commentary 3

Open Posted By: ahmad8858 Date: 04/05/2021 High School Coursework Writing


1. write a commentary after you watch a Hongkong movie "The Killer ", click the link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AT7yvmdiqo&t=3192s

2.please kindly see the attached requirement carefully.

3. need an argument and a quote from the attached readings.

4. no more than 350 words.

5.need a plagiarism check result.

Thank you.

Category: Business & Management Subjects: Business Law Deadline: 12 Hours Budget: $100 - $150 Pages: 2-3 Pages (Short Assignment)

Attachment 1

Commentary requirement

• Purpose: to cultivate the habits of critical reading by making arguments and providing evidence • Content: identify an argument (not merely a topic) from a required reading (with direct

quotations and page numbers) and discuss it in relation to the designated film of the day • Focus: your ability to articulate someone else’ argument and state your interpretation of a film in relation to that argument; mere factual information or plot summary won’t count as argument • Length: 1 double-space page or 350 words for each short paper; the portion in excess of the limit will not be graded for credit • Grading: out of 10 points for each commentary, 3 for identification of an argument and logical transition, 3 points for film discussion focused on details, and 4 for writing (grammar, expression, coherence, style)

Commentary : further clarifications

Make sure you have a clear argument or statement: find a focus to organize your writing A general plot or characterization summary earns little credit Analyze film in detail (e.g., mise-en-scene, smiles or other facial expressions, camera angles) Rephrase key words for better connection between the reading and your film analysis (e.g., metaphor, allegory, realism) Always use the readings assigned in the same week as primary films; the same formula for commentaries 2-3 You only need to quote from 1 reading in the week, NOT 1 from each reading in the week Your quote must be relevant to the rest of your discussion Avoid a long quote or 2 or more quotes in a commentary Similarly, avoid discussing 2 or more ideas because there is no space to do that adequately Proofread your paper or grade yourself to improve before submitting No need for a separate Works Cited page, but use in-text reference (e.g., Teo, page #)

Writing Style Sheet • always indicate your name on the first page of your writing (upper left corner) • in general, use the MLA reference style • for commentaries, no separate reference items are needed; but for the term paper, a complete list of works cited is required, and any incomplete listing would cost points • format the title of a film, a book, or a journal in italic or underline • indicate the title of an article in a journal or a volume with quotation marks • add in a parenthesis the author’s name (if not identified in the text), a short title (if an author has more than one cited work), and page numbers after all direct quotations: “…” (L. Lee, “Cinema” 37-38); use the author’s name, NOT the volume editor’s

• be sure proper names are spelled out correctly • in the Chinese case, remember the family name goes before the given name: • reduce superfluous phrases like “I believe” or “in Leo Lee’s article, Lee writes …” • spell-check grammar and fix typographic errors • read your paper one more time before submitting on Canvas • for those in need of assistance with English writing, seek help from campus resources and your native-speaking friends

Attachment 2

‘Your tender smiles give me strength’: paradigms of masculinity in John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow and The Killer


Recent studies of film masculinity overwhelmingly still tend to concern themselves with the products of Hollywood. The focus of attention has seldom been switched to representations of masculinity in non-western national cinemas. In repeating once again a central argument of ideological film criticism – namely, that conflicting images of what it is to be male are produced at moments of social and political crisis – I would like to suggest that one of the most interesting examples of historical crisis in film masculinity today is that of the modern Hong Kong action cinema.

It is impossible not to treat the contemporary Hong Kong cinema historically because of the immanence of 1997, the year when one period of the settlement’s history will end and another will begin with its return to Chinese sovereignty after one century under British colonial rule. The contradictory masculine images generated by this rapidly evolving situation have come to appeal to some western audiences. The profound uncertainty of the times in Hong Kong has produced narratives of loss, alienation and doubt, imprinting upon many movies the traits of an anxiety. Typically, this has been evidenced either by the manic pace and nervous energy of sequences in titles like Do Ma Dan/Peking Opera Blues(Tsui Hark, 1986) and Fong Sai Yuk(Yuen Kwai, 1993), or by a broad tone of sadness and

25 Screen 38:1 Spring 1997 · Julian Stringer · ‘Your tender smiles give me strength’: paradigms of masculinity

1 Yvonne Tasker, ‘Dumb movies for dumb people: masculinity, the

body and the voice in

contemporary action cinema’, in

Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark

(eds), Screening the Male:

Exploring Masculinities in

Hollywood Cinema (London:

Routledge, 1993), p. 243.

2 See Berenice Reynaud, ‘John Woo’s art action movie’, Sight

and Sound, vol. 3, no. 5 (1993),

pp. 22–4.

longing, experienced at both the action and non-action ends of the genre spectrum, as in the use of ghost metaphors by such important films asQiannu Youhun/A Chinese Ghost Story(Ching Siu Tung, 1987) andYanzhi Kou/Rouge(Stanley Kwan, 1987). However, it looks as if a special reception is being offered by the West to the nervous, anxious gangster films of John Woo. The best of these feature male characters who pull together the former tendency’s energy and kinetic capability with the latter’s feelings of sadness and loss.

Woo has consolidated his position as the primary representative in the West of the new Hong Kong action cinema on the basis of a number of masculinist texts. With the interest generated by the firearm extravaganzaLat Sau San Tam/Hard Boiled(1991), his arrival in North America to shoot his first English-language title,Hard Target (1992), and his stylistic influence upon Quentin Tarantino, in Reservoir Dogs(1991) andTrue Romance(w. Tarantino, d. Tony Scott, 1993), Woo has come to enjoy as much publicity and recognition as any of his Chinese contemporaries. One might certainly conclude from this that such success only goes to show how John Woo is currently the Hong Kong director most amenable to the taste of a popular western audience. While other directors, such as Jackie Chan, Tsui Hark, Wong Jing, Samo Hung and Ringo Lam, have achieved varying degrees of cross-cultural success with similarly spectacular action movies, Woo is the only one so far who has been invited to insert himself into the Hollywood system.

