PANEL 13 – Choreographies of Gender
Luke White & susan pui san lok
Through the Window – Wing Chun as Woman Warrior
The origin myth of Wing Chun – a martial art invented by one woman for another – is striking with respect to gender. Of its many cinematic tellings, the most intriguing in reworking the figure of the heroic swordswoman is Yuen Woo-ping’s Wing Chun (1994). Sasha Vojkovic (2009) understands the film – emerging from a longer cultural tradition of women warriors – as ‘a landmark of … womanhood in Chinese cinema’ and ‘an art of empowering women and subverting patriarchal authorities’, where martial arts create a transformed femininity rather than merely masculinising the film’s protagonist. However – in spite of its rendering of a decaying patriarchy where the authoritative, sympathetic characters are overwhelmingly women – Wing Chun might be read as simultaneously undermining and reinscribing gender norms. This paper will take the form of an experimental visual/textual essay, in which some of the film’s key moments are re-cut and re-framed with a dialogic/reflexive commentary, exploring the film’s gender politics and our own spectatorial positionings. Our starting point is to investigate the repeated imagery of windows in Wing Chun. Cheng Pei-pei (who plays Wing-chun’s teacher) recounts refusing a direction, during the making of an earlier film, to exit a scene by the door rather than the window, like her male counterparts. A swordswoman, she insists, leaves by the window. Marking the boundaries of domestic (female) and public (male) space, the window, like the cinema screen, is not only a portal for gazes and misrecognitions, but also one through which the athletic, unconventional warrior (male or female) exits and enters. As a motif, how might ‘leaving by the window’ be read as a figure of female empowerment, resistance, or otherwise? How do the film’s three central female characters and archetypes – Wing-chun (‘martial artist’), her aunt (‘businesswoman’) and Yim Neung (‘beauty’) – speak and move within and beyond its frames, to invoke different femininities? How do narratives of Yeoh herself, transitioning from beauty queen to action star, intersect with the film’s images of Wing-chun as warrior and woman? Among multiple gazes, what spaces open up for spectators to variously imagine, identify or contest the empowered, transformed and gendered woman warrior?
Wen, Wu, and Romantic Love: The Xia and Masculinities in Jin Yong’s Wuxia Novels
In 1955, Jin Yong serialized his first wuxia novel in Hong Kong. Generally categorized as being part of the New School wuxia fiction, Jin Yong had followed a literary tradition that was no longer permitted in China, with a different interpretation of the xia figure and the composition of masculinity. Jin Yong’s male characters are not fully wen (cultured) or wu (martial). His male protagonists do not consider women a source of trouble or distraction from their martial arts studies; in fact they all boldly embrace romantic love. Yet love is not the men’s sole focus, as the men in the scholar-beauty stories. These heroes are simultaneously impacted by their female companions and the political situation at the time, thus range somewhere in the middle of the wen and wu spectrum, but never completely reach either ends. Chen Jialuo, the male protagonist of Jin Yong’s first novel Book and Sword, is a handsome, learned young man hailing from an honorable family and has superb martial arts skills. In great contrast, the “hero” of Jin Yong’s last novel Deer and Cauldron is the rascal Wei Xiaobao, who is illiterate, has weak morals, and his only martial arts skill is to escape from danger. In addition to the two characters mentioned above, I will also examine Guo Jing from Condor Heroes, and Linghu Chong from Proud, Smiling Wanderer in regards to the wen, wu, and romantic aspects in the makeup of their masculinity and chivalrous characters.
PD Hyunseon Lee
Martial body in Akira Kurosawa’s early films
Martial arts films are characterized by elaborate action pictures. In his famous paper “The Movement-Image” Gilles Deleuze demonstrates the prototype of actions picture with Akira Kurosawa’s film “Shichinin no samurai” (1954). In the martial arts genre, one of the most important characters is that of the sword fighter, which embodies the performance of fighting body of men. The sword fighter plays a significant and poignant role in these films. The portrayal of the sword fighter exists primarily in the historical works of Kurosawa. These works highlight the phenotype of the Japanese martial male which is depicted with images of worriors. Kurosawa’s samurai films also pose the underlying question of ‘Japaneseness’. Other questions raised in Kurosawa’s films are: How the martial bodies are mobilised, critically interrogated and investigated throughout? To which extent Kurosawa’s unique film aesthetic is expressed and the martial body as the spectacle portrayed? How does the inclusion of the indigenous culture manifest itself? The focus of the following presentation aims to examine such questions while centring on the motive of the ‘martial body’. This equally has a close relationship with the transcultural and -national development of martial arts genre. Examples referenced for analysis are Kurosawa’s early films such as “Sugata Sanshirō, 1943) “Sugata Sanshirō, Part II” (1945) and „Shichinin no Samurai“ (1954).