JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

The parodic representation of Asian women in Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003) highlights the codes associated with the history of the depiction of Asian/American women both in Hollywood and Asian cinema. Parody uses excess to produce a self-referential metadiscourse about the original. However, representations of Asian/American women in cinema are already so excessive that parody, particularly Kill Bill, Vol. 1 reinforces the stereotype of hypersexuality.

O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) first appears in an anime segment as a child whose parents were killed by a Yakuza boss. She returns as a sex slave ‘tween’ who revenges her parents’ death by slaying the boss in a scene, which mixes pedophilia and violence. Filming this scene in anime not only pays cinematic homage to that form, but also solves the problem of using a child actor in a scene in which sex and violence are so disturbing. Later, as an adult, she is a Yakuza boss. Here she displays the head of one her lieutenants who dared to criticize her. Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama) is Ishii’s bodyguard. Using a spiked ball and chain as a weapon and dressed in a schoolgirl’s uniform, she is ready for battle. Here, Tarantino appears to be making a reference to Asian pornography.

Nama states:

"Despite the subversive gender politics present in the opening portion of Kill Bill, Vol. I, the sexualized imagery and language the film openly employs and the sexual raunchiness it exhibits unquestionably invite criticism that the film is exploitative and its sexual content gratuitous. But just as jarring as the symbolic overtones of sexism, sexual violence, and gender politics circulating in Kill Bill, Vol. I are significant racial undertones that dredge up longstanding issues surrounding racial representation in Hollywood martial arts films" (2015: 69-70).      

Although the film’s excessiveness can be read as parodic and even subversive, in a cultural tradition in which Asian/American women are already hypersexualized, the excessiveness, whether viewed as parodic or not, is consumed, particularly by Tarantino fans, as a form of pure cinematic pleasure. Representations such as these add weight to the fantasies surrounding Asian women that Hollywood has historically created and continues to foster.

Shimizu, however, does not simply reject these images on moral grounds, but rather self-interrogates recognizing that these images are associated with pain and pleasure in her own fantasy structure. She even notes that her book “The Hypersexuality of Race ultimately emerges from my own ‘bad subjectivity…’”(4).

Although I do not wish to give excess power to Hollywood, I agree with Shimizu’s statement that “our sexuality is embedded in history; our history is embedded in the sexuality we see on the screen” (17).  Although there are many serendipitous moments that define each of us as a sexual being, cinema has a great deal of power in construction of the object of desire. Fantasies though experienced as personal are cultural productions, and Hollywood has played a dominant role of codifying and narrativizing them.  Moreover, the fantasy structure that these representations support is fueled by affect and desire.  My analysis of ‘Kim’ takes place within these cultural boundaries with the hope of occasionally recognizing the limitations of my analysis.

Nostalgia

Within the punctum, the moment of my attraction, I find a fairly innocuous element plays a pivotal role in my pleasure, the motor scooter. When I was young, I rode a motorcycle and can remember the pleasure of having a woman wrapped around me. I never considered this until I discovered several motorcyclists commenting on this and their own memories on a YouTube listserv for this commercial.

“As I speak for probably all the "two-wheelers" out there, IT IS the best sensation... Love this ad” (numberxx7).

The advert produces a tactile voyeurism by triggering memories and the pleasure cathected to them. It is perhaps a growing nostalgia for my youth that comes with aging that this moment is able to reproduce.

Shell taps into this generic romantic fantasy by correlating touch and glance. As the young woman wraps her arms around "Kim," he closes his eyes in a state of pleasure. Does the punctum of this advert speak to a universal, a much deeper desire for intimacy, to a lack we all share? To be held and touched as if we were held in our mother’s arms? Does the punctum promise a Lacanian jouissance? Keep in mind that Barthes ends his analysis in Camera Lucida with a discussion of a photograph of his mother.

Conclusion

When doing textual analysis, we must take Said’s methodological advice and consider both “the strategic location or the author’s position in the text with regard to the Oriental material he writes about” (1989: 20) and the reader’s cultural position from which she/he engages with the text. This methodological strategy, however, transcends Oriental texts. It is useful to consider subjectivity not only in terms of both the structural and cultural position of the interpreter but also individual biographical moments that drift an analysis in a particular ideological direction. Textual analysis is always a dialogue between text and reader. Barthes’ discussion of the punctum serves as a reminder that even though a text is contrived, there are often serendipitous moments in the reading of a text that produce a heightened affective relationship with a text. Recognizing these moments better positions us to acknowledge the ideological strands that entangle, bias, and blind our readings.