Although he has been directing features since 1973 and has worked within a variety of Cantonese genres, Woo’s action film concerns have done most to aid his reception in the West as they are ideologically of a piece with the recent masculinist traditions of the commercial North American cinema. The US action cinema is habitually influenced by trends set in Hong Kong, a Chinese connection that raises two interesting questions. Firstly, as Yvonne Tasker points out, the close links that exist between the Hong Kong and US mainstreams have yet to be properly appreciated, which means that John Woo’s ascendancy provides a useful opportunity to think more about the comparative treatment of western and non-western film masculinities.1 Secondly, however, it is also true that John Woo represents a troublesome case – his films might not be the best way to tell us about these things. Amid uncertainty over what the levelling process of Hollywood will do to the cultural individuality of a Chinese director, some critics in Hong Kong have seen his success abroad as yet another example of cultural misunderstanding or orientalism, while Woo himself has expressed misgivings about his own ‘un-Chineseness’.2 In this sense, Woo’s films might contribute to a western fantasy about Chinese cinema, one which is implicated in the complex and shifting power relations which mediate between the Hong Kong film industry’s desire to achieve overseas success, and the West’s ability to grant Asian films such international visibility.

26 Screen 38:1 Spring 1997 · Julian Stringer · ‘Your tender smiles give me strength’: paradigms of masculinity

In this article I want to suggest how two of Woo’s most famous films are expressive of a uniquely Hong Kong perspective. Moreover, in enlarging the possibilities of the action film, in taking the genre in directions that are new or unforeseen, the films are interesting for the ways in which they construct competing paradigms of masculinity and for what they tell us about the city’s historical situation. The titles I shall be referring to areYingxiong Bense/A Better Tomorrow, the keynote 1986 gangster picture that revitalized the director’s career by becoming a huge box-office success in Hong Kong (and a film that Woo has recently sold in the USA for a Hollywood remake), and Diexue Shuang Xiong/The Killer, a 1989 high point of the new Hong Kong action cinema triggered by the success of the earlier movie, and a film that has gone on to achieve cult hit status in the West. While it is important to remember that these two films never challenge or move outside of patriarchal relations, I shall argue that they can be seen to offer instructive variations on the vicissitudes of the masculinist text.

The critical approach I will take studies the emotional tone and feel of the two films, the affective economies they encode and encourage. This means that in largely passing over questions of male spectacle and display, sexual difference and gender as a masquerade, I will be stepping away from the Freudian and Lacanian paradigms that so dominate Anglo-US discussions of masculinity in the movies. This is in no way to deny the importance and interest of such reading strategies, nor is it to suggest that psychoanalytic concepts should not be used in the study of Chinese cinema. Rather, I take this approach because I would like to illustrate how psychosexual readings of masculinity need to be tempered by more ideologically-attuned, contextual work.

A Better Tomorrowconcerns a gangster leader, Ho (Ti Lung), who is sent to prison after being double-crossed and then arrested in Taiwan, and his subsequent attempts to go straight. After his release, his old sidekick, Mark (Chow Yun-Fat), tries to persuade him to take up their old life again. However, Ho is more concerned with achieving reconciliation with Kit (Leslie Cheung), his brother in the police force, who holds Ho responsible for the death of their father. Ho’s former position as gang leader has now been filled by his old subordinate, Shing (Waise Lee), who connives to play brother off against brother. As Kit becomes more estranged from his wife, Jacky (Emily Chu), Ho sets Shing up for arrest and prepares to let himself be taken in by Kit. In the end, Mark and Shing die violent deaths, while Ho and Kit are reunited at the very moment that the older brother must once again head back to prison.

The Killer concerns Jeff (Chow Yun-Fat), an assassin with a conscience, who accidentally blinds a singer, Jennie (Sally Yeh), during a hit in a night club. Tormented by guilt, Jeff is convinced by

27 Screen 38:1 Spring 1997 · Julian Stringer · ‘Your tender smiles give me strength’: paradigms of masculinity

Chow Yun-Fat with Danny Lee (above) and friend (right) in

The Killer (John Woo, 1989). Picture courtesy: Jerry Ohlinger’s

Movie Material Store.

28 Screen 38:1 Spring 1997 · Julian Stringer · ‘Your tender smiles give me strength’: paradigms of masculinity

inspector, Lee (Danny Lee). After the reconciliation of Jeff and

Sydney (Chu Kong), his old partner, to take on one more job. Betrayed after its completion, Jeff finds himself pursued by both a gangland leader, Johnny Weng (Shing Fui-On), and a rogue police

Sydney, and the death of Randy (Kenneth Tsang), Lee’s partner, the killer and the police inspector meet and start up a friendship. In the end, Jeff, Sydney and Weng die violent deaths, while Jennie is left blind and alone. Lee cries for the loss of his gangster friend as he prepares to meet the wrath of his superiors.

3 Craig D. Reid, ‘Fighting without fighting: film action fight

choreography’, Film Quarterly,

vol. 47, no. 2 (1993–4),

pp. 30–35.

4 Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, ‘Minnelli and melodrama’, in Christine

Gledhill (ed.), Home is Where the

Heart is: Studies in Melodrama

and the Woman’s Film (London:

British Film Institute, 1987),

pp. 70–74.

As these two brief synopses suggest, the films have many features in common: both are extremely violent (the cliche, repeated most recently by Craig D. Reid, is that Woo has remade traditional martial arts genres by replacing swords and knives with guns),3 and both star Chow Yun-Fat, one of Asia’s most popular and charismatic stars (indeed, it was his appearance as Mark inA Better Tomorrowthat made him a household name); both revolve around the story of a gangster or other ‘agent of the underworld’ who is trying to go straight; and both feature important scenes where close male friends talk about loyalty, friendship and the impermanences of life as they stand on a road side overlooking the beauty of Hong Kong harbour. These similarities may very well constitute the trademark signature of a genuine film auteur, but they are also means by which the films can explore the ambivalent nature of Hong Kong-Chinese masculinity and construct a historical viewing subject.

In saying this, I am happy to fall out of line with many other observers of Woo’s action films by trying to understand their notorious scenes of violence, rather than simply celebrate them. Western critics often refer to the ‘Peckinpah-esque’ comic strip goriness of Woo’s movies, their ‘ballet-like’ orchestration of perforated and pulverized bodies, as if movie violence is fine and good so long as it is artily done or campily excessive. The question of why such bloodshed is there in the first place, how it functions in the textual system and how it relates and gives meaning to other aspects of narrative articulation, is seldom at issue.

