Men Can Be Flowers Too: Asian Masculinities in Popular Culture

NIcholas Tse as Hua Wuque, The Proud Twins
Nicholas Tse as Hua Wuque, The Proud Twins

Every time I see articles about young Asian actors leaving behind their “flower boy” roles for more “manly” characters, I feel some kind of way. Such articles act like attractiveness and masculinity cannot go hand it hand. They might if their authors were watching what I watch.

Continue reading “Men Can Be Flowers Too: Asian Masculinities in Popular Culture”

Wuxia Woman, Where Are You?

So, it may seem that I’ve abandoned my love of Chinese wuxia, having seen the bright lights of the kdrama Queen Seondeok and the sexy manly of Korean idol bands like SS501 (oh yes, a WHOLE entry devoted to them is coming)…..

Fret not, I’m still down with my wuxia! I thought people might get a little sick of me continuing to wax poetic about Zhuge Liang, because I can talk all day long about Romance of the Three Kingdoms!  I teach an Asian film and lit class, and that time is rolling around again for the biannual showing of Red Cliff, Parts 1 and 2.  I did watch Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame awhile back, and was pleased, just haven’t got around to putting my thoughts down.

But the historical kdrama and the Chinese wuxia series are closely related to my interests: women you don’t want to mess with, and talented handsome  men who tag along! (How many times do I gotta tell y’all about applying to be my own personal Hwarang?  Then again, I have to think about what function a contemporary Hwarang would have….and do they need a health plan?). So I need a basis for comparison. Plus, the Chinese series are a little slow in coming….I’m not really interested in Chinese Paladin, and I’ve heard bad things about The Jade and the Pearl.  The last ones I watched were The Master of  Tai Chi (with my perennial boo, Vincent Zhao) and The Four (with, you know, those four guys).  While The Master of Tai Chi had several significant women’s roles, The Four had none.  Well, that’s not true, it did have one, but she’s kinda disappointing in the end. Ok, more than one, but it was still not the greatest for women. I keep meaning to hit the new versions of The Book and the Sword and Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, but not yet.

I’ll be back in full effect once my YesAsia shipment gets here: most notably, the 95-episode treatment of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, True Legend, Reign of Assassins, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (DOOOONNNNIIIIEEEE!! I know, not wuxia, but it’s Donnie Yen!).

Don’t worry, I keep my eye on the wuxia world………

Queen Seondeok: Episodes 1-13

SPOILERVILLE AHEAD!!

I admit, I had been putting off watching this, mostly because I wanted to see some sword-slinging action by the queen, but can’t recall actually hearing about that. I thought it was going to be all boring. WRONG!!!  When did I know I was going to commit to the full 62-episodes? When I realized this wasn’t your typical king-queen-princess kind of show. Eventually, there is going to be a beatdown and a showdown between the women.

But like any historical epic, you gotta wait.  So far, I’m most taken by the Hwarang (yes, I’m still taking applications), yes that incredibly good looking group of elite young male warriors who are under who? Under a woman–the wonhwa (see, it even lets you get your Korean on).  So we got Mishil, the royal consort, wreaking havoc because the men don’t dare cross her, and Princess Cheonmyeong, who after some ambivalence, decides she’s going to tangle with Mishil. But we know the star of the show is Deokman, the future queen. Except right now she’s passing for a man among the Hwarang.  Really, after like five years, they don’t notice? For real?  She may be the weakest, but Deokman does wield a sword in battle (yay!) and she has the most sense, and she’s not afraid to get up in her superiors’ faces if they are not being righteous.  She is smart, and sassy. I like her.

The political intrigue is off the chain, and even I like the nice outfits and big hair.  How can I rock that look everyday?  Right now, our heroes are trying figure out the source of Mishil’s power. I’m waiting for the big reveal, because Deokman doesn’t know she’s the king’s daughter or Cheonmyeong’s sister and hasn’t really started to tangle with Mishil.

Also, I find it intriguing how transnational this drama is.  We see there are different kingdoms in Korea, then they take it to China in the desert, where we find folks who have been to Rome. Nice!

Ok, next update in a few more episodes!!!

Bad Girls!!!

You  know I love a good swordswoman, but it occurs to me while watching Queen Seondeok (see new category!) that women hold it down in other ways in wuxia and the historical genre period. So here’s to the Bad Girls!!!

First, the bad bad girls. People think that men rule the world.  Please. Even within the royal families where you would think women are on lockdown, women are not to be trifled with.  Yeah, you got bad swordsmen (see Legend of the Condor Heroes), but there is a special brand of sass when royal women get into the act.  I used to think that the chick from The Handsome Siblings was hands down the most cold-blooded woman who never wielded a sword. She is willing to take ANYBODY out.  If her mother was in this drama, she would have sold her down the river and made sure she was dead by the time she got there.  She works her way up from nobody to Empress over the course of the series, and she absolutely will not stop! Close to her is the chick from The Legendary Warrior. Working from the inside, she manages to keep our hero from his destiny rather effectively, from manipulating court officials, her own husband, framing people for murder, etc.  She does get hers in the end in a rather delicious way, tho!

This was all before I started watching Queen Seondeok.  Who needs a sword? Mishil is OFF THE CHAIN! Men just accept it: we can’t beat you.  She is sneaky, conniving, bold, not afraid to get her hands dirty, your hands dirty, anybody hands dirty. Don’t be a family member, you are not safe either if you don’t fit into the plan.  She is a worthy villain.

Now for the good bad girls!  Some of my favorites are in The Young Warriors (Mama Yang and crew–they got armour!).  The sisters-in-law make swords, heal disease, beat you down, cook really well, etc.  But once again, I have a new hero thanks to Queen Seondeok:  the Wonhwa!  Why didn’t anybody ever tell me about the WOMAN who leads this elite group of MALE warriors? I totally need my own hwarang!  Applications are being accepted.  Deokman and Cheonmyeong work the royal system to get the job done.  They are smart, savvy and bold, and they are not afraid.  Yay!