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positions: east asia cultures critique 9.2 (2001) 279-286
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Guest Editors' Introduction
Who speaks for the present? Economic globalization celebrates a borderless world of liberal exchange that is free from any debt of justice to the past. This hegemonic vision of a seemingly permanent, “living present,”1 one that resonates the pronouncement of “the end of history,” finds a paradoxical accomplice in cinema. Looking at images, according to Jean-Louis Comolli, is the primary relationship that “invents” the cinema.2 Transforming looking into sensual labor, Jonathan L. Beller argues in his essay, makes viable a visual economy that produces exchange value when human bodies and the world are reified through images. Cinematic images, taking up unpaid sensual labor and fantasy, intensify commodity fetishism while they restructure an increasingly expansive and globalized language of visual entertainment. Notwithstanding the imperatives of capitalist cinema, the filmic space as an opaque surface disturbs straight visions and the empty time of the liberal [End Page 279] market with its supportive (hetero)sexist, ethnocentric, nationalist, patriarchal, and racist ideologies. The filmic space figured as a heavily contested terrain has the potential to disrupt normative looking and hegemonic vision.
In the following images that several contributors describe of Asia/Pacific films, the everyday, personalized predicaments of postcolonial cities appear in painfully direct ways. These are images of unadulterated cruelty and trauma: riding on the subway, a gay man in Hold Me Tight (1998) listens to a middle-aged woman complaining that her elderly mother from Mainland China has ruined her life by coming to Hong Kong while the mother sits, stone-faced, in silence; another mother in 301/302 (1995) idly watches her husband stuff meat into their daughter's mouth, reenacting his sexual violation of the young woman's helpless body; a prostitute coos to the penis of a colonel who is contemplating participating in a military coup against Corazon Aquino in Curacha: Woman without Rest (1998) and later confronts the camera saying, “The stories I tell about myself are all different…. Why should I tell you…. You still don't own my fucking life,” before she loses consciousness; and an industrial painter in Chilsu and Mansu (1988) shouts from atop a colossal liquor-cum-white-woman billboard on the roof of a downtown building in Seoul, “Every bastard occupying high positions with education, talent, and money! … Let me speak. I've nothing to say, yet many things to say. Who have you been fooling?” then leaps before the military police reach him, leaving his image frozen in midair. These images and sounds are neither representations nor spectacles in the normative sense. Their explicitly frustrated and abrasive contents, painful to watch and to hear, dislodge the melodramatic pleasures and orientalist voyeurism commonly associated with commercial and “cross-cultural” cinema viewing of Asia/Pacific films.
Overlaid and intertwined with these images are the fantastical images of disappearance, of euphoria in the margins, and of colonial and sexual violation. The past returns in these moments: on the walls of an antiseptic shopping mall in Rouge (1987), an old Cantonese opera performance appears in a visual palimpsest when a female ghost walks slowly by in search of her past; at the edge of nighttime Manila where urban survival involves tough balancing acts, floating candles suddenly cover the dark river as a group of drag queens strip off their clothes and jump into the river in Manila by [End Page 280] Night (1980); an immense shishigami (a deerlike creature) searches helplessly for its head in the middle of a raging fire in Princess Mononoke (1997) when the forest is being destroyed by humans; and in the forest of Haplos (1982) a dead woman relives her long-past rape and murder by colonizers. These haunted visions are beyond mere social fantasy. In innovative ways, they “struggle for memory” by confronting long-held notions of national identity, as Susan J. Napier puts it, extending Henry Giroux's words into the mass entertainment industries of television, video, and film that “increasingly take on the job of ‘speaking for the past' to the mass audience.” “The ghostly return of...