AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 351

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Session 351: Love & Desire

Tragicomic Transformations: Food, Sex, and Beauty in 301/302 and 200 Pounds Beauty
Jane Chi Hyun Park, University of Sydney, Australia

This paper looks at the dark, angry, and often perverse humor used to tell stories of self transformation in two South Korean films about single women who fail to meet societal expectations of femininity. A generic combination of horror, thriller, and comedy, 301/302 (Park, Cheoul-su, 1995) is about the relationship that develops between two obsessive-compulsive single female neighbors when one, a plump, recently divorced chef consistently tries to feed her resistant neighbor, an anorexic writer. Through flashback, we learn about their traumatic pasts, and the different ways in which they use food to deal with their fear of and desire for sexual expression. Meanwhile, 200 Pounds Beauty (Kim, Yong-hwa, 2006), tagged a romantic comedy, is less about romance than the comically painful self-transformation of a young and aspiring, horribly obese female singer. After realizing that her weight will never allow her to achieve her dream or win the love of her male crush object, she undergoes drastic head to toe plastic surgery to emerge with a new identity as a beautiful, Korean-American ingénue. Both films, at turns comic and tragic, melodramatic and mundane, touch on timely issues of dieting and plastic surgery that have become part of the cultural landscape for women in South Korea. I want to focus on how they deploy a particular form of gallows humor to represent these issues in complex and ambivalent ways, which reflect the ongoing influence of Korean neo-Confucian values as well as the impact of Western modes of feminism and consumerism on the modern female subject.

A Thwarted Romance: The Space-Off Created by "One Malaysia" and "Intersex" in Yasmin Ahmad's Films
Wai Siam Hee, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

This article makes use of the concept of "space-off" from film theory, as well as the perspective of "interior meaning" from auteur theory to examine how Yasmin Ahmad breathes such consistent passion and vitality into the romances in her two films "Sepet" and "Mukhsin"; Exactly how those repetitive visual expressions (mise en scène) and those unrequited Chinese-Malay romantic narratives produce the interior meaning in the context of the director's own possible intersex identity erased by the technologies of gender; How, in the social context during Yasmin Ahmad's life and after her death, this layer of interior meaning and space-off engenders dialogue and distortion the Malaysian-Chinese society, as well as in such ideologies as national allegories and “One Malaysia”("Satu Malaysia"); Moreover, how the interior meaning manifests itself between the viewer’s received aesthetics of the romance and the ideological interpellation of "One Malaysia"; And how the “elsewhere” of the space-off is obscured and displaced. This article maintains that these two films ending in two failed romances paradoxically justify not only the disillusion of the national ideology of "One Malaysia", but also the premature death of the love between Yasmin Ahmad and her own intersex.

Cyberspace Romance in Translation: The Case of China’s Email-Order Brides
Haiyi Liu, University of California, San Diego, USA

In the new global economy, international marriage migration arranged through web-based matchmaking services is rapidly increasing. This paper explores the role commercial intermediaries play in facilitating such marriages. Empirical data was collected in 2008 and 2009 at a web-based agency in China that arranges marriages between women from China and men from Western countries such as the U.S., Canada, or Australia. More than 70% of the female clients at this agency are middle-aged and divorced. They have no knowledge of English and translators at the agency help them write emails to the men. The primary task of this paper is to examine how the email translation process, through which translators use words to create images of their clients before the clients ever meet, affects mate selection and relationship building. Examining this practice of email translation helps us better understand some of the new ways by which business organizations are mediating cross-cultural communication and interpersonal relationships across the globe. My data suggests that the agency I study offers clients with much more than just networking opportunities. By providing a combination of language translation, cultural mediation, and counseling services during each step of the clients' dating process, translators help Chinese women who may not otherwise have the social/cultural capital, expertise, and willpower to pursue transnational marriages initiate and sustain their relationships.

Love is Blind? Performativity and Violence in Uno Chiyo's Confessions of Love.
Juliana Choi, University of California, San Diego, USA

By the 1920s, the concept of a private, self-reflective subject and the gendered modes of articulating his presumed interiority were naturalized and shared across general reading practices. Within this new, liberal-humanist milieu of selfhood, romantic love became a major theme through which one could confess and reveal the affective interior boundaries of modern selfhood. Although the male-dominated world of canonical I-novels was closed off from the female-oriented mass-consumer world, they both shared the notion that civilized ren’ai could help their subjects discover and legitimate their true identities. Even love-suicides were reframed as affirming one’s transcendent choice on behalf of love despite the destruction of one’s body. In this paper I reconsider the relationship between gendered subjectivity, love, and violence in imperial Japan by analyzing the performative narration of Uno Chiyo's Confessions of Love. Though dominated by the voice of Yuasa Joji, a thinly-veiled reference to Uno’s partner Togo Seiji, the confession is actually spoken to an unknown, unspeaking intermediary who transcribes Yuasa’s voice. I question how Uno’s transcribed “passing” negotiates the contradictions embedded in the hierarchical gendering of social participation. Also, Uno's text is not just a masked female-voiced parody of a man’s confession but works to displace Yuasa into the self-affirming world of women’s love. I am interested in how the violence of his failed suicide –and his insistence on his capacity to witness and re-narrate his own suicide - enters the seeming privatized world of sentiment, romance, and the pronouncement of woman’s romantic “choice.”

Romancing Taipei: Global-local Dialectics of Love and Commerce in Taiwan’s Youth Cinema
Kai-man Chang, Tulane University, USA

Filmmakers in Taiwan have long embodied complicated, sometimes love-hate relationships with the city of Taipei. As a locus of opportunity and prosperity, an epitome of Taiwan’s history and identity, Taipei has provided inspiration and apprehension for Edward Yang’s The Terrorizer (1986) and Tsai Ming-liang’s Rebels of the Neon God (1992), which vividly portray the disaffected youth and the degenerating psychic life of Taipei dwellers in the late twentieth century. Unlike Taiwan New Cinema’s discontentment with post-industrialized and capitalist Taipei, recent Taiwanese films have represented Taipei through the lenses of neo-liberal networks and transnational identities and spaces. This paper looks into two recent films, Au Revoir Taipei (Arvin Chen, 2010) and Taipei Exchanges (Hsiao Ya-chuan, 2010) to explore an emergent neo-liberal cosmopolitan youth cultures and lifestyles in relation to the production of cinema in contemporary Taipei. Increasingly, Taipei youngsters today are not only avid consumers of transnational cultures and commodities such as foreign films, TV dramas, music and video games, but also active facilitators and agents of localizing global cultural economy. Both Au Revoir Taipei and Taipei Exchanges address the desires of local youths to transform bookstores and coffee shops into transnational, and yet personal spaces of love, leisure and work. Focusing on the social and cultural implications of these two films and the impacts of Taipei Film Festival on new generation of Taiwanese filmmakers, this paper examines the multidimensional roles that global consumerism, tourism and the government of Taipei City play in the rise of youth cinema in Taiwan.