Saturday, October 29, 2011

No Ma'am: The Infuriating Phenomenon of Poorly Written Female Characters in Hong Kong Fantasy Films

Few things dampen my enthusiasm for a film faster. Everything is rolling along nicely, and then she appears: the female lead. Great.

Oh please, don't make her atone for her misdeeds. She's simply too beautiful to die!

Let me see, what is it going to be this time? Is she going to pout, stomp and coerce the other characters into letting her accompany them on a journey that she's going to bitch about every step of the way?

Or maybe she's going to trick, seduce and kill one of the other lead characters?

I killed your best friend, but I know that you still like me. I love him, but I could gripe about Chang Cheh's female characters all day. 
How about if she's infuriatingly loud, yet super vulnerable and must be rescued by a more capable male character? 

 I will magically transform from a completely obnoxious and unsympathetic "lady of the night", to a woman you'd definitely bring home to mother, right before your very eyes! 
You can usually figure out which one of these scenarios it's going to be fairly early in the film, because there are really only a few purposes for the female lead to serve in most HK fantasy films, and I've seen it play out too many times.

They get married later. Lucky guy. 
I strongly resent that this phenomena has made me dread the appearance of a female in many of the films I watch. I'm a woman. I love women! In reality, the one dimensional writing of these characters is the underlying problem, rather than the acting itself. Although, I really still despise the pouty princess face. You know the one. 

Stop it. 
When Moon Lee's nameless female guard repeatedly punches Di Ming Qi (Yuen Biao) in Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain, it's not cute at all. It's completely without reason, and it looks like it hurts. A lot. But, I am very aware that it's supposed to be cute, because it's rare to see a male character that whines and punches other dudes in the face for no reason. Women don't act like that in reality, children do. Is that how the filmmaker sees women? Do they even care? Am I reading into things?

There are, of course, notable exceptions. Demon of the Lute, Deadful Melody, The Magic Crane, A Chinese Ghost Story, etc.,  have really effective, powerful and multi-faceted female leads.  Actresses like Rosamund Kwan, Anita Mui and Brigitte Lin, that have strong screen presence also always seem to find a way to add extra dimension and humanity to an otherwise cardboard character.

 I am well aware that you have saved my life many times, but you're getting on my over-privileged nerves, and I never want to see you again. 
I apologize if this sounds like a rant, but being that this is one of my favorite film genres, and that I'm a woman, I feel like I'm hyper-aware of the follies the writers and filmmakers make over and over again. Maybe it's just a cultural difference that makes me scratch my head at these pitiful caricatures of the "weaker sex", or maybe the women are considered throwaway characters that are around simply to further the plot in any way necessary. Maybe extreme rudeness is attractive, or maybe the actresses just so foxy, that male moviegoers don't even care.
Maybe I'm just being oversensitive.
Women, you know?