If A Better TomorrowandThe Killer are masculinist texts, they are also caught up in the instabilities of a historically specific conception of patriarchal masculinity. In terms of a western reading formation, it is possible to see how the Hong Kong social environment of both films is marked by an ambivalent treatment of male subjectivity. This contradiction within male identity is achieved by what might be regarded as the mixing of two film genres.

Geoffrey Nowell-Smith has identified a particular historical trajectory whereby US popular cinema split itself off into male action or ‘doing’ genres (the Western, war films) and female ‘suffering’ genres (melodrama, the woman’s film). Film theorists have given a great deal of attention to these genres in their enquiries into how different kinds of films create different kinds of male and female central characters, and so engender certain kinds of viewer response. For example, Nowell-Smith suggests that when it comes down to the construction of male identity, ‘doing’ genres delineate an ego-ideal male hero, whereas ‘suffering’ genres often impair the man’s masculinity – ‘at least in relation to the mythic potency of the hero of the Western’.4

Such ideas can be adapted into the context of the modern Hong

29 Screen 38:1 Spring 1997 · Julian Stringer · ‘Your tender smiles give me strength’: paradigms of masculinity

Kong action cinema to suggest that Woo’s films collapse these two paradigms of masculinity into one. They combine simultaneously doing and suffering heroes. The films oscillate between scenes of extreme, sadistic cruelty and violence (such as the beatings of Mark in A Better Tomorrowand Sydney inThe Killer, Mark’s shooting up of the Fung Lim restaurant in the former film, Jeff ’s contract hit during the opening of the latter), and scenes of melancholic sadness and longing (Ho’s father’s bedside decree for his son to give up the underworld, the composed, ritualistic deaths of Sydney and Randy). Often suffering provides the catalyst for the leap into violence. Kit’s inability to forgive his gangster brother inA Better Tomorrowcauses him to act intensely, passionately, erratically, while Sydney’s anguished desire to honour his ‘best friend’ inThe Killer results in his being beaten to a bloody pulp by Johnny Weng and his henchmen. In all of these examples, violations of the body are outward manifestations of internal traumas, while painful inner conflicts can only be resolved by the outward projection of feats of incredible heroism.

At first sight, it might be recognized that these kinds of narrative tendencies are not altogether uncommon in US action films. Yet a filmmaker combining the gangster film with the melodrama is perhaps more uniquely in line with the hybrid nature of the Hong Kong film industry, where genres are more quickly mixed in with each other as a means for producers to stay one step ahead in the marketplace. In addition, something else is going on when the gangster film can becomeso entwined with the melodramatic mode, so conducive to melodramatic tears and the impairing of the male hero’s mythic potency. BothA Better Tomorrowand The Killer are male melodramas, and both carry their doing and suffering, primarily by creative formal means, particularly a spectacularly affecting use of local music.

Consider the work of composers Joseph Ko, David Wu and James Wong for A Better Tomorrow. The film as a whole is suffused with wonderfully expressive Cantonese pop songs, but two orchestral themes predominate. The first is an action score associated mainly with Mark. An arrangement of this score opens the movie, as the gangsters are shown at work printing counterfeit money, and it is repeated during some of the film’s most symbolic and emotionally charged moments. The strong pulse of the music connotes action and doing, just as its mix of orchestration and rock guitar recalls the music from old James Bond films and the soundtracks for such macho blaxploitation pictures asShaft(Gordon Parks, 1971) andAcross 110th Street(Barry Shear, 1972). At the finale, it is hard not to be carried along by the fully-stated thrill of this theme as it accompanies Mark turning around in Hong Kong harbour in order to head back to save Ho, his ‘best friend’. As the music guides the pace, Mark steers a speedboat with his feet and sadistically blasts his enemies to pieces

30 Screen 38:1 Spring 1997 · Julian Stringer · ‘Your tender smiles give me strength’: paradigms of masculinity

with a machine gun. If the first theme puts masculinist strength and power in the service

of loyalty to a good friend, the second connotes family relationships and obligations. (A Better Tomorrowis all about the disaster that can strike if that Chinese network of interpersonal relationships is severed.) First introduced as Kit and Ho meet in the police academy, it is then used in the following scene between Ho and their father. A lilting, haunting melody that is maddeningly hard to forget, it denotes pain, suffering and emotional trauma. The music here is used to accompany such perennially melodramatic themes as separation from a loved one, the break-up of a family unit, and the masochistic subject position occupied by those who do not do, so much as are done-to. One of the most moving uses of this theme links all of the above to the geography of Hong Kong itself, as it accompanies a panoramic track away from the harbour after Ho leaves Kit in order to embark on his fateful journey to Taipei. During the final scene, it is also this theme that helps reunite the two brothers.5

The brothers are brought together at the end ofA Better Tomorrow on the words of a (mistranslated?) line from the theme song, ‘Your tender smiles give me strength’. The emotional impact of this particular moment is overwhelming, partly because of its strategic placing at the end of the narrative, and partly because its lyrics provide the film’s dramatic resolution. As Claudia Gorbman has pointed out, in commercial cinema ‘songs require narrative to cede to spectacle, for it seems that lyrics and action compete for attention’ – lyrics ‘threaten to offset the aesthetic balance between music and narrative cinematic representation’.6 The final song here is the fully-developed version of the second thematic melody I identified above, and its withholding until the final frames, in a film so suffused with mood music, produces an overdetermined music–image relationship of great emotional power.7

In Woo’s film, ‘A Better Tomorrow’ is sung by one of the stars, Leslie Cheung/Kit, thus pointing to an important melodramatic component of the pleasure of these masculinist texts. Apart from being a famous movie actor, Cheung is also a Hong Kong pop star whose songs are popular all over Asia. As an original prime mover of the style called Cantopop, Cheung has contributed to that genre’s cultural and political importance. Cantopop is a melodramatic style of popular song that recognizes the political realities of 1997 and migration from Hong Kong, and explores them through the affective coding of nostalgia and sentimentality.8 When Leslie Cheung or Anita Mui sing the narrative, or in the comparable moment near the beginning ofThe Killer , when Jeff walks into a club and confronts another Cantopop star, Sally Yeh, performing her own sad diegetic song, film music speaks to a domestic audience about issues it knows are of very real concern.

