Friday, July 15, 2011

Gender, Sexuality and Ideology and the Superhero

Female superheroes in American film and television are often subordinate to male superheroes. This is in stark contrast to super-heroines outside America who are more likely to get their own films and television series, with examples such as Darna, the Mexican luchador Batwoman and Mega Mindy from Holland.

Heroic Trio (1993) is a Hong Kong superhero film which features the top three female stars of Hong Kong cinema of the 90s; Anita Mui, Maggie Cheung and Michelle Yeoh. These beautiful actresses make particularly stunning super-heroines, but a superhero film relies on more than having attractive cast  members. In comparison many American superheroes are effectively sexless, with their out of costume liaisons acting as nothing more than a front for their more important heroic activities. The most famous character that does this is Bruce Wayne, who is portrayed as a rich playboy, and uses women as an accessory to conceal his Batman persona. Peter Parker, and Clark Kent, although both paired with regular girlfriends (Mary-Jane Watson, Lois Lane) have difficulty moving their romantic relationships forward, especially within the context of the films, for a variety of reasons. 

The plot of Heroic Trio is unusual for a superhero film as it revolves around an ancient eunuch stealing male babies, a threat that – the film suggests – women are particularly adept at dealing with, as in contrast male superheroes usually don’t have to deal with this kind of threat to society. It could be suggested that the plot (and some of the action sequences) owes a considerable debt to a similar sequence in Hard Boiled (1992) where Chow Yun-Fat’s character Tequila must save newly born children in incubators in a maternity ward from a gun battle between gangsters and the police. Heroic Trio, by making this minor theme the entire story, suggests that super-heroines, and by extension women, would only be interested in cute babies in danger. The interesting part of this is that these are male babies in danger, arguably suggesting that female babies aren’t worth considering, although it takes heroic women to save the boys.

The villain as an eunuch, occupies a liminal position as being both a man, but not a male. However it is important to note that eunuchs are common villainous characters in Hong Kong martial arts films. Therefore we should be careful to see this as suggesting that heroines are unable to fight men. For example in 1992 (the year before Heroic Trio) we saw Asia the Invincible, a eunuch played by Brigitte Lin in Swordsman 2. The issues of gender and sexuality are probably more interesting in this film than in Heroic Trio. The character of Asia is a man who has castrated himself to gain supernatural powers, yet portrayed by an actress. In addition Jet Li’s character, Ling Wu-Chung, falls in love with Asia, putting homosexuality upfront in a mainstream Hong Kong action film.  

No comments:

Post a Comment