Saturday, June 6, 2009

(All About Women/女人不坏): Tsui Hark + Sex And the City = ?

Originally pinned as Tsui Hark's big comeback film, and poised as a follow up to Peking Opera Blues, this film was panned, doing somewhat poorly in the box office despite lots of lead up.  (It looks like there is not a US distributor lined up.)

Now Tsui Hark comes from (or more adamant defenders would say defines!) that slapstick tradition of the Hong Kong action film where you often find the juicy combination of femme fatales, eunuchs, cross-dressers and other such gender-bending. [See Stephen Teo's treatment in the Film Cultures Reader, here.]

So, I was a bit shocked when the film was marketed as an analogue to Sex and the City. The Sex and the City  film release also released a deluge of somewhat stale commentary on how it fits into the general discourses on gender and feminism. [EG In the Guardian, Alice Wignall asked "Can a Feminist Really Love Sex and the City?" (I more or less fall on the side of finding it an "orgy of consumerism and triviality.")]

So whither the women in this film, particularly given that Peking Opera Blues and The Swordsman II have been read so positively by feminist film scholarship? 

In either case, the film ultimately loses any possible emotional content to the explosion of camp - one ultimately senses from viewing (as you do with Wong Kar-Wai) that the script was rewritten part because (as with Wong Kar-Wai), it was. Regardless, it is really, really fun to watch, with explosions of color, costume and stylized artifice giving the flat caricatures that run through the film a miasma of character. (Or, again, maybe just camp.) Based on just my limited knowledge, one could place it in an aesthetic category with with Tsai Ming Liang's A Wayward Cloud, in turn situated in earlier films like Tati's Playtime, Demy's Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Schraeder's Mishima. But where the gender politics goes is a difficult question, and (as with Wong Kar Wai), the ultimate destination may be the great revolving nebulae of Tsui Hark's ego. 


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