The line ‘Your tender smiles give me strength’ can be taken as the

31 Screen 38:1 Spring 1997 · Julian Stringer · ‘Your tender smiles give me strength’: paradigms of masculinity

5 Having said this, I would want to point out that A Better Tomorrow

and The Killer go beyond any

strictly binary use of music. For

example, an orchestral variation

of the chorus of the second

theme is used over images of

Mark’s death – that is, a

character who has been explicitly

linked with the first theme. This

suggests to me that Woo uses

music primarily for its melodramatic intensity, its

emotional affectivity.

6 Claudia Gorbman, Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music

(Bloomington: Indiana University

Press, 1987), p. 20.

7 This technique is put to even more effective use when Anita

Mui begins her theme song at

the very moment her diegetic

character dies in Tsui Hark’s

1989 A Better Tomorrow 3 (aka

Love and Death In Saigon).

8 For cultural political readings of Cantopop, see two articles by

Joanna Ching-Yun Lee: ‘All for freedom: the rise of patriotic/

pro-democratic popular music in

Hong Kong in response to the

Chinese student movement’, in

Reebee Garofalo (ed.), Rocking

the Boat: Mass Music and Mass

Movements (Boston: South End

Press, 1991), pp. 129–47;

‘Cantopop songs on emigration

from Hong Kong’, 1992 Yearbook

for Traditional Music (Ontario:

Brown and Martin, 1992),

pp. 14–23.

9 It is significant that the dubbed version of A Better Tomorrow

recently released in the UK and

USA sports a completely

rearranged soundtrack. Aside, of

course, from bluntly gagging all

traces of the Chinese language,

the Cantopop songs have been

completely hacked from the mix.

Such barbarity changes the feel of the entire film, just to bring it

more into line with the perceived

requirements of a (tone-deaf)

western audience. Leslie

Cheung’s final song has been

given the chop, replaced by a

macho, upbeat ending that forces

us to exit smiling rather than


10 See Emily Lau, ‘Out of the closet: government to decriminalize most

homosexual acts’, Far Eastern

Economic Review, 26 July 1990,

p. 24; and Neil McKenna, Hong

Kong ends gay ban’, The

Advocate, 27 August 1991, p. 53.

perfect example of how the two films embody what I term the ‘male melodrama of doing and suffering’.9 The emotionally intense suffering the individual undergoes because of his attachment to a friend, brother, father, wife or employer is there in order to provide the strength needed for the superhuman acts of heroism and violence. This situation is indicated well enough by one of the publicity photographs used to promoteThe Killer. It depicts the scene where Jeff meets Inspector Lee in Jenny’s apartment. The men are photographed holding guns to each other’s heads while they gaze passionately into each other’s eyes, the same kind of long, deep male looks that are also very apparent in the scenes between Mark and Ho inA Better Tomorrow.

Such male bonding around both passionate violence and passionate suffering can be taken in either of two ways. On the positive side, the loving, anguished, pained look of one impaired male melodramatic action hero at another embodies a same-sex bond of intense feeling to which a heterosexist culture does not normally permit access. On the other hand, such views privilege the male, patriarchal, masculinist, woman-excluding point of view. It is as if, in patriarchal capitalism, when a stable base of social security is lacking, men will strive that much harder to establish emotional links with each other.

A Better TomorrowandThe Killer are probably not gay movies because, like the American buddy film of the 1970s, they repress rather than foreground sexuality. And while violence in these films certainly does act as a displacement for one man’s erotic feeilngs towards another (as in Mark’s final flourish with a tommy gun after he sees Ho and Kit, bloody but reunited, at the harbour), they are also characteristic of a more general way of treating sexuality at work in the mainstream Hong Kong cinema. Again, there are two ways of handling this. Firstly, Woo’s conception of masculinity in these two films seems noticeably different from the ‘hard bodies’ tradition of 1980s US cinema in its refusal to assert phallic power through the fetishistic display of the spectacularly pumped-up male body, and this opens up the possibility of a slightly different definition of masculinity.

Secondly, the intensely painful or rapturous look of one man at another still needs to be returned back to changes in the law as it relates to homosexuality in Hong Kong in the 1980s. At the time of the release ofThe Killer, laws prohibiting gay sexual relations were in the process of being revoked, although actual sexual contact between men could still result in heavy penalties.10 Along with the sex and nudity offerings of the so-called Category 3 films first popularized in 1990, the infamous designer lesbianism of isolated action titles like Tung Fong Bat Bai/Swordsman 2(Ching Siu-tung, 1991) and the occasional movie about Hong Kong’s gay community, such as Samo Hung’s 1989 comedy-thrillerTsifan Seunghung/Pantyhose Hero, Woo’s films, in this sense, work to capture a prevailing undercurrent

32 Screen 38:1 Spring 1997 · Julian Stringer · ‘Your tender smiles give me strength’: paradigms of masculinity

11 It might be interesting to disentangle gay themes by

looking at the input of Woo’s

producer, Tsui Hark, on these

two titles. From Diyu Wu Men/ We’re Going to Eat You (1980)

onwards, Tsui has consistently

offered presentations of Chinese

homosexuality. For some

discussion of gender ambiguity in

films Tsui has either produced or

directed, see Rolanda Chu,

‘Swordsman 2 and The East Is

Red: the ‘Hong Kong film’,

entertainment and gender’, Bright

Lights, vol. 13 (Summer 1994),

pp. 30–35, 46; Julian Stringer,

‘Peking Opera Blues‘, Film

Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 3 (1995),

pp. 34–42.

12 Mas’ Ud Zavarzadeh, Seeing Films Politically (Albany: State

University of New York Press,

1991), p. 113.

