Handbags, Sex, and Death: Prostitution in Contemporary East Asian Cinematic Urban Space
This chapter will explore how the prostitute has been configured in three East Asian cinematic urban spaces. Across East Asia, there has been an increasing ‘emptying out’ of the rural environment of both industry and people and the urban has become the normative mode of existence in many nations. The city is, therefore, a key spatiality in the dialogue of representing prostitution on screen. This chapter will explore three films from Hong Kong, South Korean and Japan respectively, and will discuss how the city space simultaneously functions as both a site of containment and a site of individual resistance. What I will explore is how the specific spatialities of each film open up cultural narratives and tensions that surround the urban prostitute body. Via an analysis of various dynamics including space, class, and age, a mapping of the gendered East Asian environment will take place that will illustrate both the tensions and the lines of flight available to the female prostitute inside the urban matrix. Firstly I will explore the film Nānān/Girl$ (Kenneth Bi 2010) that deals with a group of young women working in the Hong Kong ‘paid dating’ market. Secondly, this essay will then turn to Japan and the film Koi no Tsumi/Guilty of Romance (2011). Guilty of Romance is controversial director Sono Sion’s dark and twisted examination of the intertwined fates of three women after a brutal murder in a local love hotel. Finally, Jugyeojuneun Yeoja/The Bacchus Lady (2016, South Korea) is E J-yong’s 2016 exploration of the other end of the age spectrum with his tale of elderly prostitute So-young who is plying her trade in the parks of Seoul. Via these film texts, I will explore how the bodies of the cinematic prostitute function in regards to the urban environment and explore how gendered dynamics of urban space simultaneously open up and close down a vision of empowered subjectivity.