Female Lack and Castration Crisis in East Asian Cinema

By Na Ma, Ohio University


In classical East Asian cinema, especially in action movies, feminism represents a point of “female sense” (Mulvey, 235) to the definition of her powerlessness and lacking. In contemporary East Asian cinema, with the popularity of the horror genre, feminism influences the phenomenon of the “castration crisis”(Freud, 123).  What leads men to fear castration is not that the mother/woman has been castrated (Lacan), but the potential threat that she has the power to castrate him and his father with her toothed vagina-male castration anxiety. Therefore, besides mothering and reproductive functions (Kristeva), woman is also constructed as castrator (Creed) in man’s monstrous phantasy. In my opinion, Asian Kung Fu film and Asian Horror film are the most two famous genres with high popularity around the world. Through a rereading of Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu comedy in classical Asian cinema, and Korean horror film in modern Asian cinema, this paper will apply Mulvey’s theory of female lack in relation to the theory of male gaze, female voice and gender difference in classical Kung Fu comedy, and disrupts Freudian and Lacanian theories of the castration crisis in relation to the theory of monstrous feminine, female genitals and male castration anxiety in modern horror film.

Keywords: female lack, male gaze, female genital, male castration anxiety

Female Lack and Castration Crisis in East Asian Cinema

Probably no male human being is spared the terrifying shock of threatened castration at the sight of the female genitals –Sigmud Freud,”Fetishism,” 1927.

(Freud, 1981, p, 354)

Feminine Language: Body and The Male Gaze

In traditional Asian culture, woman is a spectacle to be looked at, in terms of sexuality and as an object of desire. Mulvey’s 1975 essay explored this tendency in mainstream narrative cinema. She argued that woman is for a male gaze, catering to male fantasies and pleasures. Mulvey’s concept of the “male gaze” has become the main talking point in Asian classical films.

In Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975), Mulvey argued that the controlling gaze in cinema is always male. She proposes that narrative cinema produces the male as agent of the look and the female as the object of spectacle through mechanisms of voyeurism and fetishism.  Narrative cinema imposes “masculine” viewing strategies on all of its spectators, irrespective of their actual sex.

In Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator (1982), Mary Ann Doane, an American feminist, defines the structure of the gaze in proximity and distance in relation to the image rather than a distinction between “male/active” and “female/passive” and the female spectator’s “transvestite” oscillation between these two forms of identification (Mulvey).

All fetishism, as Freud has observed, is a phallic replacement, a projection of male narcissistic fantasy. The fetishistic image relates only to male narcissism: woman does not represent herself, but by a process of displacement: the male phallus.

Feminine Language: Voice and Acoustic Mirror

As we can see, Feminism film theory studies “the interplay between the spectator and the screen in feminist terms” (Chaudhuri, p. 2). Besides the body, the hearing sense should also be considered. How is sexual difference constructed in film soundtracks? Most psychoanalytic theory places the female voice outside the symbolic and thus the female voice is traditionally not considered as authoritative speech.

Asian classical cinema is obsessed with the sounds produced by the female voice. Women’s voices are considered as part of the body spectacle. For example, in Jackie Chan’s first successful Kung Fu film Drunken Master (Yuen Woo-ping,1978), the female protagonist’s crying, panting and screaming connects the voice with the image of women’s weakness and tenderness.

Kristeva identifies the maternal body as the source of a pre-symbolic repressed feminine language, whereas Silverman locates the female voice with the symbolic Order. In The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (1988). Silverman thinks that women’s voices in classic cinema are tied to the spectacle of their bodies. For example, female voiceovers “never narrate from a disembodied, omniscient perspective outside the diegesis as some male voiceovers do” (p. 312). Silverman contends that the female voice in cinema functions as “an acoustic mirror containing elements repudiated from male subjectivity” (p. 47).

