Category Archives: TV

Ginie Reviews Films: The Love of Siam

Love_of_siam_poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film: The Love of Siam (รักแห่งสยาม)
Director: Chookiat Saveerakul
Year: 2007
Notable Actors: Mario Maurer, Sinjai Plengpanich
Rating: 4.5/5

So I’ve been meaning to write this review for a long time, but to be honest: it had been a long time since I’d last seen this film and I was afraid I wouldn’t do justice to it. Thankfully, my mum gave me a reason to whip it out and as I sought to prove a.) that the Thai movie industry does produce some amazing films and b.) while still a minority of the LGBT representation in Thai pop culture, Thai media is totally capable of representing its gay characters with sensitivity and complexity.

~*Spoilers*~

The Love of Siam follows the story of two childhood friends who reunite in their teens after several years of separation. Tong is from a Roman Catholic family, and as a child his older sister disappeared whilst on holiday in Chiang Mai with her friends. Mew is a sensitive musician-type from an ethnically Chinese family with distant parents. He is closest to his grandmother, who passes away when Mew is in his teens.  Both boys are familiar with losing a loved one and this is what initially brings them together. Their story is further complicated by issues within Tong’s family – since his sister’s disappearance his father has turned towards chronic alcoholism and it is his mother, Sunee, who has to keep it together despite the tragedy as she becomes the sole caretaker and bread-winner of what is left of her family.

Mew and Tong as children,

Mew and Tong as children,

So…not your average teen romantic comedy. Despite the way the film was marketed, the Love of Siam really is just what it says on the tin – it’s about love. All kinds of love. It’s about the love you have for your family, the love you have for your friends and of course, the love you have for the first time you meet someone who touches your soul and sets your heart racing. I’m not going to lie – I tear up every single time I watch this film. Every single time. And although my knowledge of Thai films is by no means extensive, I feel like I watched a significant handful of recent blockbusters and The Love of Siam for me still ranks as one of the best Thai films I’ve ever seen.

First of all, the acting in this film is flawless. I don’t think there is a single weak performance amongst the main cast, although Pchy (Mew) and Sinjai Plengpanich (Sunee) deliver some particularly outstanding performances. Seriously though, both of these two just break my heart every time they’re on screen and just trying to hold it together. This is also of course, the role that launched Mario Maurer’s acting career and it’s certainly one that shows despite being (at the time) an amateur, the boy is definitely more than just a pretty face.

Secondly, although the running time is very long I feel the film really benefits from showing how the lives of these two broken families intertwine, how all these characters interact and the lasting impact they have on each other. While the focal point of the film is on the two boys who’re just coming to terms with their feelings for each other, there is a much wider story being told – after all, life doesn’t just stop happening because you’ve fallen in love. And sometimes, there are bigger things going on that just can’t be put aside.

Really, I think my only complaint with this film would be the role June’s character plays in the narrative. As a dead-ringer for Tong’s missing sister Tang, she gets recruited by Tong and Sunee to pretend to be Tang in an attempt to save Tong’s father from his crippling alcoholism. I guess this was the point where my disbelief officially stopped being suspended. I don’t know what else could’ve been done with this character to make her story-line more believable while keeping the lasting impact she has on Tong’s family, but as it is in the film it is the only thing that rings false to me.

Mew performing at the end of the film.

Mew performing at the end of the film.

