Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: feminism
Friday, 27 April 2012 13:51

Taiwan National Film Industry's Feminine Ideal

Whereas in the 1980s and 1990s, Taiwan New Cinema could be characterised by strong, mature female characters, in recent year, an attempt by the film industry to attract a younger audience has had an influence on film content and the representation of women. Indeed, recent commercial cinema tends to offer simplified story plots and development and is heavily influenced by Japan, Korean and local television (whereas Japanese and Korean cinema audiences are very diverse and allow a widescope of film genres, Taiwan cinema production seems to focus mainly on a younger demographic with certain formulas and stereotypes in films.). As a result, in these teenage dramas, “women” are quite absent on screen compared to “girls”. The young girl has become the central representation in Taiwan cinema and most of the time in a secondary role. There is a dichotomy in the representation of female characters: the innocent – passive - girls and then mothers; which seems to indicate a real lack of a positive alternative role-model. Still some films try to give another image of female characters. This article is an attempt to describe the different type of female image representation in recent Taiwan cinema.

Peripheral female characters

In recent success, such as Monga (Doze Niu, 2010) or Winds of September (Tom Shu-yu Lin, 2008), being narratives about male friendship, female parts are naturally reduced to vague shadows amongst a male dominated cast. They are objects of desire and competition, a way of asserting manhood but do not exist in and for themselves. They have a part as a peripheral narrative device. In Winds of September, the female classmates are seen from afar, outside the boys-circle. The male group is disturbed when one of them decides to be with a girl. Yen is the only one who has a girl–friend but their relationship is portrayed as not very successful. The film plays between the warm complicity between the guys (swimming together, going out on motorbike rides) and the disruption of female characters to this complicity. Thus, Winds of September and Monga articulate their narration around troubles caused by girls – those they steal from one another in particular. In Monga, the role of the young prostitute is concretely peripheral, as she is reduced to the space of the room which she occupies and seems to be meant only to introduce a hint of heterosexuality in a film haunted by a blatant homoeroticism. But the moments Mosquito shares with her in her confined space are also the only moments when Mosquito can escape the violence of the group. In these cases, female characters only exist as outcasts, as symbols of innocence and danger. This projection turns female characters into ghostly presences with no real substance.

The only recent film that plays with this peripheral aspect is You’re the Apple of My Eye, indeed by adopting the narrator's point of view, the film endorses the young hero's gaze on his classmate. She, herself is deprived of an existence outside the hero's gaze but she is both peripheral and central to the narration. This narrative stance allows the main character to create an ideal female who still escapes his understanding. The film establishes a distance and a game between the external image of the heroine, and the life of the hero. Whilst the heroine is seen as a smooth surface without any real desire or lust, the male character is shown with an overactive body. The heroine is seen, described, talked about but does not have a direct active role in the narration. Still the female character remains someone alive, in opposition to many ghostly characters

Dissolution of the stereotype

If, male centred narration projects a passive image of women, female oriented narrative tends to do exactly the same thing. Indeed, the beauty ideal of skinniness and whiteness as promoted in advertisements and films leads to a dilution of female characters into pure ethereal images. The most striking example is the transformation of Kui Lun-Mei who starred first as a strong tom-boy character in Blue Gate Crossing and who is now mostly cast to perform skinny, white and nearly boneless characters. In Taipei Exchange, she represents an immature heroine, with childish expressions, ideals and relationships. Flesh seems to be completely absent in her relationship with the pilot. The choice of actresses is very important in this trend, most of them are extremely skinny, with long hair and a very white skin, which make them look more like ghosts than human beings. Moreover, their characters are also very soft and shy most of the time. The heroine of Honey Pupu is more defined by her voice than her body and in One Day, the relationship between the two main characters is lit in a slight overexposure which makes it seem a little unreal. The exception of Nikky Hsie's part as a demonic, destructive prostitute in Honey Pupu is only a characterisation of her virtual persona. She represents flesh and sexiness in her attire and attitude but is the evil character of the group. Feminine desire seems to be banned and condemned and her character only gains positivity when she is discovered to be pregnant. The choice of being less commercial entails primarily avoiding this physcial stereotype. In Seven Days in Heaven the female character is somehow comic in a tragic situation, her indifference to the burial process seems to emphasize theemptiness of her life.

