  The conflation of raw sensation seeking with role violations amplifies the chaos by which the pleasure of familiar genre imagery is literally “made strange” by gender (Note 7).  In responding to these films’ assault on gendered conventions, occasionally alternative sexuality and intercultural appeal, a sub-culture of Western spectatorship may actually become aligned with the oppositional stance articulated by “queer theory” (Note 8).
Cynthia Khan in In the Line of Duty IV and Sibelle Hu in The Queen of Gamble
Many Western fans of HK cinema doubtless report they were initially drawn to it by the search for something “different.”  For those who enjoy GWG films, this essay may help explicate the source of that difference either in the opportunity for contact with a counter-aesthetic to patriarchy that some of these films provide, or perhaps in the sheer scopophilic pleasure of watching cinema’s most impressive Final Girls.


Notes:  Pragmatic Reading

5. Williams, op. cit., esp. pp. 268 – 269.
6. Ann Marie Barry, Visual Intelligence:  Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication.  Albany:  State University of New York Press, 1997, p. 71, p, 100.
7. Charlotte Brunsdon, “Men’s genres for women.”  In, Baehr & Dyer (Eds.), op. cit., pp. 184 – 202, esp. p. 188.
8. See Alexander Doty, “Queer theory.”  In, Hill & Gibson (Eds.), op. cit., pp. 146 – 150.