Gender Difference

Asian cinema is a mirror to Asian reality and a medium of communication between the inside world of Asia and the outside. Filmic images of women are evaluated as real women, because “cinema is an artificial construction and mediates reality with its own signifying practices” (Chaudhuri, p. 22). In Asian cinema history, because of the historical and economic contexts where woman’s social status is much lower than that of men, it is impossible for the audience to see women as historical subjects and woman as a cultural representation.

Foucault considers gender as a product of diverse social power relations, while de Lauretis strongly disagrees with feminist film theory of the 1970s and 1980s on the psychoanalytic concept of sexual difference. Claire Johnston, the organizer of the Women’s Film Festival in Edinburgh in 1972, combines Freudian Psychoanalysis with Semiotics, Althusserian Marxism and Cahiers du Cinéma. In Women’s Cinema As Counter Cinema, Johnston questions whether “female stereotypes are the conscious strategy of a male-dominated film industry”. She thinks men’s roles are much different than women’s roles relating to sexist ideology. The basic opposition is that classical cinema places man inside history, and woman as ahistorical and eternal (Johnston, p. 23-25).

In Asian classical cinema, the image of the woman is the trace of the exclusion and repression of woman, especially influenced by Confucian culture. The conservative principles repress the idea of woman as a social and sexual being and deny any sign of this opposition.

Female Lack in Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Comedy

In classic cinema, feminism represents a point of “female sense” (Mulvey, p. 235) to the definition of her powerlessness and lacking. Mulvey uses two representational strategies for neutralizing the anxiety aroused by female lack. The first is the female subject’s guilt and her illness; the second involves her erotic performance. Mulvey interprets the first one as narrative progress and the second as narrative interruption. The guilty or sickness entails a fetishism of the female form to crack the diegesis and displace the viewer. There is a possibility that the second will subvert the first.

The maternal figure constructed by Freud, Lacan and Kristeva is the mother of the dyadic or triadic relationship. We can see this in Jackie Chan’s early Kong Fu comedy.

Chan’s Kung Fu comedy can be divided into two periods: an early one from the 1970s to the 1990s when his movies were made in Hong Kong, and a later one after the 1990s when his film career had moved to the U.S. and he had joined Hollywood cinema. Since this article is about Asia cinema, our attention will be focused on his movies from the 1970s to the 1990s.

In Chan’s early movies filmed in Hong Kong, such as Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (Yuen Woo-ping, 1978), Drunken Master (Yuen Woo-ping,1978), Half a Loaf of Kung Fu (Chen Chi-hwa, 1978), Spiritual Kung Fu (Lo Wei,1978), The Young Master (Jackie Chan, p. 1980) and Dragon Lord (Jackie Chan, p. 1982), Chan is the only main protagonist and female roles such as Chan’s mother or sisters in those movies are usually ignored by the audience. When a woman is the mother of the imaginary, as Kristeva (1982) states, she is presented in the movie as the pre-Oedipal mother, a figure about to control the social ream in the symbolic, a figure always in relation to the father. Therefore, in Chan’s early Kung Fu movie, without the female lack such as the mother or sister, the role of Chan cannot signify the importance of his presence.

The absence of femininity in the Asian classical cinema changes from the reality to the camera. Most scenes in classical Asia cinema include spying on the woman, diagnosing her illness, forcing her to confess or writing a narrative to define herself is only serving the male characters’ roles. For example, in Hand of Death (Lo Wei, p. 1976), the female’s character as the lover is created to display masculinity by Chan’s character.

Monstrous Feminine

There was a massive surge in the popularity of Asian horror film after Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (Japan, 1998) impressed the Western world. Asian horror has revived Asian cinema and the whole horror genre, and also brought an abundance of Hollywood remakes (most of which lost the original spirit). Predominantly from Japan (J-Horror), Korea (K-Horror) and Hong Kong, many quality horror movies have emerged from places such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

All human societies have a conception of the monstrous-feminine: what it is about woman that is shocking, terrifying, horrific, and abject. The term monstrous-feminine not only implies a simple reversal of male monster, but also emphasizes the importance of gender in the construction of female monstrosity. This paper mainly employs Barbara Creed’s theory of woman’s castration and other related theories to link female sexual desire to the area of reproduction in shaping females as monsters instead of victims, and argue against the Freudian position that woman only terrifies when represented as man’s castrated other.

