Cheng Poi-shui's Medusa Complex



Starting out with Diamond Hill (00), and then with Horror Hotline Big Head Monster (01) and New Blood (02), Cheng Poi-shui, before long, has distinguished himself to be an up-and coming director worthy of seeking out, and earned himself a nomination for Outstanding Young Director in the 2003 Hong Kong Film Awards. Moreover, he is even more certain of his future direction in horror and thriller films, the focusing on which would allow him to leave a deeper imprint.

Of course, it was in Horror Hotline Big Head Monster and New Blood that he was really given a free rein, especially in the latter. In her celebrated article Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey points out that phallocentrism relies on a castrated female image to establish universal meaning and order, and, lacking a penis, female symbolizes the threat of castration. In traditional narrative cinema, the female image on the screen is very often the representation of this suppressed and insurmountable castration relationship. She states that female on the screen, besides being the character and what is behind it, the object of sexual fantasy of the male spectators, in a deeper level represents the part the male gaze fails to turn away and yet refuses to acknowledge: the absence of a penis, and with it the threat of castration which results in anti-orgasm. Hence the male gaze will try to demystify her to relieve the anxiety, or to eliminate the threat of castration through punishing or saving her.

Looking at it through Laura Mulvey's approach, with the female in New Blood being the object of sexual desire (Ah Man and her attending physician have an affair), and Ah Lok's attempt to save Ah Man from being possessed by the female ghost and being sent back to the mental institution, together with the exorcism of the trio as the main line of the narrative (demystifying the female inmate), it all fits the psychoanalytic reading of the above mentioned, the male's attempt to eliminate the threat of castration.

Even more interesting though, is to explore how Cheng Poi-shui's reflection on gaze coincides with Linda Williams' analysis on horror films and women (When the Woman Looks). In her revision of Laura Mulvey's interpretation, she points out that woman also gazes, and often the first who sees the murderer, the first to comprehend the demon's mind, and whose fate is often linked with the murderer. The woman and the murderer are both patriarchal outsiders. In New Blood, Ah Man is the only one among the three who notices that the dead woman, when being wheeled out by the medical staff, has given them an angry stare. Moreover, she is also the first to be taken by the ghost to kill her boyfriend who is in a vegetative state. It is quite clear that Ah Man and the female ghost share a special relationship. More interesting though is the director's conviction that no revisions of the male gaze will relieve the female ghost of her hatred (no elimination of the castration anxiety). By enlisting the help of the priest, Ah Lik has led the priest to his death. His own face-off with the ghost also resulted in his tragic death. It is obvious that the creator of the film does not agree with the conventional patriarchal narratives of relieving castration anxiety. Instead, he proposes the introspection of the situation through two antagonistic women (both symbolize the castrated), whose relationship consists the sympathetic and empathetic, as seen in the ghost's attempt to sway Ah Man to kill her boyfriend for her through reviving her memory of how her mother killed her father and insisting that it was an act of love, as well as angry confrontation. In the film, the one who sneaks Ah Man out of the mental institution is none other than her mother, and the one who dares to set the ghost's grave on fire is none other than Ah Man! Through the director's careful manipulation, these two women thus come to share such an intertwining relationship as mutually dependent on and yet destructive to each other.

By Tong Ching Siu

(Translated by Teri Chan)

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