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Bodies in crisis: Sensuality and the cinematic reconfiguration of the spy genre in contemporary Chinese cinema

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Spy films produced during the Cold War and the immediate post-Cold War era in Mainland China reflect a heightened anxiety of national security and serve primarily as political propaganda. This article examines the changing cultural context of post-socialist China and the transformation of the spy film genre in contemporary Chinese cinema in the age of globalization and transnationalism. Looking specifically at three recently released films, Ang Lee’s Se jie/Lust, Caution (2007), Chen Guofu and Gao Qunshu’s Fengsheng/The Message (2009) and Alan Mak and Felix Chong’s Ting feng zhe/The Silent War (2012), this article examines the centrality of body narrative to the cinematic reconfiguration of the spy genre in contemporary Chinese cinema. It argues that the recently emerged spy films demonstrate special interests in the body’s dual role in cinema – as both an image that invites the embodied spectator to engage with it and a site where multiple discourses of nationhood, sexuality and individual identity intersect to reveal the transnational imagination and reconfiguration of the spy figure, whose identity can no longer be defined by an absolute dichotomy between mind and body, between exteriority and interiority, but by the constant tension generated from the inseparability between the mind’s rationality and the body’s corporeality.
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Keywords: body narrative; counter-espionage; post-Cold War; post-socialist; spy film; transnational

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Washington and Lee University

Publication date: September 1, 2015

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  • The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture is the first academic peer-reviewed journal for scholars, teachers, and students from around the world who have an active and passionate interest in the Popular Culture of East Asia. The journal is devoted to all aspects of popular culture in East Asia and the interplay between East Asia and the wider world. With the growth in popularity of Asian visual products in the Western world and the increasing strength of the Asian markets, this publication fulfills the need for an international journal that allows Western and Asian film, media, literary, music, fashion, digital media, television, art and cultural scholars alike to engage in discussion. In the last few decades there has been a huge rise in the interest in East Asian popular culture. The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture will be engaging directly with that trend. From film to music; art to translation and fashion to tourism, this journal will offer a forum where multidisciplinary work can come together in new and exciting ways.
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