Monstrous-feminine is another term for female monster. Creed (1993) thinks there are several reasons for research of monstrous feminine: to emphasize the importance of gender in the construction of her monstrosity; and to analyze the different faces of the female monster or the monstrous feminine.

In the early or classical Asian horror movie, most female roles appear only in passing. There are no great female monsters in the tradition of Chinese ancient zombie movie or Japanese Samurai monster movie. The female characters appear only to serve as the victims who are terrified by the male monstrosity.

Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex is the mechanism by which the symbolic order is instituted, and his theory of woman’s castration has provided the justification that women are monsters in the horror film. But Creed (1993) argues against Freud’s belief that woman only terrifies when represented as man’s castrated other and thinks female monstrosity is part of the male monstrosity.

The concept of border, according to Kristeva (1982), is central to the construction of the feminine monstrous in the horror film; that which crosses or threatens to cross the border is defined as an abject. Each nature of the border is different in different films; the function of the feminine monstrous is to create “an encounter between the symbolic order and that which threatens its stability” (p. 237).

In modern Asian horror films, the feminine monstrous is produced in different borders: between human and in-human/man and beast, like Gwoemul (Bong Joon ho, Korea, 2006) and Marebito (Takashi Shimizu, Japan, 2004); between the normal and the supernatural/good and evil, like A Chinese Ghost Story (Weiwen Zhang, Hong Kong, 1997), Ju-on: The Grudge (Takashi Shimizu, Japan, 2003) and Ringu (Hideo Nakata, Japan, 1998); between those who take up their proper gender roles from those who do not, like Jigoku (Nobuo Nakagawa, Japan, 1960) and Tell Me Something (Chang Yoon-hyun, Korea, 1999); and between normal and abnormal sexual desire, like Onibaba (Kaneto Shind&ocirc, Japan, 1964), Master of Horror Imprint, (Takashi Mike, Japan, 2006).

Female Genitals

A display of the female genitals, as stated by Freud (1981), makes a woman “unapproachable and repels all sexual desires”.

Four different western myths relating to monstrous feminine can be used to analyze different images relating to female genitals in Asian horror cinema.  Women are terrifying because of the teeth in their vaginas and that the Vagina Dentata must be tamed or the teeth removed by a hero before intercourse; European witch is accused of the hideous crimes: cannibalism, murder, castration of male victims, and the advent of natural disasters such as storms, fires and the plague; The sirens in classical mythology are enormous birds with the heads of women, who use their magical songs to lure sailors’ ships into hidden reefs and then eat the victims; The sight of the Medusa’s head makes the spectator stiff and turns him to stone. Freud pointed out that becoming stiff means having an erection. It offers consolation to the spectator: he is still in possession of a penis, and the stiffening reassures him of the fact.

Freud (1981) uses the section in Rabelais to explain how the devil took flight when the woman showed him her vulva. In patriarchal ideology, man’s shield is an altered representation, robbed of its threatening aspects. Perseus’s solution, as Freud (1981) argues, looks only at a reflection or a mirror-image of her genitals, while Medusa’s head describes the monstrosity of the female genitals.

The fetishisation of the mother’s genitals, according to Creed (1993), occurs with the appearance of “her phantasmagoric aspects as the gaping, voracious vagina/womb” (189). In the classical horror film Mr. Vampire (Ricky Lau, 1985), the sexual difference of the female ghost is denied: she is presented as other before the gaze of the male hero and then destroyed by the master. The female ghost’s death, in Creed’s (1993) theory, is “the destruction of sexual heterogeneity and repression of the maternal signifier” (p. 76).