13 Ibid., p. 114.

of sexual liberalization in Hong Kong society. At the same time, they also compensate for the prohibition on depictions of actual physical contact between people of the same sex by giving their male characters such emotionally charged relationships. In other words, they kick against a prevailing orthodoxy, but only so as to reinscribe repression.11

So far, my analysis of genre-mixing and masculinity in John Woo’s films has not really begun to answer the question of whyA Better Tomorrowand The Killer are so emotionally moving, so full of desire, anxiety and nostalgia. As narratives of machismo, the two films do not have to be so compromised, so conducive to tears and affection. So why are they?

The bond that links cop to gangster in the Hong Kong action cinema tends to exhibit an affective obsession with mutual survival: both the law and the underworld are in the same boat, their moralities blur and cross over, and male characters who both rapturously, sadisticallydo and painfully, masochisticallysuffer, are brought together in their actions. The utmost concern is to visualize a man’s ability tofeel something very intensely.

It is worth standing back from the emotional contract these two films offer in order to ask some historical questions of how they deal with what Mas’ Ud Zavarzadeh terms ‘the cultural politics of intimacy’. For Zavarzadeh, discourses of ideology,

Represent intimacy as inevitably ‘natural’ and thus as private, asocial, personal, and, most important, transdiscursive – they mark it as situated outside the cultural series. This ideological representation of intimacy is politically critical because if intimacy can be represented as outside the reach of history and culture then, it follows, those who are intimate with each other derive their relationship not from a given historical and social situation but by virtue of their own panhistorical individuality.12

In seeking out a different, more ‘interrogative intimacy’, one that recognizes how forms of intimacy are ‘always already limited by the historical situation in which the subject is located and thus by the subject positions available’,13 we can ask several more contextual questions of these two films. Why is it that such an ostensible exercise in masculine fantasy asA Better Tomorrowbecame such a success, appealing in the process, presumably, to both male and female viewers? Why is Chow Yun-Fat’s suffering gangster figure such a contemporary archetype? And why does he die in both films, given that he is one of the Chinese cinema’s top stars?

Certainly, the intensity of the domestic audience’s response to the earlier film suggests that the Hong Kong audience perceived these male melodramas of doing and suffering to be more than just stories

33 Screen 38:1 Spring 1997 · Julian Stringer · ‘Your tender smiles give me strength’: paradigms of masculinity

14 A key problem in the return of Hong Kong to China is the near

certainty that Mandarin will

replace Cantonese as the official

language. This issue is raised in

a recent Chow Yun-Fat title,

Treasure Hunt (aka American

Shaolin) (Ricky Lau, 1994). Here,

Chow/Cheng goes to China and

falls in love with a telepathic

girl, with much linguistic comedy.

15 John A. Lent, The Asian Film Industry (Austin: University of

Texas Press, 1990), p. 114.

16 Chiao Hsiung-Ping, ‘The distinct Taiwanese and Hong Kong

cinemas’, in Chris Berry (ed.),

Perspectives on Chinese Cinema

(London: British Film Institute,

1991), p. 162. It might be

suggested that these kinds of

deadlocks as reinscribed by

Quentin Tarantino films are just

that, empty gestures which,

divorced of any real context,

signify nothing.

17 Li Cheuk-To, ‘The return of the father: Hong Kong New Wave

and its Chinese context in the 1980s’, in Nick Browne, Paul G.

Pickowicz, Vivian Sobchack and

Esther Yau (eds), New Chinese

Cinemas: Forms, Identities,

Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 1994),

pp. 174–5.

about panhistorical individualities. The box-office validation they gave A Better Tomorrowin 1986 is such that other …

Attachment 3

Chapter Title: Aesthetics in Action: Kungfu, Gunplay, and Cinematic Expressivity

Chapter Author(s): David Bordwell Book Title: At Full Speed

Book Subtitle: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World

Book Editor(s): Esther C. M. Yau

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttv5g1.7

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Part II

In Action

and Entertainment,Aesthetics,

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Aesthetics in Action: Kungfu, Gunplay, and Cinematic Expressivity

David Bordwell

In 1996 a major American publisher issued Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head, a guide to what the authors consider the most headbanging, let-'er-rip filmmaking on the planet. "Gone are the flying pigtails and contrived fist-

thuds of your father's favorite chopsockies," the blurb on the back tells us. Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head is a hilarious read, and the peppy plot syn- opses play up the films as seedy, sexy, bloody, and nutty. But the authors' in-

troduction warns that "film school polemics," dosed with "pointy-headed,

white-wine-and-baked-brie philosophizing," cannot adequately describe the

"scalding propulsion" of these movies.1

These barbs strike me like a flurry of ninja throwing stars. I am old enough

to be the father of the young fans, and my love for martial arts films goes back

to the 1974 double bill of Fist of Fury [Jingwu Men] and Five Fingers of Death (also known as King Boxer [Tianxia Diyi Quan]) in the Majestic Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin. Even worse, I am a film studies professor. I do not drink

white wine or eat baked brie, but I do spend time trying to figure out what

makes movies work. I find myself asking questions. How, for instance, is it

possible for Hong Kong action movies to trigger such unbridled passions?

How are they put together? How do they exploit the film medium? What is

the craft behind them? After you walk out of the best Hong Kong action

movies you are charged up, you feel that you can do anything. How can mere

movies create such feelings?

This pointy-headed essay explores some answers to these questions. The

itinerary will take us through contemporary Hollywood, with side trips to

some technicalities of film style and some detours into the writings of that

older fan of Asian action, Sergei Eisenstein. I will also try to show that if we

want to understand these movies as well as enjoy them, it turns out that film-

school polemics can actually help.

During the 19805 the action picture — the cop movie, the crime thriller,

the adventure film, the space opera, the movie of chase and combat— 73

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became one of the dominant Hollywood genres. Often such films won places

on the top ten box office grossers list, while the home video boom assured an

almost endless stream of less prestigious product. The genre extended stylis-

tic strategies that had been evident in films such as Goldfinger (1964), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Bullitt (1968), The Wild Bunch (1969), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and The French Connection (1971). By the time the action revival emerged in Road Warrior (1981), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), 48 Hours (1982), and other films, directors could draw upon a range of con- ventional techniques.