Becoming the Body: Blow Fish and Yang Yang

In Blow Fish, the director and the screenwriter/actress distort the classical representation of heroines in films. The film starts with a training session in a department store, the heroine is just another white, nameless, transparent puppet in the great commercial mechanism. But when she escapes to the countryside and invites herself to stay at the coach's house, she loses her inconsistency and gains a body. Even if she remains silent, she imposes her will on the coach. The white skinny body and the silent attitude are turned into a demanding and active body that creates a strange effect. It could be argued that the film is more like a fantasy story and not realistic at all.

So in a more realistic representation, Yang Yang is more like a bildungsroman following the emancipation of an athlete. As in Miao Miao in which Sandra Pinna/ Zhang Rong Rong's vitality is contrasted with effeminacy, in Yang Yang, she is pure movement, a desiring body and an energy that becomes a real presence. The film follows her closely, capturing a body and a personality in transition. In the film Yang Yang is central and is the one making her own decisions about her life and her sexuality. The choice of the director to choose a sport professional also adds to this idea of a more active role. The last long shot of the film following Yang Yang as she runs – a clear reference to Truffaut – also conveys the resilient strength of the heroine being something other than just an image – she becomes an actress.

In some few exceptions, women characters are adults and as a consequence this changes the perception of them. The same happens in Seven Days in Heaven in which young characters are secondary and older characters more important. Still in this film the character of the daughter is a quite hard to grasp. Focusing on adults, the film avoids the stereotypes on youngsters and female characters stands out with their strong personality and comical qualities. They also represent – the daughter, the funeral specialist, the absent daughter and the nurse – examples of independent and successful women

Except for these few examples, Taiwan cinema in recent years has not been a female character role provider except for perpetuating an ideal of softness that reminds us of the ideal character depicted in 1970s films.

 


Wednesday, 18 April 2012 15:49

The Sound of a Falling Angel in the Night


Original text by Lolita Hu taken from her collection My Generation, translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart. Art by Arvid Torres. Lolita Hu (胡晴舫) was born in Taipei and graduated from the Foreign Languages Department of National Taiwan University and went on to get her masters in the Theatre Department of The University of Wisconsin. In 1999 she moved to Hong Kong. She writes cultural criticism as well as short stories and essays. Her works have been published in the media in Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. She currently lives in Tokyo.

 

 

Dim light is cast by the dragon-head-shaped wall lights, the pulse of electro shakes the entire space, comfy sofas divide the room into different nooks and crannies for people to drink in, pink nylon and muslin hang from the ceiling to the floor, prints of hundreds of bored faces are faintly discernible upon it. It could only be the hottest spot in Beijing this weekend.

Every three months a new nightclub appears in Beijing, and everybody trips over themselves to go there. The nightclub will normally be in a hutong, a dilapidated courtyard style house or a factory that's about to be demolished. The same people every time scurry along to explore the new bar, they spout their cigarette smoke while telling you in lofty tones how the music in this new place is cool. After three months have passed, if it's not that the style of the music has changed, or that the building which houses the club has suddenly been demolished by the city government, then it's that it loses popularity for no particular reason whatsoever. Another bar opens, it's also housed in an old factory, a hutong, or a traditional courtyard style house, wherever it may be, it always sounds incredibly cool.

Everyone vies with one another to be the first to spread the news. Then, at the new bar you meet the same familiar faces who recommended the old bar to you so enthusiastically.

When someone mentions the old bar, it's as if they're talking about a has-been celebrity. It's so passé, they say. I don't even know why it was so popular in the first place, it's only logical that it's become as out of fashion as it should have been in the first place.