Female fetishism is represented within many horror texts, but only in relation to male fears and anxieties about women: What do women want in movies such as The Eye (Pang Brothers, Singapore, 2002) and Koma (Law Chi-leung, Hong Kong, 2004)? Women do not speak their fetishistic desires in the Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu comedy, such as The Young Master (Jackie Chan, 1980) and Dragon Lord (Jackie Chan, 1982)). The notion of female fetishism is represented in Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, Japan, 1964) in the figure of the monster. The creature is the mother’s phallus Acasia (Park Ki-hyung, Korea, 2003), attributed to the maternal figure by a phallocentric ideology Kuroneko (Kaneto Shindô, Japan, 1968) terrified at the thought that women might desire to have the phallus. The monster as fetish object Mother (Bong Joon ho, Korea, 2009) is not to meet the desires of the male fetishist, but rather to signify the monstrousness of woman’s desire to have the phallus Dark Water (Hideo Nakata, Japan, 2001).

Castrated Woman (Freud)

Through the female images in modern Asian cinema, we can see the attempt to secure and sustain the ideological symbolic order by repressing and controlling the feminine as an imaginary “other”, e.g. The Untold Story (Herman Yau, Hong Kong, 1992). Thus, the Asian horror film stages and re-stages a constant repudiation of the maternal figure in the representation of symbolic order.

Oedipus complex by Freud constructs the child’s initial conscious of sexuality and gender and occurs when the child is between three and five. In the positive version of the Complex, the child desires the parent of the opposite sex and identifies with the parent of the same sex. Children of both sexes discover that the mother does not possess a penis, which leads them to think she has been castrated.

The boy desires his mother and identifies with father, and thinks one day he can have the same power as father to castrate woman:

Fearing the same punishment from the jealous father, the little boy renounces his desire for the mother and accepts his father’s authority, knowing that one day he will inherit his father’s power and possess a woman of his own (Freud, 1981, p. 91).

The girl who has affection for her father and fears being castrated like mother, first wishes to have a penis and then needs to fight against the castration crisis:

Upon discovering that the mother is castrated like herself, the little girl is expected to transfer her affections to the father, transforming the wish for a penis into a wish to bear him (and later, her lovers). After this transition, the girl becomes a woman and enters the role of femininity (Freud, 1981, p. 93).

However, Freud makes it clear that girls never fully “complete this Oedipal trajectory” and the way of ‘ becoming a woman’ is filled with “difficulty and resistance” (Chaudhuri, p. 21).

The notion of woman-as-monster or monstrous feminine in Asian horror film is closely related to the reproductive cultures.

Woman as Castrator (Creed)

Kristeva (1982) refers the Oedipus complex to the construction of the maternal figure as abject. She argues that both the boy and girl experience abjection when they first attempt to break away from the mother. There is conflict in the mother-child relationship: the child struggles to flee but the mother is reluctant to let it go. Because of the “instability of the symbolic function” in “the prohibition placed on the maternal body” (p. 14), Kristeva (1982) argues that the maternal body is a site of conflicting desires Dark Water (Hideo Nakata, Japan, 2001). The position of the child is more unstable because, while the mother holds the child Acasia (Park Ki-hyung, Korea, 2003), it can validate her existence because of her problematic relation to the father.

The maternal figure constructed by Freud, Lacan and Kristeva is the mother of the dyadic relationship. Monstrous females are constructed as the pre-Oedipal mother, a figure about to control the symbolic order and closely related to the father, as the representative of the phallus. Without female lack, the order cannot signify the father’s presence. But if we posit an archaic dimension to the representation of women, the maternal figure will not have the patriarchal family constellation.