I know I’ve read reviews that saw the ending as a bit of a cop-out, as Tong ultimately tells Mew that although he loves him, he cannot be his boyfriend (earlier on in the film when his mother discovers the nature of Mew and Tong’s relationship she forbids Mew from contacting her son and forbids her son from seeing Mew). I can completely understand this reaction – it’s an old and worn-out trope: gay couples can never have a happy ending; things must always end in tragedy. But in defence of The Love of Siam, I actually interpreted the ending as fairly optimistic? I don’t think people necessarily understand the amount of importance placed on duty to one’s parents in Thai culture, and as far as Tong was concerned – he had a duty to his mother and to his family. Growing up with a Thai mom, I have to say that the relationship between (most) Thai parents and their kids, particularly regarding sexuality, is a pretty closed one and my personal experiences have always involved being very patient about when and how I broach the topic with my mom. I’d always understood the ending of the movie as Tong wanting to help his family heal first, help them get to a better place before he could act on his feelings for Mew. Perhaps I had interpreted it too optimistically – but I had always seen that ending as an ambiguously happy one. “I know who I am – and although I cannot be with you yet, one day I will be able to”, or maybe even “I know who I am – and although I can’t have a boyfriend yet, one day I will be able to be open about my feelings for another boy, and that boy may not be you but he will definitely exist”. I had never interpreted that final scene as him repressing his new-found sexuality. Particularly as he had just broken up with his girlfriend prior to the ending scene. By breaking up with his girlfriend, Tong was affirming – at least to himself – that he knew who he was now and he knew that he had to be honest with himself. He was no longer confused about where he stood and was free to admit to himself (and to Mew) that he knows who he loves. I could not believe that anyone who had taken such a self-confident act could deny himself his own happiness forever. And I had always interpreted that scene as an indication that Tong would have to wait for his happiness a little bit longer, but he would definitely get it one day. But of course, I could be wrong and I am always happy to hear alternative view points.

This was Mario Maurer's break-out role. Here he is as Tong at the end of the film looking for Mew after breaking up with his girlfriend.

This was Mario Maurer’s break-out role. Here he is as Tong at the end of the film looking for Mew after breaking up with his girlfriend.

Watching this with my mom I thought I’d observe her and see what she had to say, as I usually use her as my gauge for whether I’ve understood the subtext of a Thai setting correctly. At the end of the film, she said “well they are not together today, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be one day.” And that is exactly what I’d taken away from the ending too.  One day I am hoping for an unambiguously happy ending for Thai gay protagonists, but in the meantime I am incredibly glad this film exists and if you’ve never seen it you should definitely check it out.

On an entirely different note: I am also super in love with the main theme song for this film

Leave a comment

Filed under Review, TV

Ginie Reviews TV: The Legend of Korra (Book One: Air)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TV Show: The Legend of Korra (Book One: Air)
Creators: Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko
Years: 2012 –
Rating: 3.5

Maybe it’s unfair to review a show that has only had its first season, but I think Book One of The Legend of Korra has given me plenty of initial thoughts and feelings about the show, the characters and the direction it all seems to be heading in and I thought this would probably be the right time to get them all out.

I get the feeling I may get some flak for this, but while I did love The Legend of Korra and would definitely call myself a fan (the kind of fan that listens to Republic City Dispatch podcasts and gets into speculative discussions about who Amon might be, etc.); a part of my feels a bit let down by The Legend of Korra.

If Avatar: The Last Airbender was a show for kids that dealt with various issues and themes with a far greater sense of maturity than most adult-TV-shows; then The Legend of Korra is a show that’s clearly aimed at an older audience and yet fails to adequately tackle the mature issues and concerns that are raised by the very nature of its central premise. Namely, that there is a non-bender revolution taking grip of Republic City and that balance needs to be restored by Korra, the Avatar (and as such, the ultimate bender as she can bend all the elements).

~*Spoilers Ahead*~

So first of all, the things I loved: the animation is, as ever, absolutely gorgeous. It’s so fluid, the character expressions are great and the designs are wonderful. I loved the idea of a 1920’s industrialised Avatar world! It just had so much potential and was so awesome – not to mention the soundtrack which is also beautiful and combines traditional Chinese music with jazz. Just. So. AWESOME. Not to mention the fashion, the Sato-mobiles, Republic City itself – there’s been a lot of fantastic world-building for this city and I loved every bit of it.

