- Editor’s Introduction
This journal issue celebrates political critique in media arts. Brian Bernards’s “Mockumenting Migrant Workers: The Inter-Asian Hinterland of Eric Khoo’s No Day Off and My Magic” introduces the debate over the mockumentary genre (a parodic aesthetic critically rethinking documentary’s alleged indexical relation to social reality) in the films of auteur Eric Khoo. Bernards approaches Khoo’s Singaporean-ness using geopolitics, legal citizenship, and racialization to closely analyze two Khoo movies, No Day Off (2006) and My Magic (2008). Accordingly, Bernards finds Khoo “continually fold[ing] new margins into its center frame” to reveal a syntax that substitutes voyeuristic gazing for an indexical relation to social reality. And in this fashion a Singaporean provokes viewers to finally see abusive, inter-Asian labor, pathologization of racialized bodies, the exploitative relation of cosmopolitan value in intra-racial relations, multilingualism, creolization of [End Page 285] Asian (read Chinese) values in order to reveal what is a threadbare, ideological cover-up. This way, Bernards argues, critic and auteur may be able to set in motion a critical regionalism and thus a platform for unmasking state ideologies and obfuscation.
Erin Y. Huang’s “Intimate Dystopias: Dreams of the Interior and Architectural Feminism in Li Shaohong’s Urban Cinema” provides “a gender history of postsocialist Chinese femininity and masculinity.” Huang authorizes readers to grasp something she terms “spatial violence,” where—in a mild rebuke to Walter Benjamin—the modern fantastic interior is sexually differentiated. Rather than erecting fantastic interiors, postsocialist styles of misogyny and sadistic masculinism condemn women to “estranging sites of horror.”
Li Shaohong’s 2004 film Baober in Love, a tragic recoding of the French romantic comedy Amélie (dir. Jeunet, 2001) sets in motion a female protagonist. The estranged city, now an orgiastic sphere of consumption, rather than a productive site, conditions what Baober is to become and yet she refuses. Rather she turns her self-destructive female body into a site of action, a way of getting out of the implacable, postsocialist estrangement of her own humanity. Feminist criticism can, as Takushi Odagiri shows in his analysis of Kawase Naomi in this issue, open a perceptual rift where bodily performance unfolds, unencumbered with claims about historical stages or commands to end socialism. It is certainly the case in Baober in Love that a woman can expel herself as well as be expelled out of neoliberal heteronormativity. Actually, Li inverts postsocialist logics of plenitude to reveal savage domesticity: a debacle where the protagonist endures as household goods, like bookshelves, fall out of the sky to crush her.
Li’s Stolen Life intensifies the stakes. Protagonist Yanni has a psychical pregnancy. She insists that she is full of embryo. To prove to an incessantly postsocialist, recoding patriarchy that sets her up to fail at subjectivation and reproduction, she finally rips the imaginary child out of her body to show her spouse, “she is here.” Huang notes how the film “ends with a paradox where the self-destruction of the biologically sexed body gives rise to a moment of triumphant self-articulation” (my emphasis). A triumph for the imaginary protagonist and for the feminist critic, too, this film subjects [End Page 286] postsocialist ideology to severe feminist rebuke and commits to eventually displacing it.
It helps in reading Takushi Odagiri’s essay “Kawase Naomi’s Introspective Style: Aesthetic Surfaces of World Cinema” to know that Odagiri is arguing against the Lacanian tradition in film analysis and that Kawase is a female artist. In the course of Kawase’s long career she created, in the 1990s and early 2000s, cinema verité–like autobiographies that are self-mirroring and haptic (subject is indivisible from objects). In the activity of making these films, Kawase creates an estrangement effect by focusing attention on surfaces to create what Odagiri terms “the virtuality of the quotidian.” When there is no assumption of representation, no one-to-one reflection of self in a mirror, life is seen to be heterogeneous and the self cannot be stable.
Odagiri introduces theoretical work about documentary representation produced throughout the twentieth century among Japanese cinema theorists. This helps us to grasp why Kawase turns to surfaces...