The presence of active female monsters in horror films such as Lost in Panic Room (Fanfan Zhang, China, 2010) challenges patriarchal views that women are basically passive victims in classical horror films such as Jigoku (Nobuo Nakagawa, Japan, 1960). Drawing attention to fears of woman as castrator Audition (Takashi Mike, Japan, 1999), Creed (1993) contests Freud’s idea that woman only horrifies because she is assumed to be castrated, as in House (Nobuhiko Obayashi, Japan, 1977). In opposition to the notion that the father represents the law and the symbolic order Gozu (Takashi Miike, Japan, 2003), Creed (1993) also suggests that fears of the castrating mother are important in constructing the order. Active female monster conflicts the theory of the male gaze but generates identification for the female spectator Nu Young (Kelvin Tong, Singapore, 2005). She thinks it is the powerful, castrating woman rather than the castrated woman that provides the real image of film horror.

Male Castration Anxiety

According to Freud, the infantile male assumes his mother’s penis has been removed when he notices the differences between male and female genitalia, and becomes anxious that his penis will be cut off by his rival, the father figure, as punishment for desiring the mother figure.

Perseus’s myth narrates the difference of female sexuality as a difference that is grounded in monstrousness and that invokes castration anxiety in the male spectator.

Mother-goddess narratives can be read as primal narratives in which the mother is the only parent. She is also the subject, not the object, of narrativity. Freud has linked the sight of the Medusa to the horrifying sight of the mother’s genitals and constructed the concept of the monstrous feminine within a patriarchal and phallocentric ideology. The sight of the female genitals is related to the problem of sexual difference and castration. Like the Medusa, Sphinx is a mother-goddess figure; they are both mythological mother who gave birth to all life.

Lévi-Strauss (1978) has argued that a major issue in the Oedipus myth is the problem of whether man is born from woman. If we apply her definition to narratives that deal with the archaic mother, such as the Oedipus and Perseus myths, it is difficult to relate to the origins and has only become an attempt to “repudiate the idea of woman as the source of life, woman as sole parent, woman as archaic mother” (p. 126).

Just as the Oedipus complex tends to hide the pre-Oedipal phase in Freudian theory, the figure of the father, in the Lacanian re-writing of Freud, obscures the mother-child relationship of the imaginary. In contrast to the maternal figure of the Lacanian imaginary, Kristeva (1982) posits another dimension to the mother with the pre-verbal or the semiotic and tends to disrupt the symbolic order.

Freud (1913) proposed In ‘Totem and Taboo that human society developed from patriarchy to matriarchy and finally goes back to patriarchy.

During the primitive stage when people lived in small hordes, each one was dominated by a jealous, powerful father who possessed all the females of the group. One day the sons, who had been banished to the outskirts of the group, overthrew the father whose body they devoured in order to secure his power and to take his women for themselves. Overcome by guilt, they later attempted to revoke the deed by setting up a totem as a substitute for the father and by renouncing the women whom they had liberated. The sons were forced to give up the women, whom they all wanted to possess, in order to preserve the group which otherwise would have been destroyed as the sons fought amongst themselves (p. 105).

Freud’s (1913) account of the origins of patriarchal civilization is mythical. In Totem and Taboo, Freud (1913) states that morality is founded on the taboos of murder and incest. Levi-Strauss (1978) points out that it expresses “an inveterate fantasy in symbolical form” (1985, p. 75) and the desire to murder the father and possess the mother. Kristeva (1982) argues that a “strange slippage”(p. 56) has concentrated on the first to the virtual exclusion of the latter and thinks the woman/mother image haunts a large part of that book (p . 57).

Castration Crisis in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy

In an increasingly secular world, according to Creed (1998), horror films serve the function of a purification rite, enabling audiences to encounter those things that threaten definitions of the human and the civilized, then to expel them and reassert normal boundaries.