And I also loved the premise, although from the start I was weary about the real-world parallels that were being drawn between The Equalists and the rise of Communism in China. Not because I didn’t think it was an interesting idea to explore – more because I wasn’t sure a Nickelodeon show (however awesome) could do justice to that kind of seriously turbulent history, and furthermore the in-universe history of the United Republic and Republic City is different to real-world Chinese history. You can’t understand the rise of Communism in China without understanding the civil war and the Imperial system that came before it. But I was willing to be open-minded and I trusted that the show’s creators knew what they were doing: that they’d offer some insight into how this world has evolved with a bending elite and a non-bending underclass who are under-represented in government, in the police (Beifong’s Metal-benders) and in other crucial areas of Republic City life. And that Korra’s restoration of balance would involve an acknowledgement of this – that it wouldn’t just be about getting rid of Amon and the Equalists, but that it would also be about re-dressing the balance so that non-benders have an equal place in Republic City’s society.

So far that hasn’t happened yet.

Now I know this is just Book One, and that maybe these issues will be addressed in the next season (I dearly hope so). But I can only assume that with Amon and Tarrlok out of the picture for good, Book Two will have to introduce a new antagonist – and that means there might be a chance that this theme is dropped in favour of something else.

I suspect this might happen because the Book One finale had clearly tried to tie up all loose ends. Korra lost her bending, unlocked her air-bending, unmasked Amon who was later killed by his brother Tarrlok, entered the Avatar state, got all her bending back and the ability to return bending to others all in one fell swoop. Not once in the entire season were the actually legitimate concerns of Equalist sympathizers acknowledged or addressed and indeed, Amon and his Equalists are nearly always dismissed as “that madman and those crazy Equalists”. Now while Amon clearly uses manipulative fear tactics and could be labelled a terrorist, I was disappointed that Korra was only forced to confront the inequality between benders and non-benders once: when Tarrlok and his task-force were rounding-up protesting non-benders (“You’re our Avatar too!”).

Not to mention I was hoping to hear more about the Spirit World (and had secretly hoped that Amon was somehow linked to Koh, the Face-Stealer – an excellent, excellent potential villain that has been totally under-utilised in both A:TLA and TLOK). Considering how much emphasis was put on Korra’s spiritual block at the beginning of the show, I can’t help but feel let down that her spiritual block had been “solved” so quickly and so effortlessly. I don’t buy that Korra losing all her other bending and sulking about it constituted some great spiritual epiphany, even if it is true that her bending is very tied up with her own sense of identity and self-worth. And while I totally bawled like a baby when Aang turned up with all the other past Avatars and Korra finally went into the Avatar-state (shut up!) I was disappointed that Korra had lost her bending, only to re-gain it all within a matter of screen-time minutes. Maybe I’m being nitpick-y, but a loss isn’t really a loss if it’s so easily re-gained (which is also why if you choose to kill off a character they had better stay dead, at least for a little while, because otherwise it’s just cheap and there was nothing really at stake).

So those were my concerns with Korra on a thematic level. But I also felt somewhat let down by The Legend of Korra on a character level.

All I can say is that while a lot of the characters are awesome and show a lot of potential (LIN BEIFONG IS MY FAVOURITE-EST PERSON EVER) so many characters have had their character development and storyline pretty much shafted (I’m looking at you, Asami and Bolin). I’m still holding out that Asami will become more than just a useful plot-device to throw in extra romantic ~tension~ between Mako and Korra. And that Bolin will evolve to be more than just a comic relief character. And I’m hoping that the romance between Mako and Korra will eventually feel natural and not so forced. But I’m not nearly as optimistic as I was at the beginning of the season. Here’s hoping things will change though, and we get to see the New Team Avatar interact with each other more and actually give us a better idea of who they really are.

