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Masculinity In Hong Kong Action Films Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2550 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The study of film masculinity still tends to concern itself with the products of local society. The focus of the essay is to represent a close approach to masculinity in Hong Kong cinema. Chinese old traditional genres such as Kung Fu, historical costume drama, and the Chinese opera had been the staples of Hong Kong cinema since it has been established (Kei, 1994). This essay analyses two films of a uniquely Hong Kong perspective. The two main titles referred in this essay are A Better Tomorrow (Woo, 1986), the gangster image that revitalized the filmmaker s career by the success of his first gangster movie, and City on Fire (Lam, 1987), produces a city on fire season of new type of undercover agent movie early time in Hong Kong. Each film represents typical and modern Hong Kong gangster movie on earlier 80s. Both of these two directors created a new gangster and cop character in films, they defined a local cultural identity in Hong Kong filming industry and influence the stylist of west action cinema (Vesia, 2002). This essay approaches the study of masculinist text of my emotion tone and feels of the two films, and attends to address ideology of male relationship and gender difference as a masquerade.

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A Better Tomorrow tags with Hong Kong gangster leaders whose name are Ho (cast by Lung Ti) and Mark (cast by Yun-Fat Chow), and Ho was double-crossed and arrested in Taiwan. After he was released, Mark tries to persuade him to go to their old criminal life. But, Ho is more concern about his brother Kit (cast by Leslie Cheung) who is a Hong Kong police officer, and his responsibility for the death of their father. And Ho s gang leader was replaced by his old subordinate, Shing (cast by Waise Lee) who plays brother against brother Ho. At the end, Mark and Shing die, while Ho and kit were reunited and head back to prison.

City on Fire concerns Ko Chow (cast by Yun-Fat Chow) is an undercover agent who betrayed his criminal friend to the police force. The criminal boss Fu (cast by Danny Lee), whose gang is terrorizing the town with numerous robberies and the forthcoming, big robbery of a jewelry store. Ko and Fu become friends as Ko’s mission is again to go undercover to Fu’s gang and give details to the police about the robbery. so the criminals could be arrested and sent to prison. Unfortunately, Ko notices it is too late to undo what he’s done again, again he finds himself betraying a friend, but this time the results are more horrific.

As described above, these are some features in common in these two films: both of them are extremely violent; both starred by Yun-Fat Chow who was the most famous Asian character; both revolve around the story of gangster and police; and both are talk about individual friendship and loyalty of male character. It is possible that gangsters and cops have something in common in our real world. It is also possible that an undercover has true friendship with a gangster while they are in the opposite position of the law. Furthermore, It is not surprising that the relationship between gangster and cop can reduced by true friendship. It is clear that the brave police and thriller gangster other side of them. If the main elements are cop and gangster, then it dig the deep inside of unknown natural character is the key point to solve.

However, from Man on the Brink (Cheung, 1981) to On the Edge (Yau H. , 2006), undercover film seems trapped in a frame set an undercover agent end with a tragic death. However, there is no specific detail on describing the agent s mental activities that how to convince themselves to become an undercover agent, while they have a mission. Most of this genre of film only pays attention to the strategy and courage of agent. There is not on the characters actor on deep inside activities. While the undercover film has already manipulated by director nowadays, City on Fire is one of the transition or a stage that undercover film goes to a higher levels of representing. It is earlier to be accepted by the audience as these undercover become a real part of film. Ringo Lam and John Woo both are likely to represent the brotherhood in the film. Woo s undercover philosophy mind is If there is something reason may not from themselves, they have to do is to do , while Lam s philosophy is I would rather not to do it instead of Betraying my friends . Furthermore, the lighting and color of these undercover films are cold, Woo s film presenting a romantic atmosphere, whereas Lam always manifest warm and funny scene. For example, the last police chase scene in City on Fire, the background music is the allegro of Christmas songs, and originally the preceding is very depressed. These two directors are also good at editing some humor and plot on the film, such as By throwing food to attract beautiful women pay attention to small scene to rich a film so-called giant inside, detail outside in Lam s film.

