Week Eleven: Feminist Film Theory

December 11, 2010

Laura Mulvey’s essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” argues that films structure around “male gaze” with “woman as image” and “man as bearer of the look”. The scene where Tianqing is peeping Judou while she is taking her bath, presents the woman as an image and the man as a look. The woman is “bearer of meaning, not making of meaning.” Film provides pleasure through scopophilia—deriving pleasure from looking and identification with the male actor. She says, “In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness,” Mulvey says that the “looking relations” is around the characters, camera, and audience, identified and controlled by the male. Judou is represented as an object of desire from a male perspective. In the beginning we are pushed to identify with Tianqing, when we are introduced to Judou, it’s through his viewpoint as well. Judou’s revealing of her wounds to Tianqing through the peephole “represents a decisive move against the gerontocratic and patriarchal rule that operates against her (Lau 3).” Judou challenges the male viewer by creating a sense of guilt for his voyeurism and Mulvey’s ideas since she is deliberating reinforcing the male gaze and manipulating Tianqing. According to Mulvey, voyeurism should produce scopophilia “from pleasure in using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight.” According to Cui, the Confucian social structure of the society transforms their relationship into a perverse one, embarrassment and identification with the female character Judou.

The “politics of pleasure” is in voyeurism (sexual attraction through looking at another person without their knowledge) and fetishism (narcissistic identification—forbidden desires were repressed and expressed in another form). There are shots in which characters are framed through an enclosed object, the peephole where Tianqing watched Judou (scopophilia and voyeurism, from apparatus theory), which reminds us that each character is trapped.

Jenny Kwok Wah Lau, “A Cultural Interpretation of the Popular Cinema of China and Hong Kong,” Perspectives on Chinese Cinema, Chris Berry, ed., London, British Film Institute, 1991, p. 3

Shuqin Cui. Women Through the Lens: Gender and Nation in a Century of Chinese Cinema . Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003. 248 pages, 304 pages total including filmography, works cited includes both Western and Chinese texts, notes, index.

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