There are several theorists working on the castration crisis theory. Joseph Campbell, in The Masks of God, uses primitive mythology and draws attention to woman as castrator and witch; in Monster and victim: women in the horror film, Gerald Lenne’s statement that the horror of female schizophrenia is understandable because it suggests a female illness; David J. Hogan, in Dark Romance, examines the sexual aspect of the horror cinema; James B. Twitchell, as shown in Dreadful Pleasure, is interested in the monster as a figure of transformation-the vampire, werewolf, zombie, psychopath; drawing on Laura Mulvey’s theory of male gaze and male castration anxiety, Stephen Neale argues in Genre that the classical male horror monster represents castration to fill the lack, to disavow castration and entertain the male spectator by soothing his castration anxieties; Unlike Neal and traditional Freudian, in The construction of the ‘castrated woman’ in psychoanalysis and cinema, Susan Lurie discusses man’s fear of woman as castrating other and concerned with the representation of woman as victim argues; In When the woman looks, Linda Williams emphasizes that woman’s power-in-difference is central to the representation of the monster.

Different genres of the horror film describe the gender castration crisis in relation to the abjection theory: blood, as a religious abomination, is a form of abjection in the “splatter” movie Lost Face (Sang-Gon Yoo, Japan, 2004); cannibalism is central to the “meat” movie The Untold Story (Herman Yau, Hong Kong, 1992) and I Saw the Devil (Kim Jee-woo, Korea, 2011); the corpse as abomination becomes the abject of ghoul and zombie movies Mr. Vampire (Ricky Lau, Hong Kong, 1985) and Biozombie (Yip Wai-shun, Hong Kong,1998); blood as a taboo object within religion is central to the vampire film Marebito (Takashi Shimizu, Japan, 2004) as well as the horror film in general Ichi the Killer (Takashi Miike, Japan, 2001); human sacrifice is constructed as the virtually abject of all horror films; and bodily disfigurement is also central to the slash movie Audition (Takashi Mike, Japan, 1999), particularly those in which a woman is slashed, a sign of her “difference”, her impurity Kyua (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 2001).

While Park Chan-wook’s films have received accolades both from audiences and critics, a number of popular reviewers have balked at the excessive brutality of the Vengeance Trilogy in particular. This section will discuss the films that make up the Vengeance Trilogy: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003), and Lady Vengeance (2005). I will place particular emphasis on the last of the three to show the castration crisis in relation to female revenge.

Manohla (2005) has a critique of Oldboy: “Oldboy is embraced by some cinephiles and symptomatic of a bankrupt, reductive postmodernism: one that promotes a spurious aesthetic relativism and finds its crudest expression in the hermetically sealed world of fan boys.’’ Rayns  (2006) evaluates Park’s film in 2006: ‘‘After the marginally sophisticated Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and the fatuous live-action cartoon Oldboy—not to mention his repulsive episode in Three Extremes, finally balanced between self-hatred, hatred of the audience, and hatred for cinema itself—Park has turned his thoughts to atonement and salvation [in Lady Vengeance].’’ Rayns calls Lady Vengeance a ‘‘choppy…directorial moments, more about the teller than the tale’’ and asserts Fox News as the ‘‘channel in tune with Park’s moral vision.”

There are a number of extremely violent moments in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, including the merciless beating of the head of a dead man with a baseball bat, spurting blood shooting out from the neck of a criminal organ dealer, and the heartless electrocution of Bae Du-na. In one of the last scenes, Dong-jin (Song Kang-ho), who owns an electronics company, confronts the man who kidnapped and murdered his daughter, the deaf worker Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun). Dong-jin has tied up his victim and brought him to the shallow lake where his daughter had been drowned. Dong-jin must kill and avenge the death of his daughter. Applying the castration crisis, we can see male castration anxiety in Dong-jin. After Ryu kills Dong-jin’s daughter, Dong-jin has lost the object who has affection for father and fear being castrated. Dong-jin, in Oedipus complex, is castrated by the death of his daughter. Even his daughter does not do the act of castrating his father, but the importance of the daughter in the father’s life is a castrator. After the daughter’s death, the father is searching everywhere to get revenge for his daughter’s death. In the process of revenge, the father could die, but he does not care. Therefore, the daughter’s death is a trigger of Dong-jin’s male castration anxiety.