So is The Legend of Korra a good show? Absolutely yes. It has plenty of tension and enough mystery and questions that you’ll keep coming back for each new episode to find out what it will reveal. Is it as good as Avatar: The Last Airbender? Still hard to say at this stage – I genuinely think A:TLA was a better show, but then I went into A:TLA expecting nothing and the show did mature a lot over three seasons. We are only into Book One of Korra, and I went into TLOK with very high expectations following my love for A:TLA. While I think I do have legitimate reasons for preferring A:TLA to TLOK, I’m also willing to admit that at least some of it may be due to my own biases.

Conclusion? Definitely go watch it! Lord knows Tumblr needs more fandom theories about what the future holds for our heroine Korra 😉

1 Comment

Filed under Review, TV

Ginie’s Top Ten: (Mostly) Nostalgic Animated Crushes

I noticed that for something I really love, I actually haven’t talked much at all about animation on this website. And I’ve decided that I’m going to address that! With – what else? A Top Ten list of Hotted Animated Guys, partially inspired by Nostalgia Chick’s Top Ten “Hottest” Animated Guys list. A point Lindsay raises in her list is that while Top Ten Hottest Animated Women lists tend to be quite unanimous, Top Ten Hottest Animated Guys tend to have a lot more variation in  them and I guess are much more subjective to whom is drawing up the list. That being said she still discovered a trend: apparently we like them dark, and we like them tortured. Also we freaking love woobies (I’m totally with you there Nella). In drawing up this list I’ve come to realise that basically…yeah. Spot on. Apparently I, like most fangirls, just want to save you! And give you a hug or something. So anyway, here’s my personal and absolutely subjective Top Ten, with some nostalgic crushes and some more recent ones.

  1. Howl (Howl’s Moving Castle)
    So I’m developing a theory that Howl represents a certain character archetype that I think is really appealing to young girls – the fantasy character who crashes into your hum-drum life, grabs you by the hand and whisks you off to somewhere exciting and dangerous to have adventures together.  I’d argue that that’s definitely one of the appeals of characters like Doctor Who for instance (especially in the episode The Eleventh Hour), and I find it hard to believe that TV Tropes doesn’t seem to have come up with a name for this trope yet. (Dear TV Tropes: get on it!) Otherwise what is there to say? Animated!Howl is basically fangirl catnip: he’s handsome, he’s charming, he does magic, he’s noble of spirit – but he’s also tortured with (literal) personal demons and needs a hug! I actually much prefer his bookverse counterpart, but that doesn’t mean that teenage me wasn’t totally in love with Hayao Miyazaki’s version of Howl, especially as the English dub was voiced by Christian Bale.
  2.  Li Shang (Mulan)