Consider a sequence in Richard Donner's Lethal Weapon (1987). In the climactic chase, Mel Gibson has escaped from Gary Busey's torture cham-

ber and now pursues him through the night streets of Los Angeles. Busey

seizes a passing car, and Gibson sprints through traffic after him. From an

overpass, Gibson fires at Busey's car. The engine bursts into flames and Busey

smashes into a telephone pole. As Gibson approaches, Busey commandeers

another car just as Gibson is struck by a passing cab.

Donner handles this situation in ways typical of Hollywood action se-

quences. The cutting is rapid, creating an average shot length of two and a half seconds. No one will make an action picture in long takes, of course, but

Donner, like most of his Hollywood peers, creates a fairly jerky rhythm by cutting after a movement has begun and before it is completed, even when

the second shot shows an entirely different action. For instance, when Gib-

son leaves Danny Glover behind at a lamppost, Glover starts to leave the

shot. But Donner does not give him what editors call a "clean" exit; the next

shot interrupts Glover in the middle of his movement. "The axiom of action

cutting," claims the film editor Richard Marks, "is, never complete an ac-

tion. Always leave it incomplete so it keeps the forward momentum of the

sequence."2 Moreover, two-thirds of Donner's shots contain some camera

movement (panning, reframing, tracking, craning down, and the like). And

Gibson is virtually never in repose. Except when he stops to fire at Busey's

getaway car, he races down streets across lanes of traffic, even leaping up onto

cars parked by the curb.

This scene seems to me characteristic of the Hollywood approach in try-

ing to produce an overwhelming but loose and sketchy impression of physi- cal activity. There is, for instance, no effort to dramatize the fact that Gibson's

run through traffic is dangerous. Although he runs through traffic, he never

comes close to any moving vehicle. Donner's long lenses, in lessening ap-

parent distances between Gibson and the background traffic, merely suggest

that he might eventually be in danger. There is a moment early on when it

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A E S T H E T I C S IN A C T I O N | 75

seems that a car might strike him from behind, but Donner cuts away to

Busey, and when we return to Gibson later, the car has disappeared. True, at

the scenes climax Gibson is hit by a car, but now Donner has recourse to the

well-established device of what V. I. Pudovkin called "constructive editing."3

No overall view establishes that Gibson is at risk. Instead we get ten quick

shots of slowing taxicab wheels, the drivers startled face, and then shots of

Gibson (actually a stunt man) already rolling around on the hood of the car

he is flung off. The crucial action of the car hitting the Gibson character is

completely omitted.

Hong Kong fans rightly object to such bogus action, but we can general-

ize from their annoyance. The sequence gives us the idea: we understand

that the car strikes Gibson, but the collision is not directly delineated, and

thus the scene has no wallop. In substituting an editing ellipsis for a more di-

rect presentation, this passage exemplifies a broader strategy. Put generally,

the actors performance is minimized and other cinematic techniques com-

pensate for it. The rapid cutting, constant camera movement, and dramatic

music and sound effects must labor to generate an excitement that is not

primed by the concrete event taking place before the lens.

Stunts and special effects likewise deemphasize the actors performance.

Donner gives pride of place to the sparks struck by bullets and above all to a

series of auto stunts. Busey skids around corners, drives the wrong way on a

one-way street, and steers a flaming car into a telephone pole, actions that are

dwelt upon in extreme long shots. In fact, Donner favors medium long shots,

long shots, and even extreme long shots throughout the sequence. He thus

assures himself that the action is broadly covered; but it sets the action, how-

ever spectacular, at a considerable distance. Donner offers us few close-ups

of characters, giving Busey and Gibson one quick reaction shot apiece; most

of the close-ups show parts of the pockmarked car. Moreover, the line of

movement is constantly broken by impediments (parked cars that Gibson

must hop over) and countermovements (traffic passing to and fro), so the

shots register as fairly cluttered.

The sequence is, then, physically unspecific in two respects. First, the

concreteness of the individual actions is sacrificed to a broad sense that some-

thing dynamic is going on. Second, instead of conveying a specific expressiv

quality — Gibson's risky but tenacious pursuit, Busey's desperation in the face

of impending capture — t h e nervous busyness of the style creates a relatively

undifferentiated visceral arousal. We understand that Gibson is in danger,

but we do not have any reason to sense it. The result is a diffuse feeling of

general excitement.

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76 | DAVID B O R D W E L L

Admittedly, this nervous style can be considered somewhat realistic, in that

such a chase in real-life traffic would create graceless, helter-skelter move-

ment. And even the interruptive cutting and occasional jerky camera move-

ment can be justified as plausibly reflecting the messiness of extreme action

in the world we know. But there is a cost as well. Michael Bay, director of

The Rock, explains how he shot inserts for the chase through San Francisco:

I film actors driving in these scenes from a dolly a few feet in front of

a stationary car. I do whip pans and whip zooms and violently shake

the camera, trying to make the whole screen rumble. Used in

snippets, it looks as if the actors are driving ferociously.4

The director seeks to suggest the ferocity of the action solely through camera-

work. But when only the screen rumbles, we carry away just an impression of

a violent chase. And the actor has almost nothing to do, since the cinema-

tography is carrying the emotional jolt of the movements.

During the 19805 there emerged two broad approaches to creating this

rough sense of incessant movement. The busy, sketchy approach typified

by Lethal Weapon can be found as well in the Beverly Hills Cop series, Die Hard 2 (1990), and Heat (1995). The jerkiness of this style reaches a kind of apogee in The Rock's Humvee chase, with its i.2-second average shot length and the spasmodic camerawork of which Bay is so proud. Here the

aim is to create the impression that everything is in frantic motion. People

lurch about, vehicles smash up, the handheld camera wobbles, and cuts frac-

ture every instant of action into a barrage of brief, sometimes barely legible


Admittedly, a more poised and clean-line approach also emerged during

the 19805. It relies on wide-angle compositions, more complex staging, and

somewhat more legible shot design. This style is in evidence in the Indiana

Jones series, as well as in Aliens (1986), the original Die Hard (1988), The Fugitive (1993), and Speed (1994). Still, these films remain committed to the belief that an action scene must move, and move incessantly. All other things

being equal, the goal is constant and continual activity.

This overall strategy and the specific stylistic devices that fulfill it have

been enormously influential on action pictures around the world. But there

are significant differences, and these are, I submit, one source of the intuitive

sense that something original is going on in the Hong Kong action cinema.