In Oldboy, Woo-jin (Yu Ji-tae) has held a grudge against Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) since high school for gossiping about his incestuous relationship with his sister. When the secret spreads and is talked about in their town, Woo-jin’s pregnant sister commits suicide because of her humiliation. Woo-jin decides to seek vengeance against Dae-su. In the last sequence Dae-su begs Woo-jin not to tell his daughter Mido (Kang Hye-jeong) the truth that she had sex with his biological father, Dae-su. In an extreme show of repentance, Dae-su cuts out his tongue with a pair of scissors. Woo-jin covers his mouth with a handkerchief not to hold back tears, but his laughter. As in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance where Dae-su fails to gain absolution, Woo-jin has also suffered from the last vengeance moment. He did not gain pleasure or relief from the revenge or torture. Woo-jin’s desire for his sister instead of mother was castrated by Dae-su, which has caused all these revenge acts in Oldboy. The character of Woo-jin’s father is absent, but Dae-su’s gossip about Woo-jin’s sister has castrated Woo-jin’s incestuous desire in order to build the symbolic order in the patriarchy ideology. Meanwhile another incestuous relationship between Dae-su and his daughter Mido also disrupts Freud’s Oedipus complex and the symbolic order. Cutting his tongue is Dae-su’s determination to castrate himself, for the forgiveness of Woo-jin and the love of his daughter Mido.

In Lady Vengeance, Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) is released from prison after a thirteen-year sentence. Her daughter was kidnapped by Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik), an English teacher, who then blackmailed Geum-ja to take the blame for his kidnapping and murder of a six-year- old boy. When she is released from prison, Geum-ja has been transformed into a deeply scorned person, seeking revenge. She first visits the six-year-old boy’s parents and chops off her fingers to atone for his death. Eventually she kidnaps Mr. Baek in an abandoned school and gathers the parents whose kids were kidnapped and murdered by Mr. Baek. Those vengeful parents wait with knives and axes to punish Mr. Baek, one by one. After their gang-revenge killing, they remove the body, mop up the blood, take a group photo, and dig a hole to bury Mr. Baek’s body. Besides female monster Geum-ja, the parents or the family of the murdered children all have attended this vengeful killing. With knives and axes from the parents, plus Geum-ja’s gunshot afterwards, Mr. Baek is castrated many times. Geum-ja therefore has completed the transition from the female victim to female monster, who is castrated first and than become a castrator.

In the very last scene of Lady Vengeance, Geum-ja leaves the bakery where she had shared tea and cake with the parents of the murdered children. White snow falls from the sky, and the entire scene is poetically presented in black and white. Geum-ja encounters her daughter Jenny (Kwon Yea-young) in a back alleyway. She offers her daughter a white cake and tells her to ‘‘live white, like tofu.’’ Jenny responds, ‘‘you too, mom.’’ To Jenny, Geum-ja is castrated by the symbolic order and has turned into a revenge monster who has already gained the power to castrate others after the purification of a prison sentence.

With the exception of Geum-ja, Park’s vengeful characters are all men. ‘‘Public discourse, the realm of conflict, competition, pride, and the show of strength are predominantly populated by the men of the trilogy, where characters such as Dong-jin, Ryu, Dae-su, Woo-jin, and the parents of the missing children freely roam’’(Choe, 2009, p.44). However, Geum-ja’s white cake functions much more mysteriously and elusively. Park says in a 2006 Sight & Sound interview, ‘‘It’s an antidote to the masculinity, impulsive violence and explosions of rage and hate in the first two films. So Lady Vengeance is about femininity, atonement and the search for forgiveness and salvation.’’ Geum-ja, as a pretty woman or males’ object of sexual desire, has fulfilled her castration mission. She wears eye shadow and provocative high-heel pumps, has gained patriarchal gaze from both the man and the law, brought about fetishism in the 17-year-old boy Geun-shik (Kim Shi-hoo) who has sex with her and castrated Mr. Baek for revenge.

