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The cycle of Triad/gangster films that began with John Woo's A Better Tomorrow (1986), a cycle with roots in the literary tradition of the sanguo yanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms) and the shui hu zhuan (The Water Margins) as well as in the reality of Triad presence in the business end of the Hong Kong cinema industry, (1) has since expanded into a discrete cinema genre sometimes characterized as "Triad Boyz or rascal movies" (Stokes and Hoover 86). (2) The genre paradoxically portrays the criminality of young men and women who are simultaneously presented as essentially Confucian in their affirmation of filial piety, justice for the vulnerable, and exemplary leadership. Yet the ubiquitous visual cue of righteousness and traditional values within this genre--that also celebrates rebellion and independence regardless of the legality of characters' actions--is the iconic act of obeisance to the deified Guan Yu (166-220 C.E.). This image figures prominently at the site of on-screen shrines, public and private, in Hong Kong films as the cultural product of semiotic coding that conflates values associated with all four facets of Guan as a cultural sign. Guan Yu is the historical general who served Liu Bei and the political aims of the kingdom of Shu during the Three Kingdoms period (220-265 C.E.); Guan Yunchang (Guan Yu's style name, reserved for use by intimate friends), the oath brother of Liu Bei (Xuande) and Zhang Fei (Yide), is the literary figure glorified in Luo Guangzhong's sanguo yanyi as an exemplar of loyalty and of warrior skill; Guandi is the imperial title conferred on Guan Yu by Ming emperor Wanli in 1614, also designating him a deified figure, the god of war, though Guandi is now frequently conflated with Caishen, the god of cash, and Guangong ("Lord Guan"), who is a synthesis of the other three, an apotheosis of the moral and martial ideals modeled in the sanguo yanyi. While the semiotic concept of iconicity is ordinarily communicated to a viewer/reader via a relation of resemblance through which an icon "means" what it explicitly seems to represent, Ravi S. Vasuvedan has argued that in film, iconicity may reflect "a meaningful condensation of image" which facilitates "the articulation of the mythic" within cinematic narratives, as discrete cultural codes function collectively to "bind a multiply-layered dynamic into a unitary image" (137). Hong Kong cinema's emphasis on the Guangong facet of this particular cultural icon, with his guandao halberd, ruddy cheeks, and flowing beard prominently on display, is a narrative device employed for thematic reinforcement rather than solely a reflection of some kind of shared cultural subjectivity or tacit evidence that Guangong is meaningful to the Chinese people primarily as a "god of war." Public images of Guangong in China often emphasize his moral over his martial virtues by shifting emphasis in his icon from the guandao to his long beard, as we have observed, for example, in the large porcelain statue of Guan Yu displayed at the Battle of Red Cliffs Museum, Chibi; in the bronze statue and the diorama effigy of Guan Yu at Longzhong, the site of Zhuge Liang's thatched cottage; or in the stone murals illustrating Guan and his oath brothers, located in the city alleys of Xinye, near Xiangfan. (3) Significantly, crime films since the mid-1980s have exploited a fundamental moralism associated with Guan Yu as a cultural figure who was conversant in the principles of classics such as The Spring and Autumn Annals, (4) employing images of Guangong effigies that give equal emphasis to the guandao, signifying martial superiority, and to the beard, signifying the cultivation of an idealized ethics of behavior.

GENRE
Reference
RELEASED
2005
June 1
LANGUAGE
EN
English
LENGTH
35
Pages
PUBLISHER
Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Department of English
SELLER
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.
SIZE
390.4
KB

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