In my opinion, the difference between Lam and Woo is the theme of each film. Woo’s theme always is to revenge for friendship, brother, and lover, and this routine will never end with. While Lam s theme is to bury alive with the dead for friendship, brother, and lover, it is enough for regretless while lives. Different from Woo s films, they tended to romanticise the gangster figure without any moralistic judgment (Vesia, 2002). It is the main reason Lam’s film conveys this message to audiences. Finally, the myth letter in City on fire, Ko s lover to leaves audience an message that does she wait for Ko in Hawaii? Instead of the issue if China is relevant to lead and guide Hong Kong s future after 1997. Then, it can be said that nothing is perfect to make up to audience taste. Thus, Lam s films achieve the success of Yun-Fat Chow, and Chow’s performance is accomplishing Lam’s film.

Yi-Qi (Code of Brotherhood) in Hong Kong gangster films:

Codes such as brotherhood, filiality and loyalty are not just one sign to look at the masculinity onscreen, it also is familiar to the Chinese cinema which links to the social order both in the film and the society outside. Fuery points that code order signs as well as provide rules of exclusion, combination, and hierarchy (Fuery, 1997). As such, code in the social order of Chinese films representation is a social justice and the moral domain within different national and non-national settings (Berry & Ann, 2006). It represents the symbols of ethnic heritage and the myth old tradition of a nation.

The concept of YiQi ( ) is Code of Brotherhood which includes: Loyalty (Zhong ), Filiality (XiaoТ), Benevolence (Ren ), Brotherhood (Yi ) to explore the wide debates around social structure, gender and nation in Chinese nation. These codes are the core of Chinese law and custom that the ordered nation refer to the debates within the Chinese moral health and local structure of the social problems. The Code of Brotherhood reflects reciprocal family-based relationships which with male privilege (Berry & Ann, 2006). The family code related to the social and nation networks of power. It focuses on codes of behavior between subject and ruler, between father and sons, and between brothers.These rules often operates the Chinese mythic underworld-JiangHu ( )-it have its own rules in this world but it does not exist in the real world. There, Woo s gangster movies value Chinese traditional rules of family and friendship in Hong Kong modern society, brotherhood involves strong customary rules that translate into a range of genres, from revolutionary comrade films to martial arts and gangster movies. And the code of honor applies to heroes on both sides of the law. In A Better Tomorrow, Ho and Mark are at ease only in all-male societies: the gang, or the taxi company in where Ho found the job. On the family ties, Kit refuses his gangster brother because of Ho s responsibility to their father s death, so Mark becomes Ho brother, in other words is to replace kit to be a substitute. Ho is trying to be a good man, but kit does not trust him. They father die for his son Ho. and Ho save Shing, Mark is crippled when he is revenged Ho. It is a sensibility that is well illustrated through Woo s characterization of Mark as a humble hero representing traditional codes of honour and bravery in a modern era (Vesia, 2002). Then, Ho and Mark steal the tape for Kit to risk their lives. This is a chain rule around Mark, Ho and Kit indicates the Code of Brotherhood that is typical Chinese hero.

Furthermore, the Code of Brotherhood has mythic status in terms of the contemporary Chinese culture and the order of society. Joseph wrote that the rules such as Filiality (Xiao) were “right” in Chinese old tradition (Needham, 1954). In City on Fire, the protagonist undercover employs death defying stunts. But, Lam ends his gangster film for memories the death of Ko Chow to executed criminals. In the last battle scene, Ko said to Fu (Danny lee Sau-Yin): I was an undercover agent, please shoot me, you still have time for it, because i own you too much”. It was a kind of humanity’s struggle with the friend and brother. They opposite position have been upgrade to a new level of the friendship. Ko resists on his bottom line of the distinction between gangster and undercover. But it’s a human debt on the friendship have never been fixed. Thus, at the end of City on Fire, Ko’s death perhaps is the best way to end his friendship debt. Because Ko was suffered by betrayed a friend earlier, his nightmare of intense fear, horror and distress feeling leads to He always blames himself due to betray his friends. It perhaps to arrange this death of character is to explain the injustice, violence as ongoing features of society. Both of the death of Mark and Ko is to the result of Loyalty (Zhong) to his friendship. And also it explains the Righteousness (Yi) why the true friendship is worth to risk their lives or sacrifices themselves for their brothers and friends.