Transnational Cinema: Asian Folklore and Hollywood Remakes

In the Asian horror genre, the narrative has developed within Asian folklore stories, such as Two Tales of Sister. It has six versions of remakes based on the same folklore stories. The first is directed by Yu-seob Lee in 1972, and two different later sequels both by Chang-hwa Jeong in 1962 and in 1956, and Gae-myeong Hong in 1936, and Hyeong-Hwang Kim in 1924. The recent, and also the most successful one, is by Kim Jee-woon in 2004. This folklore story examines the industrial, ideological and aesthetic significance of female sensibility to the Korean horror cycle of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Other examples are Kuroneko (Kaneto Shindô, Japan, 1968) which uses the story of two females turning into black cats in eighteenth-century Japan, and A Chinese Ghost Story -The Tsui Hark, Weiwen Chen, China,1997), which inserts the female ghost story from the well-known folklore journal by Songlin Pu in the Qing Dynasty. This paper thus will also relate the narrative of Asian horror movies to the original Asian folklores stories.

The concept of transnational cinema, according to Higbee and Lim (2010), cannot be “merely descriptive because all border-crossing activities are necessarily fraught with issues of power” (p.18). A Chinese Malaysian filmmaker may match his or her filmmaking with transnational Chinese cinemas rather than with the national cinema of Malaysia. For example, I define Koma (Law Chi-leung, 2004) as a Hong Kong film while others may think this is a Malaysian film because the main female actress is from Malaysia and famous for her roles in many Malaysian horror films, but since the director Law Chi-leung is from Hong Kong and this film is shot in both Hong Kong and Malaysia, I would rather say this is a Hong Kong horror film. Actually it is quite ambiguous in the border concept so it makes sense to define movies such as Koma as transnational cinema. This is also the case for directors such as Tan Chui Mui and James Lee, whose Chinese-language films have more in common with those by Tsai Ming-liang and Wong Kar-wai than they do with Malay-language cinema (p. 15)

While transnationalism has become a default concept when discussing East Asian cinema (Hunt & Leung, 2008a, p. 97) as more and more Japanese, Korean and Hong Kong films are turned into high profile Hollywood remakes, such as Ring (Gore Verbinski, 2002), a remake of Ringu (Hideo Nakata, 1998) and The Uninvited (Thomas Guard, 2009) a remake of A Tale of Two Sisters (Kim Jee-woon, 2004). In the introduction to their edited book, East Asian Cinemas: Exploring Transnational Connections on Film, Leon Hunt and Leung Wing-fai note their special interest in the “mutating currencies of transnationality – the remake, the arthouse film, the cult film/genre/auteur, the blockbuster” (Hunt and Wing-fai 2008b: 5; emphasis in original). The remake, the cult film/genre/ auteur and the blockbuster have provided their box-office success and popularity, and gained “considerable currency in scholarship on transnational East Asian cinemas while transnational flows in art house film-making tends to be neglected”. (Higbee & Lim, 2010, p. 16)


From action thrillers to horror films, East Asian cinemas have “excited critics who marvel at their ability to beat Hollywood at its own game” (Higbee, & Lim, 2010, p. 15). The transition of popularity from Asian Kung Fu comedy to Asian Horror represents the change of domination film feminism theory from Mulvey’s gaze theory to Creed’s monstrous feminine theory, or from the representation of woman as female lack to woman as castration crisis. The change not only relates to the improved status of feminism representation in social culture, but is also influenced by the development of transnational cinema through the world.

Asia film studies, according to Higbee & Lim (2010), parallel the trajectories and dynamics of transnational cinema: while border-crossing is the element of both transnational cinema and its studies and borders have become “heavily policed” (p. 17) and comes with a tag that can easily neglect the importance of transnationality.


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