What does East Asian cinema actually mean? This is a question I have been contemplating for some weeks. According to C. J.W.-L. Wee (2012), it wasn’t until the 1980s that the world started to see the emergence of a collective ‘East Asian’ film industry (p197). During this period ‘New East Asia’ as it was known, stipulated a capitalist-driven, modern cultural image showcasing urban settings through cinema. As I was reading this article, I immediately backtracked to all the Asian crime films I had seen and experienced over the course of this investigation. Every single one was set in either a city or a suburb – entirely urban environments. Perhaps this is indicative of the ‘contemporary’ image that East Asian cinema is trying to promote? And that the crime genre is no exception to this form of branding.
It isn’t all sunshine and lollypops. The East Asian film industry is a ‘fractured collective’. It is a loose network of sorts divided at times by a long history of geo-political-cultural tensions. One film which I stumbled across called ‘Full Time Killer’ (2001) seems to embody this phenomenon. In the opening scenes of the film we are introduced to Chin who works in a video store in Hong Kong (remember those). We hear Chin’s inner monologue and how she wrestles with her Asian identity:
“My name is Chin. I’m from Taiwan. I know Japanese. I work at a Japanese video store in Hong Kong. The customers can never figure out where I’m really from…But does it matter?”
It is clear that Chin has difficulty in anchoring herself to a particular Asian nationality. Is she Taiwan because she was born there? Or is she Hong Kong given she is an expat? As I am hearing Chin’s story, I was empathetic toward her confusion. This feeling is linked to my own experiences of attachment to a particular place or lack thereof. A significant part of my life involved living in three different states – Perth, Queensland and NSW. In a sense I have an attachment to all three places, whilst being known as a ‘New South Welshman’. Territorial boundaries define our racial and cultural identity. When faced with attachment to more than one physical place, how we identify ourselves is even more complicated, as with Chin. I would not have been able to connect with the character of Chin had it not been for autoethnography as a method of research as it “can uncover many different feelings within the writer. It can be joyful, sad, revealing, exciting, and occasionally painful” (Custer, D 2014, p1). Given that Full Time Killer was filmed in Macau, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan it is an attempt to create a cinematic product which transcends the borders between East Asian nationalities. How does one country retain its unique cultural identity, whilst being part of a broader, regional creative industry?
The broader theme of Full Timer Killer is the ‘good’ hit man versus the really, really bad hit man. It is their nationalities that are quite important. The good hit man named ‘O’ is Japanese, while his enemy Lok Tok-Wah is Chinese. Is this reflecting on the prickly relationship between Japan/East Asia and China? I could be reading too much into this. However, the entire plot development is built around the Chinese hit man versus the Japanese hit man as they battle it out to be the number one assassin. The nature of the plot coupled with the multiple filming locations reinforces this theory.
Custer, D 2014, ‘Autoethnography as a Transformative Research Method’, the Qualitative Report, volume 19, p1-13.
To, J 2001, Full Time Killer, motion picture, Team Work Motion Pictures Ltd.
Wee, C.J.W.L. 2012, ‘Imaging the fractured East Asian modern: commonality and difference in mass-cultural production’, Criticism, volume 54, issue 2, pp197-225.