V.  Other Excesses

“I feel that she’s half human half animal” (Carrie Ng, “Sex Medusa”)

The Japanese “Other”

As in most cinema world wide, the role of the foreigner is frequently that of the villain.  In HK action films Westerners occasionally feature as the criminal or hired muscle of the criminal mastermind or as barely respected police supervisors.  Historical animosity with Japan is reflected in the counterposing of Chinese wushu against the martial artistry of Japan in period genre films, while contemporary crime actioners have frequently located the disruptive source of tension as a Japanese yakuza.

Baby in Naked Killer and The Stewardess
Roles for Japanese female actors in HK films have been particularly problematic, involving contrasting extremes of sexual objects in Cat. III productions or terrifyingly aggressive femmes fatales.  The privileging of their roles in HK action cinema should not be underestimated.  Three women of Japanese origin – Yukari Oshima, Michiko Nishiwaki and Nadeki Fujimi – between them appeared in approximately 90 HK or Taiwanese action films – approaching half of the all these genre films foregrounding female action performers that were made through the mid-1990s, and comprising many of the best-known GWG titles.
Yukari and Michiko (The Avenging Quartet), Nadeki Fujimi (Pink Panther)
If not actually playing the villain, in many instances their roles were ambiguous and transgressive.  The transgressive nature of their casting may be examined relative to their counterparts of Chinese (HK or Taiwanese) origin.  Moon Lee, Sibelle Hu, Cynthia Khan and Kara Hui appeared opposite or alongside the Japanese performers, as well as in many of the remaining GWG titles.  With the exception of isolated parts for Moon Lee (“A Serious Shock!  Yes Madam!,” 1992) or Kara Hui (“Roar of the Vietnamese,” 1991) these performers were seldom cast as villains.  When they were, it was due to the force of external circumstances.  On those rare occasions when their characters died (e.g., Kara Hui, “The Real Me,” 1991), they did not do so bloodily – with the interesting exception of martial artist Sharon Yeung (“Angel Terminators,” “Princess Madam”).  Most of these performers were more generally identified with delegated official authority and aligned with traditional patriarchal power structures.  Even the rare triad boss role for Cynthia Khan (“Queen’s High”) was inherited from her deceased brother.  However, when playing a homicidal lesbian in “The Love That Is Wrong” (1993), Ellen Chan was explicitly cast as a Japanese executive.
Yukari (The Godfather's Daughter Mafia Blues), Nadeki
Potential manifestations of the monstrous feminine primarily associated with Japanese performers include transgression of gender identifiers, gender identity or even species.  Yukari Oshima’s androgynous clothing and manner virtually defined her screen persona (e.g., “Brave Young Girls,” 1990; “Beauty Investigator,” 1992) to the extent that in “The Direct Line” (1992) she utters the line “I always wear men’s clothes” and endures gratuitous remarks about lack of breast development.  Jackboots, riding breeches, and black leather complement Oshima’s vengeful mood in “Vengeance is Mine” (1997).  Nadeki Fujimi would likewise progressively harden and masculinize her clothing so that by the time of her appearance in “Erotic Passion” (1993) her character appears harsh and gender-indeterminate.
Michiko (My Lucky Stars, In the Line of Duty III)
While Michiko Nishiwaki clearly favored feminine coded clothing, gender identifiers were blurred once the clothes were off.  Aggressively sexual in many of her parts, her muscular body and dominating manner subvert expectations.  Other boundary transgressions include Oshima playing a man (“The Story of Ricky,” 1992), a half-human, half-cat shape-shifter (“Devil Cat” aka “The Cat” 1991) or sexually assaulting a woman (“That’s Money,” 1990).  Miho Nomoto (who has appeared in Japanese GWG films as well as numerous HK Cat. III titles) played a half-human snake (perhaps the ultimate phallic symbol) who, while in human form, could be seen abjectly consuming a rat and an entire feathered chicken (“Sex Medusa,” 2001).  In one of her Japanese roles she also played a fully functional hermaphrodite!  The sexuality of Nishiwaki’s characters is also open to question in a group sex scene (“Princess Madam,” 1989), as the focus of lesbian desire (“Passionate Killing in the Dream,” 1992 – incidentally by a female martial artist), as traumatized and dysfunctional (“The Avenging Quartet,” 1993), and as frankly sadistic (“Princess Madam,” 1989; “Hero Dream,” 1993).