In Law Man's cop thriller Hearty Response [Yi Gai Yun Tian] (1986), a po- lice officer (Chow Yun-fat) breaks into a tattoo parlor. There he finds that a

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A E S T H E T I C S IN A C T I O N | 77

young woman (Joey Wong) has been tattooed and raped by her former boy-

friend. The tattooist leaps out the window and Chow gives chase, followed

quickly by Joey, who has grabbed a gun. As Chow searches the streets, the tat-

tooist tries to run him down by smashing a car through a fence. But Joey

catches up with him and fires, wounding him just before she is struck by a

car. Still, she runs on, chasing the rapist into a nightclub. When Chow dis-

covers the two, a gunfight ensues. Chow blocks a bullet meant for Joey; she

then advances on the tattooist and, sobbing with nervous rage, fires bullet

after bullet into his body.

This climactic sequence is virtually identical in length to the Lethal Weapon chase, but it offers instructive stylistic contrasts.5 A serious Hong Kong fan will note immediately Law Man's much more vivid handling of the

car accident. After wounding her rapist with her first bullet, Joey starts to run

across the street toward him. Cut to a shot taken from the front seat of a car

bearing down on her. The image creates an immediate and concrete sense

of danger that mere glimpses of tires and a drivers expression cannot sum-

mon up: the shot shows the car about to hit her. Cut to a reverse angle, with

the car approaching the camera and going into a skid as she continues across

the street. The car sideswipes her and knocks her out of the frame. In a still

closer view, she hits the sidewalk and rolls bumpily across the pavement to

the right. Cut to a tight, brief shot of the skidding car smashing into another

car. The last shot shows her still rolling, now to the left, before she slaps down

her hands to stop herself. She pauses briefly to gather strength before rising

to pursue her quarry.

Of course, the Hearty Response action was faked in the sense that a stunt man (in wig and miniskirt) took the impact and the fall. Nonetheless, the ki-

netic impact of the action is much stronger than in Lethal Weapon. This is because we register in a straightforward way the impending collision and the

sickening thud of the car against body. The controlled execution of the act

was put at the center of the mise-en-scene, and other film techniques were

devoted to presenting it vividly. Each shot has the schematic clarity of a car-

toon panel, and the lighting renders everything in bold relief. No telephoto

lens creates a safe illusion of risk; no elliptical editing gets by with fragments

of action. The final crash of the car into another vehicle is extremely modest

by Hollywood standards, and it is given only one shot, as if we needed only

to see where it ended up and to feel again the vehicles deadly momentum.

In five shots adding up to six seconds, a range of film techniques has been

used to put the emphasis squarely on the sheer physical and emotional force

of the action.

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78 | DAVID B O R D W E L L

Naturally, we must remember that U.S. studio executives were probably

more squeamish about showing a body ricocheting off a car than the Hong

Kong censor was. And certainly the low budget of Hearty Response forces Law Man to create his thrills cheaply. But these factors reveal only that Law

Man, like other directors, has turned the opportunities and constraints of his

filmmaking situation to artistic advantage. Moreover, we might expect a low-

budget production to have plenty of recourse to shortcuts like Pudovkin's

constructive editing. Here the big-budget picture, eager to protect its star and

its audiences sensibilities, embraces the cheaper and more roundabout so-

lution, while the exploitation picture gives us the event more vividly.

Much the same could be said of the tattooist's attack on Chow Yun-fat,

a nine-second barrage of trim medium long shots and close-ups in which

Chow dodges a car and then saves a boy from being run down. As in the col-

lision with Joey Wong, Chow's split-second avoidance of the car relies on

artifice, but not the sort that, as Andre Bazin puts it, turns an actual event into

something imaginary. Someone, if not Chow, very nearly gets smashed.

My key point is not that Hong Kong films employ death-defying stunts;

that is not news. What is important is that the stunts are staged, shot, and cut

for readability. In the auto's lunges at Chow, the rapidity of our uptake starts

from the smoothness and cogency of the physical action that is shown. The

entire Hearty Response sequence is even more quickly cut than the passage from Lethal Weapon, with an average shot length of about one and a half sec- onds; but it does not look as skittish. This is because the shots tend to be read-

able at a glance — fairly close, simply composed, and displaying only one or

two trajectories of movement. And, significantly, Law Man uses half as many

moving camera shots as Donner does, thereby making it all the more impor-

tant for the action in front of the lens to engage our attention.

The lesson of this comparison is quite general. If Hollywood movies

sketch a pervasive but often inexact sense of physical action, the Hong Kong

norm aims to maximize the actions legibility. From the 19605 swordplay film

and 19705 kungfu movies to the cop movies and revived wuxia pian of the 19805 and 19905, this filmmaking tradition has put the graceful body at the

center of its mise-en-scene. In order to follow the plot, one must be con-

stantly apprised of the actors behavior, down to minute changes of posture,

stance, or regard. Like Soviet films of the 19205, which took their inspiration

from the precise gymnastics of popular theater, Hong Kong cinema has em-

phasized the concreteness and clarity of each gesture. Doubtless, traditions

of martial arts and Peking opera — cultural factors quite different from those

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A E S T H E T I C S IN A C T I O N | 79

governing Hollywood style —have been central to this aesthetic, but I am not

competent to trace out lines of influence here. I want to concentrate on some

principles of film style governing action sequences.

How to achieve such gestural clarity on film? Several important tactics are

on view in your fathers prototypical kungfu film of the igyos or early igSos.6

Most obviously, the director must provide an unobstructed view of the ac-

tion. The bare stretch of earth that provides the arena for so many kungfu duels, though often the sign of a skimpy budget, has the virtue of making sa-

lient every instant of the fight. By contrast to Bay's efforts to make his screen

rumble, Hong Kong cinematography seeks not to hide the action. The base-

line is the long shot or medium long shot, with closer views serving to enlarge

details or offer breathing space between stretches of combat.

