IV.  Boundary and Role Violations

“I’m gonna pretend you’re a man.  A very beautiful man with a perfect body, who I’d like to take to the movies.”  (Chris Tucker to Zhang Ziyi, “Rush Hour 2”)

The Monstrous Feminine

According to Barbara Creed (Note 1), female roles in horror may be broadly described as those involving actual or symbolic destruction of the male, those involving physical boundary violations, and those involving role violations.  Drawing on cine-psychoanalysis, these conceptions seek to define the “horrific” according to violations of basic principles that are presumed to underpin gender role.  Thus, the traditional role of nurturer may become horrifically modified into that of the destroyer.  In addition to destructive or contrary behavior, physical violations may include structural changes to the body.  Obvious examples include distortions and mutilation, but more subtle instances include ambiguous gender coding of appearance or contamination by dirt or bodily fluids.  According to cine-psychoanalysis these violate the “symbolic order” of the fetishized (perfect) body, and raise anxiety in the presumed male viewer.  Although not explicitly articulated, the muscular physique or even the physical skill of certain performers might also represent an implicit boundary violation under the terms of this theory.

The Six Devil Women and Rock on Fire
Cine-psychoanalysis proposes that such anxiety may be stimulated in two ways by horror films.  In the first, a primal fear of actual annihilation can be evoked by enclosing or confining dark spaces frequently coded “maternal.”  In the second, an acquired fear of real or symbolic castration can be evoked by female behavior or characteristics that cross over into the realm of the “abject” and arouse unease or even disgust.  Roles with such features of category violation may be described as “marginal” since their performers occupy a borderline space between the realm of the symbolic – conforming to patriarchal codes for appearance, behavior and order – and the abject – involving destruction of those codes, chaos, and unregulated primal expression.
Intruder and Roar of the Vietnamese
Jacqueline Wu’s chilling performance in “Intruder” (1997) provides an example of activation of primal annihilation fear, while several of Michiko Nishiwaki’s roles (“Angel Terminators,” 1990; “Princess Madam,” 1989; “In The Line of Duty III,” 1988; “Hero Dream,” 1993) associate the aggressive sensuality of a boundary-violating muscular femininity with death.  Films such as “Naked Killer” (1992) and “The Love That Is Wrong” (1993) present an association between other female violations of the patriarchal symbolic order – in this instance sexual orientation – and death.  Several assassin films (“The Other Side of the Sea,” 1994; “Roar of the Vietnamese,” 1991; “Beyond Hypothermia,” 1996) associate their female agents of death (Michelle Reis, Kara Hui, Jacqueline Wu) with national origin (Vietnamese), arguably fueled by the then-current refugee crisis.  “Lethal Panther” (1991) went one step further, casting a Japanese (Yoko Miyamoto) as a Vietnamese assassin.
Carrie Ng (Naked Killer, Evil Instinct)
When abject actions are associated with “Otherness” – whether defined by the national origin of the performer or their character, their character’s sexual orientation, or even their physical skills and attributes – spectatorial distancing and identificatory remove are established.  After temporarily closing this gap with romance in several of the above titles, the patriarchal and symbolic order may be finally restored by killing off the still marginal female character.  Films such as “Intruder” and “Roar of the Vietnamese” may be considered quite political in their problematizing of the lengths to which individuals may go to escape hardship.  Moreover, the resolution of each of these films ultimately fails to satisfactorily re-establish the patriarchal order – an outcome commonly labeled “controversial.”
Yoko Miyamoto in Lethal Panther
Other potential manifestations of the abject and monstrous feminine (Note 2) involve castration symbolism of the “toothed vagina.”  Parenthetically, this symbol in film is actually more than simply a figment of cine-psychoanalytic imagination.  It is explicitly present in the Japanese anime “Wicked City,” for example.  Examples from HK cinema include the (lethal) physical proximity of the female protagonist’s vagina to a circular saw in the finale of “Red to Kill” (1994), biting or castration performed by Nadeki Fujimi’s characters in “Killer Angels” (1989) and “Pink Panther” (1993) or use of sexual activity as an instrument of homicide (e.g., by Rena Murakami’s character in “1/3 Lover,” 1995).
Michiko Nishiwaki (My Lucky Stars), Nadeki Fujimi (Rock on Fire)
Possible examples of physical boundary violations include the spectacularly muscled physiques of Michiko Nishiwaki (“My Lucky Stars,” 1985) and Agnes Aurelio (“She Shoots Straight,” 1990), Yukari Oshima’s transformations into a cat (“Devil Cat,” 1991) or a man (“The Story of Ricky,” 1992), encounters with blood, sweat or filth (e.g., Yukari Oshima in “Angel Terminators II,” 1993; “Spiritually a Cop,” 1991; Nadeki Fujimi in “Rock on Fire,” 1994), personal disfigurement (e.g., Brigitte Lin, “Lady in Black,” 1987), extreme physical suffering (unknown performer in “The Deadly Rose”, 1992), or mental illness (e.g., Maggie Siu, “Sting of the Scorpion,” 1992).  Such boundary transgressions as these involve transformations beyond the token bloodstain, torn clothing or scuff mark, and cross into the realm of the abject.

Notes:  Boundary and Role Violations

1. Creed, ibid.
2. Creed, ibid.