Ok, I’ve put it off long enough. It’s about time I started my women and wuxia article.
This is what I have so far:
At the end of Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, the novel posits a reimagining (?) of the woman warrior narrative, suggesting that the way of peace is ultimately better. That may be true, but it seems to play down the huge legacy of woman warriors in the wuxia tradition. Beyond Mulan, wuxia is crowded with women who can (and often do) beat you down. Yet in many of the wuxia films, these women are placed in oppositional roles related to men. The implication of Kingston’s book seems to be that it’s too hard to be a woman warrior, or at best, being a woman and being a warrior are antithetical.
This notion is challenged, not so much by wuxia films, but by wuxia dramas. I intend to examine three to show how this dichotomy is negotiated in ways that allow women to be women and warriors. I’ll be looking at three figures:
The Kung Fu Couple: The most recent incarnation of Eagle Shooting Heroes (2008) continues to represent the relationship between Huang Rong and Guo Jing as one that is more egalitarian than one might expect. Not only is Huang Rong trained in kung fu by her father, for a good deal of the series, her ability surpasses Guo Jing’s. And yet, they remain a couple. Hmmmmm.
Mothers and Sons: We’ve seen mothers teach their sons kung fu in movies such as Fong Sai Yuk, and this tradition extends to the wuxia series as well in Project A.
Kung Fu Matriarch: Probably one of the most intriguing examples of women and wuxia is in the series,The Young Warriors. You’ve heard me wax poetic about Mama Yang, but what is really interesting is that she is a kung fu mama AND a regular mama. She’ll correct your form, but also give you dating advice. All while sporting those red robes, well-coiffed hairdo and perfectly manicured hands.
So this is where I am. Updates to follow!
I recently finished Young Warriors (aka Young Warriors of the Yang Clan), and it epitomizes what I like about wuxia dramas. Everyone fights! This is the story of the fabulous Yang family, whose sons served the kingdom and eventually gave their lives, even when the fathead king made really bad decisions. This legendary family is known for their loyalty, and apparently have been immortalized in wuxia drama before, but this version focuses on their lives before the questionable leadership of the king takes them all down.
Of course the sons are all upright, righteous guys who help the weak and support the people. I know we are supposed to be in awe of the father and the seven brothers, but really, the mother, wives and girlfriends steal the show (they all dress amazingly well also!). Mama Yang is no joke! She can literally beat her sons down if she had to. But, for the most part, she doesn’t have to. She raised them right. What I find interesting is that she is also very maternal, and doesn’t lose her femininity in the process. It’s an interesting combination. Even when they get into trouble with the king, she’s willing to stand up for them. My favorite part is when the ‘lost son’ finds his way home, thinking he’s going to extract some revenge on his parents while honoring them at the same time? So he’s antisocial to both, but saves the father from some assasination attempt. He goes around talking smack to the mother, the other brothers don’t appreciate that. Then she snaps out of it and basically tells him: you have fulfilled your filial duty to your father, but not to me. He shapes up quick, fast and in a hurry. Later, the ladies don their own armor. How cool is that! And where can I get mine?
The gender dynamics are interesting in other ways as well. When the inevitable tragedy hits the family, and one of the sons, Wu Lang (I’m calling you out!), just can’t handle it, and decides he’s going to ignore his wife and become a monk. While I have to say I’ve seen series often consign women to this fate, it was interesting to see it done to a man. Wu Lang, pull it together!
This is one of my favorites, and will definitely be included in my not-even-started projects on women in wuxia and the kung fu couple.