Gendered Vulnerability in Transnational Action Cinema: xXx, The Great Wall, and Kung Fu Yoga

by Timothy Laurie


This podcast is of a seminar presented by Timothy Laurie at the University of Technology Sydney for SSSN on 15th August 2017. Tim’s paper is followed by a question and answer session facilitated by Prof. Meaghan Morris and involving the audience present on the day.

Timothy Laurie teaches global cinema in the School of Communication at the University of Technology Sydney. His main research interest is cultural identity and gender in popular culture, with a focus on music and film. He is currently co-authoring Masculinity After Deleuze (with Anna Hickey-Moody) for Bloomsbury.

Professor Meaghan Morris is from the University of Sydney. Professor Morris is a figure of world stature in the field of Cultural Studies. She is Chair of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society and past Chair of the international Association for Cultural Studies (ACS), 2004-08. A Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities, and a former ARC Senior Fellow, from 2000-2012 she was founding Chair Professor of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong.

Transnational co-productions have become an increasingly favoured model to ensure wide distribution for high-budget films across multiple markets, with many contemporary action films oriented toward the United States, China, and India. Transnational financing in Chinese cinema has created new professional trajectories for action cinema stars such as Daniel Wu (USA/Hong Kong), Donnie Yen (Hong Kong) and Tony Jaa (Thailand). Correspondingly, narrative archetypes around travelling warriors have been reworked to accommodate the co-existence of stars from multiple national cinemas. This paper examines the gendered aspects of these transnational narratives, focusing on the masculinisation of travel as a crucial component of the geographical imaginaries produced by action blockbusters. It takes as its key examples D. J. Caruso’s xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (2017), featuring a rambling team of North American, Thai, Australian and Hong Kong-based action stars; Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall (aka Cháng Chéng, 2016), which includes a North American protagonist leading Chinese soldiers in their defence along the Great Wall; and Stanley Tong’s Kung Fu Yoga (2017), a Chinese-Indian co-production that allows Jackie Chan to resurrect his familiar relic-hunter role from The Armour of God (Chan and Tsang, 1986). The paper argues that contrasts between masculine protagonists are frequently used to signal deep cultural differences, but that they can also expose masculine heroes to new kinds of vulnerabilities in more subtle cross-cultural encounters.

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