    What can I say? Let’s get down to business! To deafeat – the huns! Li Shang is well, hot. But despite that he’s also got this kind of awkward thing going on which makes him quite relateable and likeable and I imagine that for most  fans of this character it’s the awkward likeability that puts him above all other similarly hot-ly drawn Disney princes(?) Also! Bonus point for being the kind of animated guy who acknowledges he was wrong and makes up for it by following Mulan’s lead into battle. And having the most awesome song in the movie while not being a Disney villain.
  3. Dimitri (Anastasia)
    Ahh, Anastasia! What a way to completely re-write history, movie! But of course, Anastasia is hardly the only serious offender in that category (*cough*, Pocahontas, *cough*). Anyway, I saw this movie long before I knew anything about 20th Century Russian history (which is why, dear animators, making animated films based on “historical facts” and getting them completely wrong is absolutely awful! CHILDREN DON’T KNOW ANY BETTER, and you’ve deliberately misinformed them). But back to what I was saying – I saw this movie when it first came out and obviously had this huge nostalgic crush on Dimitri. If Howl represents the fantasy-character-who’ll-take-you-on-adventures archetype, I’d argue that Dimitri (and Aladdin further down this list) represent the “real-world” counterpart to that archetype. As a side-note: re-watching this film as an adult is hilarious because I actually get references to 20s/30s Parisian things like the Josephine Baker cameo.
  4. Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
    Oh Zuko. Was there ever an animated woobie that needed just needed a hug more than you? Seriously though, I do love Zuko as a character and of all the characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender, he is the one with one of the most interesting and fully-developed character-arcs in the entire series. From conflicted antagonist and general bratty shit-head to ultimately becoming one of the series’ heroes, Zuko is easily a fan-favourite and it’s not hard to see why we all love him. I think one of things I love most about A:TLA though, is the amount of self-aware humour that is used, and isn’t spared when it comes to Zuko. Sure, Zuko’s story is pretty tragic but that doesn’t stop characters in-universe making fun of his obsession with restoring his honour. (Sidenote: Aang is disqualified  on account of age, basically.)
  5.  Link (The Legend of Zelda)
     Oh man, this is a long-standing nostalgic crush for me. I know this is also kind of cheating as Link isn’t a character from an animated movie or show (shut up shut up, that animated show doesn’t count!), but he is an animated character so as far as I’m concerned his position on this list is totally legit. My first introduction to Link was my step-cousin play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time  back in 1998, and I just loved Link. He’s another archetypical character, the Hero who must go on his Hero’s Journey and I guess the great thing about Link is that you’re adventuring right alongside him on his Hero’s Journey. He is intentionally silent in all of the games as he’s meant to be your avatar into the Zelda-universe, but I actually think the animation (especially in later games like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword) have been great for actually expressing giving him a personality and expressing emotions.
  6. Count of Monte Cristo (Gankutsuou)
    This is a much more recent one – anyone who knows my reading habits knows I love me some French 19th Century writers, especially Alexandre Dumas’ adventure stories and having finished The Three Musketeers books as a teenager I’m now working my way through The Count of Monte Cristo which I think I’ve already decided I like better than The Three Musketeers. This anime is actually a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the novel, but with a few key differences that make it its own story. First of all it’s set far into the future (where apparently there’s been a restoration of the monarchy in France?) and secondly Edmond Dantes’ drive for revenge is fuelled by a pact he made with a demon while incarcerated in the Chateau D’If. There are other differences of course in terms of the different characters and their relationships and motivations, but those two are the most notable differences with regards to the plot. The anime is quite dark, and the Counts’ thirst for revenge is shown to be a all-consuming destructive force that almost completely engulfs the good man that the Count used to be – Edmond Dantes.
  7. Aladdin (Aladdin)
    I think Aladdin’s position as on this list was solidified by an encounter I had several years ago with a IRL hot guy who actually looked like Aladdin. Despite all the race-fail there is in this movie, I do really enjoy it and I think the appeal of Aladdin is that he’s clearly a flawed character but one who learns from his mistakes and most importantly wants to take you on fun adventures. (We’ll firmly ignore the part where his character design was apparently based on Tom Cruise. Why..?)
  8. …Entire Prince of Egypt Cast
    Whether it’s Ramses or Moses or even Joseph from the less-good King of Dreams movie, I’ve got to hand it to the animators of The Prince of Egypt: all their animated characters are ridiculously good-looking. (I’ll momentarily ignore the fact that I just called a bunch of Biblical characters hot). Re-watching The Prince of Egypt makes me kinda sad that Dreamworks doesn’t do this kind of animation any more, because this film was amazingly epic and the music was gorgeous and the animation was beautiful.
  9. Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
    Dr. Facilier is easily one of the most awesome characters in The Princess and the Frog, has one of the best Disney villain songs ever and possesses just an amazing amount of style and charisma. It also helps Keith David’s voice acting is nothing short of amazing and spine-shiveringly cool. There is a lot of race-fail in this film too when it comes to the representation of Vodou, and I take issue with how easily Dr. Facilier is defeated but regardless of these issues I can’t help but love this character to bits.
  10. Scar (The Lion King)
    What? I dare you not to love Jeremy Irons.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Prince Adam/The Beast (Beauty and the Beast)
  • Judge Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
  • Hadji and Johnny Quest (The Real Adventures  of Johnny Quest)
  • Haku (Spirited Away)
  • Gambit (X-Men)
  • Bolin (The Legend of Korra)

2 Comments

Filed under Film, Review, Top Ten, TV

Ginie Muses: Masculinity and Heroism in Avatar the Last Airbender

Following my previous post on women in the ATLA universe, I felt it was also important to discuss how masculinity is constructed, especially in relation to the series’ main protagonist and hero, Aang.

