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Women in Chinese Martial Arts Films of the New Millennium

Narrative Analyses and Gender Politics

Ya-chen Chen

Women and Gender in Chinese Martial Arts Films of the New Millennium, by Ya-chen Chen, is an excavation of underexposed gender issues focusing mainly on contradictory and troubled feminism in the film narratives. In the cinematic world of martial arts films, one can easily find representations of women of Ancient China released from the constraints of patriarchal social order to revel in a dreamlike space of their own. They can develop themselves, protect themselves, and even defeat or conquer men. This world not only frees women from the convention of foot-binding, but it also "unbinds" them in terms of education, critical thinking, talent, ambition, opportunities to socialize with different men, and the freedom or right to both choose their spouse and decide their own fate. Chen calls this phenomenon "Chinese cinematic martial arts feminism."

The liberation is never sustaining or complete, however; Chen reveals the presence of a glass ceiling marking the maximal exercise of feminism and women's rights which the patriarchal order is willing to accept. As such, these films are not to be seen as celebrations of feminist liberation, but as enunciations of the patriarchal authority that suffuses "Chinese cinematic martial arts feminism." The film narratives under examination include Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (directed by Ang Lee); Hero (Zhang Yimou); House of the Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou); Seven Swords (Tsui Hark); The Promise (Chen Kaige); The Banquet (Feng Xiaogang); and Curst of the Golden Flower (Zhang Yimou). Chen also touches upon the plots of two of the earliest award-winning Chinese martial arts films, A Touch of Zen and Legend of the Mountain, both directed by King Hu.
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Lexington Books
Pages: 314Size: 6 3/8 x 9 1/2
978-0-7391-3908-0 • Hardback • April 2012 • $100.00 • (£70.00)
978-0-7391-3910-3 • eBook • April 2012 • $95.00 • (£65.00)
Ya-chen Chen is an assistant professor of foreign languages and literature, and director of the Chinese Language Program at Clark University.
Introduction. Towards Social-Cultural and Historical Readings: "Chinese Cinematic Martial Arts Feminism" and Its Limitation in the narrative of Martial Arts Films
Part 1. Narrative Analyses of Women and Gender Concerns in Every Film
Chapter 1. The Fox, Dragon, and Lotus in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Chapter 2. To (En)gender the Gendered History in Hero
Chapter 3. There is a Beauty in the Door(way) of Flying Daggers
Chapter 4. Women Who Do Not Practice Martial Arts in Seven Swords
Chapter 5. Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty in The Promise
Chapter 6. The Chinese Hamlet's Two Women and Shakespeare's Chinese Sisters: Qing Nü and Wan'er in The Banque
Chapter 7. Traffic of Madwomen in the Chinese Royal Attic: Gender Concerns in Curse of the Golden Flower
Part 2. Integrated Analyses about the Limitation of Feminist Emancipation in Groups of Films
Chapter 8. Let's Make a Wish: Martial Arts Ladies' Wishes under the Cinematic Pen(is) from A Touch of Zen to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and The Promise
Chapter 9. Phallocentric Teacher-Student Complex: From Legend of the Mountain, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and Hero to Seven Swords
Chapter 10. A Chinese Cinematic Martial Arts Room of Pygmalion's Own
Part 3. Interviews
Chapter 11. Interview with Chung Ling, King Hu's Spouse and Screenwriter
Chapter 12. Interview with Pan Hua, a Female Classmate and Peer-Director of Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Wu Ziniu, Li Shaohong, Hu Mei, and Peng Xiaolian
Chapter 13. Interview with Tsai Kuo-jung, a Co-planner and Screenwriter of Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Chapter 14. Interview with Wang Wei, a Judge in the Golden Horse Film Festival
Ya-Chen Chen's Women in Chinese Martial Arts Films of the New Millenium is a full-length, intensive and passionate interrogation of the feminist possibilities of Chinese martial arts cinema. Film by film, Chen shows both the achievements of their contemporaries and how those achievements are at the pleasure of the men who control the industry. The result is a major intervention in the ongoing debate.
Chris Berry, Goldsmiths, University of London

A refreshing look at an age-old genre that injects an energetic feminist perspective into the jaded analysis of a Chinese cinematic legacy.
Ying Zhu, author of Television in Post-Reform China: Serial Dramas, Confucian Leadership and Global Television Market