At times, of course, difficult or impossible physical feats may be faked by

means of the "Kuleshov effect," as when cutaways cover tremendous leaps or

dexterous juggling. But again, the presentation of these feats will be dia-

grammatically clear. To take a typical instance: In Chu Yuan's 1972 film The Killer (also known as Sacred Knives of Vengeance [Da Sha Shou]), some thugs invade the hero's room. He is concealed in the rafters watching them.

A low-angle shot shows him leaping down, and as he passes out of the lower

frame edge he comes down into a long shot of the group of men. Some

space has been reserved in the center of the frame for him, and as soon as he

hits the floor he springs up (thanks, presumably, to a mini-trampoline) and

plunges head first through a window, already visible in the rear of the set.

Cut to a new angle of him diving through the window, somersaulting over

the porch, and landing in the courtyard, ready to face more gang members,

all conveniently spread out to create a vacant spot for him to occupy. The

staging cooperates with the cutting to make each leap and landing maxi-

mally evident. Similarly, key factors of manual combat — the demeanor of each fighter,

and especially the exact distance between them — must be depicted unam-

biguously. Cinematography enters not as a substitute for the physical feat but

as an enhancer of it, as when zooms show a detail of the fight or when slow

motion allows us to examine an action that would otherwise pass too quickly.

Within the martial artist's performance, clarity can be achieved not only

through the precision of the movement but also by an effort to focus the en-

tire body's energy in each gesture. Eisenstein can help us understand the lat-

ter tactic a bit better. He believed that every movement activates the entire

body, and so in theater and film one must "sell" each action by exaggerating

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the body's role in forming it. Eisenstein imagines how one might inject ki-

netic expressivity into a line of dialogue like "But there are two," with the

actor showing two upraised fingers on the final word.

How much the persuasiveness of the phrase itself will be strengthened,

the expressiveness of the intonation, if on the first words, you make

a recoil movement with the body while raising the elbow, and then

with an energetic movement you throw the torso and the hand with

the extended fingers forward. Furthermore, the braking of the

wrist will be so strongly directed that the wrist will vibrate (like a


This sort of stylized clarity, verging on cartoon movement, is quite differ-

ent from the more subdued performance style characteristic of contempo-

rary Hollywood acting, which tends to emphasize the face rather than the

entire body. When called upon to create gestures, todays American actor pro-

duces something approximate, perhaps more realistic but also less sharply

defined than the Eisenstein ideal. At the end of our Lethal Weapon scene, when Gibson gets up after the taxicab accident, he starts to spar with the

driver before dropping his guard and half-sweeping his hands up and down

in a mixture of dismissiveness and apology. The gestures are tentative and in-

complete, insufficiently articulated.

By contrast, in the Hong Kong action sequence actors leap, twist, and

scramble with an energetic explicitness that reveals a dynamic of forces at

work on the entire body. No one just falls down. In Hearty Response Joey Wong hits the ground sideways in a vigorous roll that testifies to the pitch and

impetus of the launching force. Or the actor may land with a splat, arms and

legs splayed wide, or on his neck or spine, creating the very picture of an awk-

ward, painful fall. By exploiting all the actors limbs, the Hong Kong action

film can present the specifics of each action with diagrammatic clarity.

This tendency is aided by the actor's ability to build the performance out

of fast, crisp gestures. The Hong Kong performer has recourse to something

like Eisenstein's idea of recoil. For the actors key movements are often sepa- rated by noticeable points of stasis. We might describe this as the pause-burst- pause pattern. A punch lands, and there is a pause; it misses, and the ex-

tended arm is held poised, if only for a fraction of a second. The hero leaps

and lands, resting in place briefly. The tattooist in Hearty Response glances back to see Joey gaining on him; instead of glancing over his shoulder, as he

might in a Hollywood film, he runs frantically, stops, swivels his head, regis-

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A E S T H E T I C S IN A C T I O N | 81

ters Joey's pursuit, swivels his head again, and then pounds downstairs into

the nightclub. A pause often enframes each instant of action, giving it a dis-

crete, vivid identity. The result is a kind of physics of combat and pursuit: out

of quiescence rises a short, sharp action, which ceases as energy is switched

off and stored for the next action. A parallel strategy rules the overall scene of

fight or pursuit: moments of near-absolute stillness alternate with bursts of

smooth, rapid-fire activity.

Somewhat like meter in music, the pause-burst-pause pattern creates a regular and recognizable pulse. Any one piece of combat can realize this ac-

centual pattern in different rhythms and tempos. Some action choreographers

sustain the pauses by dwelling on blocks and parries, achieving remarkable

comic effects in such films as Yuen Wo-ping's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow [Shexing Diaoshou] (1978) and Dance of the Drunken Mantis [Nan Bei Jui Quan] (1979). Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan seek a faster pace, so they allow only a split second of pause between the lightning punches and kicks.

Both artists enhance this presto tempo with fast-motion cinematography.

A beautiful example of a more measured rhythm occurs early in Lau Kar-

leong's Legendary Weapons of China [Shibaban Wuyi] (1982). In an inn, two guests, each bent on assassinating a swordsman, unknowingly converge in a

storeroom above his room. Their attempts to stab through the floorboards to

his bed are played out in rhyming thrusts and dodges, each conveyed in a

shot with its own pause-burst-pause rhythm. When the swordsman eludes

them, the two assassins begin to fight each other. In one shot the young man

flings a dart at the woman; in the reverse shot she dodges away and the dart

plinks into a grain sack beside her. (Beat.) A closer view of her shows her star-

ing at the dart. (Beat.) Then she flings a claw-headed weapon. Reverse angle:

he ducks and it clatters against a rake. A new angle shows the rake in the fore-

ground, out of focus. (Beat.) Then the rake falls abruptly backward as she

yanks on the cable attached to the weapon. In the next shot, the rake con-

tinues to fall and strikes the young man. (Beat.) Now the young man lies in

the foreground under the rake while the young woman crouches in the

background. (Beat.) She glances down through the floorboards to see if any-

one below has heard. (Beat.) Throughout, the scene manifests a perceptible

pulse in the pause-burst-pause pattern.

For a parallel instance from a recent policier we need look no further than John Woo's The Killer [Diexue Shuangxiong] (1989). The famous gun-to-gun confrontation between Chow Yun-fat and Danny Lee depends on briskly al-