AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 468

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Session 468: Cripping Chinese Cinemas

Organizer: Kenneth Chan, University of Northern Colorado, USA

Crip theory is an emerging aspect of disability studies where concerns about disabled bodies intersect the questions of gender and sexuality. Crossing the borders of these theoretical disciplines allows one to examine critically the constructions of a compulsory able-bodiedness as a dominant ideological formation within gendered and sexual corporeal identities. In recent years, the scholarly study of Chinese cinemas has been extremely open to emerging cultural studies approaches (for instance, queer studies and environmental studies). This panel “Cripping Chinese Cinemas” hopes to bring together, in a collaborative fashion, young scholars in Chinese cinema studies whose work adopts the interdisciplinary approaches of disability studies and gender and sexuality (crip theory). These panel papers also cover a range of historical periods, (trans)national traditions, and disciplinary methodologies. Chien-ting Lin tackles the representations of care-givers in the inter-Asian context with films from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Xavier Tam does an industrial examination of the First Hong Kong International Deaf Film Festival. Moving back to the Shaw cinemas of the 1960s, Jeffrey Tan analyzes Chang Cheh’s "The One-Armed Swordsman" by positioning disability as a gendered representational mode. Finally, Kenneth Chan closes the panel by unpacking Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang’s usage of disabled filmic characters. All these papers, though dealing with various bodies of work from varied national and historical traditions, resonate together in its confronting of the marginalized position that disability identities have occupied in the social and cultural mainstream of Chinese cinemas.

(In)visible Queer Intimacies of Care, Labor and Disability: Hospital Wing 8 East and Lesbian Factory
Chien-ting Lin, University of California, San Diego, USA

This paper interrogates the transnational formulations of migrant workers’ diasporic subjectivities and intimate desires, examining the ways in transnational queer diasporic identities and desires have been imagined and reproduced through the politico-economic effects as well as linguistic and socio-cultural discourses within the multiple layered histories of the post-cold war nationalism and global capitalism. In this paper, I ask how the intimacy of bourgeois families and care of globalization predicate on the loss of histories at both personal and national levels across the differences of class, gender, race and sexuality in an inter-Asian context. The intimate relations of global capitalism and the nation-state have not only fostered the uneven development of political economies but have also produced queer affectivities intersecting with care, labor and disability among the migrant workers, care givers and the disabled care receivers. To align my discussion with two documentary films of Hospital Wing 8 East and Lesbian Factory, this paper reflects on the questions of queer body politics and globalization in the case of immigrant women and native disabled men, the role of patriarchal heterosexual normativity in the sexual and corporeal configuration of bodies, and the ideological linkage of queerness and disability in double-discrimination. From the perspective of cultural imagination, this paper will read the (im)possible space of new intimacies as gestured in these films to re-figure an alternative cultural (yet virtual) community to re-imagine the global ruptures of modernity.

Cripping Film Festival: The Cultural Politics of the First Hong Kong International Deaf Film Festival
Siu Yan Xavier Tam, , Hong Kong

The representation of disabled/deaf people is rare in Chinese cinemas. In Chinese films, characters portrayed as disabled/deaf people are most likely performing supporting roles. The situation is changing. Celebrating the 21st Summer Deaflympics, the Department of Cultural Affairs of the Taipei City Government funded the making of "Hear Me," a film involving a hearing food delivery boy (Tian-Kuo), a hearing girl (Yang-Yang) who is mistaken as hearing-impaired by the delivery boy, and the hearing girl’s hearing-impaired sister (Xiao-Peng) who is a swimmer for Deaflympics. The story of "Hear Me" focuses on the love development between Tian-Kuo and Xiao-Peng, the resolution of Tian-kuo’s parents’ worry of their son’s relationship with a deaf girlfriend, and Xiao-Peng’s problems in life and competition. In the thirst for cinematic representation, "Hear Me" gained a good reputation as a positive portrayal of deaf people. However, some deny "Hear Me" as a film made for deaf people. In September 2010, Hong Kong is going to launch the first Hong Kong International Deaf Film Festival. The festival is the first of its kind in Hong Kong/Chinese societies. The exclusion of "Hear Me" in the programming of the First Hong Kong International Deaf Film Festival indicates a critique – a refusal to recognize "Hear Me" as a film for Chinese deaf community. Examining the programming, this paper attempts to discuss the cultural politics of the First Hong Kong International Deaf Film Festival.

Negotiating the Rise of Female Power: The Disabled Martial Arts Hero in "One-Armed Swordsman"
Jeffery Tan, University of Cambridge, Hong Kong

In 1967, Chang Cheh’s "One-Armed Swordsman" broke Hong Kong box office records by grossing over HK$1 million. The film’s phenomenal success secured the director’s position at the Shaw’s Studio, spawned two sequels, and led other companies to produce various films which imitated its crippling of the martial arts hero. By juxtaposing archival records of cultural history with the representation of "disabled" masculinity, this essay illustrates how the film’s profitability can be attributed to its skilful management of tensions and contradictions in dominant ideology in Hong Kong society in the late 1960s. It argues that the trope of the "one-armed swordsman" articulated the troubling concerns of a patriarchy whose dominance was threatened by the rise of female power, and that it attempted to negotiate with the shift in gender dynamics to locate a new definition of masculinity. Additionally, in the process of working through timely concerns pertaining to gender identities, the film evoked, interrogated, and crippled the conventional demands made by the sword-fighting genre on its male hero, which were traditionally underpinned by patriarchal codes of conduct. By examining these discursive manoeuvres as well as the accompanying representations of feminine power, I hope to bring to recognition the film’s importance as an active participant in the history of gender identity politics in Hong Kong.

Disability as Political Trope in the Cinema of Tsai Ming-liang
Kenneth Chan, University of Northern Colorado, USA

Tsai Ming-liang’s work has been celebrated by film critics and scholars for its effective political interventions. His cinema achieves this goal by frequently creating haunting images of urban dystopia, where the destitute, the homeless, and the oppressed populate the cinematic landscape. By shifting his focus on various decrepit urban spaces, Tsai articulates the notions of alienation and abandonment, crucial themes in his oeuvre. This narrative and thematic emphasis has successfully placed Tsai as a significant Taiwanese auteur at international festivals. While his cultural politics is laudable, this success is also somewhat discomforting in that it partly rests on an emerging ethnographic cinema that fetishizes dystopian figurations, where "exotic" representations of oppression, alienation, poverty, and destitution pander to a First World gaze. It is in the context of this contradictory moment within Tsai’s cinema that this paper ponders the director’s frequent deployment of disabled bodies in his films as part of this list of exotic representation. Not only will this paper analyze depictions of disability, but it also hopes to derive a theoretical framework to understand how the spectacle of disabled bodies fits into Tsai’s gender and sexual politics. Filmic discussion will be drawn specifically from "The River," "Goodbye, Dragon Inn," and "I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone." While these representations of disability need to be problematized, this paper refuses a simplistic and reductive critique by shuttling between interrogation and reclamation, thus coming to terms with the contradictory position that Tsai’s work occupies within the circuits of transnational cinemas.