restricted access 6. The Search for Male Masculinity and Sexuality in ZhangYimou’s Ju Dou
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C h ap t e r S i x The Search for Male Masculinity and Sexuality in ZhangYimou’s Ju Dou ZHANG YIMOU’S JU DOU RENDERS repressed male masculinity and sexuality in the form of visual allegories. The mesh of semiotic coding, mise-en-scène, color, and sound track constitutes a world of parable where a sealed dye mill conceals a drama of sexual transgression and psychological conflict. The two male protagonists are in a paradoxical condition wherein masculinity is either suppressed or lost. The masculinity they seek is tantalizingly near yet elusive. One man, a socially empowered yet sexually impotent husband, indicates tradition or the state. Although his mandate is eroding, he still rules the mind and the body of the people. The other, a lustful yet socially constrained nephew, represents a masculine vitality frustrated by social forces, particularly those embodied in the more powerful male. To set the course of narration, the film designates a female figure trapped in an incestuous relationship with the “patriarchal father” and the “suppressed son.” More precisely, she is the very embodiment of an allegorical element through which men attempt to verify their own identities. As wife to the husband, the female body upholds patriarchal authority while enduring sexual abuse. As “aunt” to the “nephew,” female sexuality evokes male desire and subsequent punishment for the transgression. As the father-son rivalry signifies an Oedipal complex between the individual and the collective authority of tradition or the state, the deployment of woman as spectacle allows the filmic representation and psychological exploration to proceed from a male perspective. Ju Dou, 1989 Since its release in 1989, Ju Dou has drawn intense interest from film critics, academic scholars, and general audiences. Reading Ju Dou against the difficulties and errors that often occur in cross-cultural interpretations of non-Western texts, Jenny Lau finds qualities of “Chineseness” fundamental to the film’s textual and conceptual meanings, especially as inherent in the cultural notions of yin (excessive eroticism) and xiao (filial piety).1 W. A. Callahan, by contrast, reads Ju Dou as a political allegory invoking both communism and Confucianism. These systems of patriarchal domination , he argues, define the film narrative as a “woman’s struggle against her social placement” and as a father-son embodiment of Confucian ideology .2 The image of Ju Dou has become iconographic in Chinese film criticism ; a still of an impassioned Gong Li dominates the cover of Rey Chow’s Primitive Passions. Chow describes Ju Dou as “the sign of a cross-cultural commodity fetishism,” and, indeed, the appetite for viewing—and writing about—Chinese new cinema is strong. One can, as Chow does, see the director in the role of exhibitionist, displaying his “exotic” female protagonist and thus engaging in the “Oriental’s orientalism.”3 Here I will supplement the growing body of broadly cultural and political analyses of Ju Dou by concentrating on cinematic analysis to show how the film produces meaning—more specifically, gendered meaning. As the central image in the film, the figure of Ju Dou exposes the oppressions that issue from social traditions. But behind her entrancing visibility lies the shadow of a patriarchal unconscious. In other words, a hidden male subjectivity is projected onto the sexualized heroine of the film that throws open the question of whose subjectivity and sexuality are being represented . To address this question, I rely, first, on a textual analysis of the meanings embedded in cinematic language and, second, on how the representation of woman occurs through gendered perspectives. Finally, I argue that representations of woman can convey a desire to reassert a repressed male subjectivity and sexuality. While placing women in the foreground of a film may display a humane concern for exposing social oppression, the gendered perspective that relates women to men may reveal a longing for a lost masculinity. Cinematic representation involves the construction of gendered meanings . In this film narrative, the female figure is entangled in three character triangles. The first triangle of relations (hereafter the first narrative order) comprises the husband Jinshan, the wife Ju Dou, and the nephew Tianqing . A struggle to possess the woman and thus restore a masculinity threatened or suppressed defines the first narrative order. Elements of off-screen sound effects render the husband’s social ownership of the wife, while a S E A R C H F O R M A L E M A S C U L I N I T...