Miho Nomoto (The Peeping Tom, Sex Medusa)
Where Nishiwaki’s characters were often the focus of unusual, intense desire, Oshima’s characters tended to be more frequently decontextualized – fanatical, dour, and responding to idiosyncratic, barely glimpsed private agendas.  Fujimi’s characters most closely resemble the Final Girl construct of horror films.  Both Oshima and Nishiwaki were each described in Bey Logan’s review of HK action cinema as a “Nipponese nutcracker” (Note 1) – an alliteration that perhaps reveals their characterization as castatrice.  The passion that sometimes explodes from these performers is dark and unsettling rather than reassuring.  Their sexually ambiguous characters feminize death, aligning them with transgressive, abject figures of horror.
Yukari (Avenging Quartet), Michiko (My Lucky Stars)
Additional clues concerning the status of GWG films may be gained by brief consideration of the status of the female “Other” in Japanese films themselves, since the Japanese film industry seems to feature prominent female roles in an even broader range of film types.  Most distinctively, the prodigious output of anime frequently foregrounds the characters of girls or women in roles that transgress boundaries.  Common themes (Note 2) include bodily transformations involving robotics, crises of personal identity and role, or other abject transformations.  Both animated and live action productions vigorously explore genre conventions of the horrific or monstrous.  Examples include “Tima” the appealing girl cyborg of “Metropolis” who destroys her city-state, the young contemporary swordswoman of “Blood” and the beautiful but deadly monster of “Parasite Eve.”  These embody the destructive forces of Creed’s monstrous feminine.  When considered alongside other forms, such as period ninja or swordswoman titles (e.g., the original and re-make of “Lady Snowblood”) as well as pornography, these films can perhaps be regarded as constituting a family of genres of excess.  All involve filmic referents to gender roles, but all are constructed as spectacles of excess.
Lady Snowblood and Princess Blade
When considered in this context, Japanese GWG films may be regarded as one among a number of genres that involve excesses of power, dominance and lethal force that are prominently counterposed with conventional signifiers of physical attractiveness and stereotyped behaviors.  This is made clear by similar conventions in other Japanese film forms.  Accordingly, Japanese GWG films generally do not feature “Final Girls” in the sense argued by Clover, but instead present conventional female display roles and codes that are deliberately subverted by the exercise of violence and power in traditionally masculine coded ways.  The result is an exaggeration of female display codes blended with an exaggeration of male action codes.  It is this conflation that defines the violation and supplies the excess.
Wild Criminal
By contrast, many HK GWG films – especially those deliberately foregrounding the physical or martial prowess of Japanese women – may align the viewer with the spectator of horror.  The combination of repulsion and fascination involving an urge to look at their ecstatic aggression seems aptly descriptive of a viewer experience that is at once more intense than viewing “conventional” (male-centered) action film, yet is less sexualized than “conventional” (female-centered) romantic or erotic displays.  This textual space is narrow yet compelling, the very ambiguity of the image trapping the viewer in a conflict with no satisfactory narrative resolution.  This is, at once, the genius of both the popular filmmaker and the performers, and the essence of the distinctive allure of these films.

Notes:  Other Excesses

1. Logan, op. cit., states, “One of the foremost furies in the industry, that Nipponese nutcracker Yukari Oshima” (p. 170) and, “she [Cynthia Khan] also had to compete for screen presence with Nipponese nutcracker Michiko Nishiwaki” (p. 161).
2. See Napier, op. cit.