It's Friday night at 2am at the hottest bar of this couple of months, situated in the Sanlitun area. She has drunk quite a lot, but she's still quite sober. She came with a friend who had a song twenty years ago which was popular throughout the whole of Beijing but who never followed it up with any other songs, when meeting a stranger he would always say "I'm so-and-so, do you want to buy me a drink?'. She would stand next to her friend, then not long after that she would ditch him, and sit down next to an immaculately dressed foreigner.

She wants to shoot a documentary. It's only a remote dream, remoter still in China. She is a single girl from Sichuan, without any money, without work and without connections. She only has herself. She tries to write during the day, but as the evening draws near, her literary talents are not sufficient to resist the tide of loneliness, she recruits a few friends to go drinking with her. Her lips press closely to the foreigner's ears as she whispers to him, what should I do, tell me, what should I do. I want to shoot a documentary, but I don't have anything.

There are countless young girls just like her in Beijing. From every corner of the country they come, to study, or in search of career opportunities. Their hometown is far behind them, their imagination of themselves is the most important luggage they carry. They are young but they grow up quickly, they have a strong sexual appetite, and white jade skin, they have a baffled lost expression and a naive, homely smile. In the bar, they thirst for the kindness of strangers as flowers thirst for the rain, they'll snuggle up to any stranger who is willing to listen to their dreams. Because only outsiders are willing to take her seriously. During the day, she walks around this city of hers, that is at the same time not her own, her black haired and yellow-skinned compatriots would think at most that she was an unrealistic country girl, not willing to work despite having no money and without any professional skills, who can't even find a man to marry her. Her so-called "artistic ambitions", are nothing but an excuse for her lethargy, something she uses to fool foreigners at bars. In the end all she wants is to marry a glassy eyed, white-skinned foreigner, allowing her to escape to distant climes.

Louis Aragon, a French poet who was part of the Resistance during World War II, once said, "L'avenir de l'homme, c'est la femme" (the future of man is woman), here 'man' can be understood to mean the more general idea of 'humanity'. When society develops to its pinnacle, it will be along the road of effeminization. The status of women and the rights they are able to acquire in any society have always been the benchmark of civilization. The more esteemed the status of women and the greater the extent to which they are held as the equal of man or his superior, the more advanced a society is held to be. This is because the evolution of civilization is actually the process of society’s effeminization. Characteristics traditionally attributed to women, like peace-keeping, compromise, equality, selflessness, the ability to listen, forgiveness, concern for the education of the next generation, respect for etiquette and a love of the arts, are all particular to developed societies; on the other hand, the characteristics traditionally attributed to men carve out an image of a more primitive society, such as bellicosity, conquest, violence, ego-centrism, factionalism. Men brag about being the innovative force of progress, however, it is the care and prudence of women that stabilize a society, and articulate its cultural basis. Effeminization is equivalent to advanced civilization, it represents a maturity in both the material and spiritual realms. In an age when India has many female MPs and female business leaders, in China female CEOs and female officials are still few and far between. The rate of suicide for Chinese women is still the highest in the world.

She also came here for the music. She says this as her practiced hand unbuttons the foreign man's shirt. The guy buttons it back up. She leans close to his body and says something else. The music is too loud, no-one else hears what she says, but they see the foreigner suddenly blush. The buttons are undone again. Then buttoned back up again. Opened. Buttoned. The fourth time it happens the guy relinquishes the struggle.

It's three in the morning now, everyone is getting up to go home. As my taxi turns from the small alley on to the main road, I catch a glimpse of her locked in an embrace with the foreigner underneath a towering poplar tree.

Her face obscured in the darkness of the night.

The Chinese original is available (with slight differences from the collection version) online here.


Wednesday, 30 June 2010 21:12

In Bed with Rock in Hose

Ladies and Gentlemen, here is Rock in Hose!!

The burlesque dance troupe was formed in 2009 in Taiwan. Please meet Alita d'Bone and Trixie Treatz from Canada, Kitty N. Heat and Amor Galore from the U.S., Duke Vita and Onyx from South Africa.


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