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Finally, the Code of Brotherhood of Chinese masculinity, in other words, male bonding is one metaphor way to presents the Hong Kong’s future relationship with China. Specifically, these films seem to represent the fantasy of a relationship between equals (analogous to a relationship between men) rather than between unequals (i.e., between men and women); and it is a fear of China that makes the homoerotic element such a compelling fantasy (Sandell, 1994). Male and man power can be seductive and attractive indorse to focus on the representation of Chinese cinema.the balance between sexual difference in cinemas which indicates fair relationship of brotherhood and unfair relationship between men and women. In A Better Tomorrow, The result to plot only one woman who is Kit’s wife and she is facing sharing suffering, and hinges on a male ethos of loyalty. In contrast, City on Fire is around the theme of loyalty and friendship between gangster and undercover agent at opposite position of the law. Ko’s lover appears in the film is slowing down the tension of the undercover, and it prevents the normal progress towards in terms of approach the reality of personal inter-relationship. Thus, it is successful to treat women in similar depth. When a woman is discussed, it becomes a wider study in Chinese cinema.

Influence to the west:

Reid point out that Woo has remade traditional martial arts genres by replacing swords and knives with guns (Reid, 1993-4). Woo said his action film was most inspired by earlier Hong Kong martial arts. Especially his mentor Zhang Che, his film is not only representing strong masculinity, loyalty, chivalry figures on the martial art action, but also he is emphasis on the symbolic slow motion to express this movement. However, Woo s stylistic influence upon Reservoir Dogs (Quentin, 1992) and True Romance (Scott & Tarantino, 1993). Quentin also inspired from City on Fire (Lam, 1987) and it is upon the themes of city on fire season to express his passion and admiration to Hong Kong filmmakers. One might certainly conclude from this that Hong Kong action film industry achieves an oversea and cross-culture to such international visibility. Therefore, Kung Fu was the most popular elements both in Eastern and Western films.

Kill Bill I & II (Tarantino, 2003-4) describes how a woman overthrows patriarchal authority to revenge for her daughter. In the coffin box, Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) was bury by Budd (Michael Madsen), then she use her learning from Chinese martial arts master Bai Mei (Chia Hui Liu) and gather all strength on one hand for breaking the coffin and then she can escape outside. Within the martial artist’s performance, clarity can be achieved not only through the precision of the movement but also an effort to focus the entire body’s energy in each gesture (Yau E. C., 2001). To compare earlier Hong Kong film patriarchal society, Tarantino s film represents the punishment of patriarchal hegemony. His work aims to explore the origins of the cool and the way in which images (or reputations) are echoed in the realm of popular culture (Poleg, 2004). And he is showing that there is no different between man and woman in our modern society. It also critics the corresponding to patriarchal authority of Hong Kong cinemas to arousing people conscience and social justice then seeking for the solution of the gangster in sin city. For instance, the yellow suit of protagonist Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill is to show his admiring to martial arts master Bruce Lee.


Chinese cinematic imaginary provides a rich store of regimes of justice and power through which men relate to, and fight with each other (Berry & Ann, 2006). Both Woo and Lam are dealing with the tension of loyalty and friendship and social order of Chinese traditional heritage, and also apply to heroes on both side of law. The difference is the theme Woo s revenging and Lam s burying for friendship, brother, and lover, they heroes from both side of the law is to justice the male bonding related to the unsteady society tone and the anxiety of Hong Kong s future after recover it in 1997. Both Woo and Lam focus on the relationship of male to indicate the changing representation of Hong Kong cinema. They are the new wave pioneering directors in order to balance the theme of the human relationship and entertainment with vision and sound effects. Moreover, western critics and film scholars also began to take Hong Kong action into mainstream theatre cinema seriously and made many key figures and films part of their canon of world cinema. In short, Hong Kong cinema defines a new genre of hero image in action film valuing traditional distinctive feature of patriarchal authority. It also produces superstars such as Yun-Fat Chow who became a worldwide popularity star due to his cool performance. However, as the development of the modernization, directors pay attention to these women who are economic independence and autonomy character in order to appealing audience taste of female onscreen.


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