Discussions of mediated representations of gender usually revolve around embracing different portrayals of femininity, and I would argue that this discussion is also important when it comes to how masculinity is mediated and how rigid gender roles marginalises and (more often than not) shames the men who don’t fall neatly into those roles.

While I would argue that everyone in the ‘gaang’ are heroic and heroes in their own right (and that both Sokka and Zuko also have pretty amazing growth arcs and story-lines); I’d like to focus this discussion more on Aang as he is the only one out of the three main male gang members who I feel doesn’t conform to conventional portrayals of masculinity. This isn’t to talk down Sokka or Zuko in anyway – they’re both great characters and I love them a great deal, but they are closer to what you’d expect from male main characters and for the purposes of this discussion Aang is the one I want to focus on.

This isn’t to talk down traditional notions of masculinity in men either; but traditional masculinity in men is something that is accepted and often celebrated while different displays of masculinity are often marginalised. This post is just a celebration of a main character who doesn’t fall into what I would consider to be a traditional portrayal of what a man should be, and I think that’s a positive message for guys who don’t necessarily identify with conventional notions of masculinity.

As always, watch out for ~*spoilers!*~

Aang (Air Bender)

This isn’t to say that Aang is feminine per se, but I think Aang is usually contrasted quite effectively with Sokka, who is a more normative representation of masculinity.

He’s also a very different type of hero than what we are usually presented with, and I would argue that there are two main types: 1.) The Underdog who Succeeds Against All Odds (See: Scott Pilgrim, the Karate Kid) and 2.) The Action Man (See: James Bond, most other action movies of that ilk). Aang falls into neither of these categories. While he’s not initially as powerful as Firelord Ozai, he’s still not an underdog. We are shown right from the start that Aang is a powerful airbender; and even though he struggles with some of the other elements throughout the series, we never doubt that he has the ability to master them and that he will be good at all of them. Not to mention the fact that while he’s also at his most vulnerable, in the Avatar state he is also almost invincible.

But he’s not just an Action Man either, and his fighting style is notably defensive and evasive. Rarely does he actually attack people (unless he’s in the Avatar state, or in cases of extreme emotional duress, such as when Appa was kidnapped). The series follows his growth into his role as the Avatar, and while a large part of that growth is learning the different kinds of bending, the most important part of his growth is learning how to carry out his duties as Avatar while staying true to what he personally believes in and staying true to himself. I don’t think it’s an accident that when Aang chooses to abandon his principles (i.e. when he is asked to let go of all worldly attachments and forget about Katara) the moment he tries to actually go through with it, he is brutally brought down by Azula. Forgetting the people he loves isn’t him, and he is weaker for it. Similarly in the finale when he is asked to killed Firelord Ozai, he spends a large amount of time being conflicted between what he believes he should do and what others are telling him he should do. In the end, he defeats Firelord Ozai on his own terms, and is better off for it.

While drawing strength from emotional ties isn’t new in a hero (See: Harry Potter), I think it’s still relatively rare in an action-adventure story, especially when it comes to male heroes, who are mostly expected to be emotionally self-reliant. Moreover Aang’s extremely pacifist stance is quite unusual. While heroes are expected to be merciful, they are rarely shown to be actively pacifist and aren’t usually terribly conflicted over killing the ‘bad guy’ if their hand is pushed.  I think the fact that Aang has this conflict is an example of the show’s maturity. Killing someone, even someone who has devastated several cities, isn’t a casual matter.

Regarding gender, I don’t think the Ember Island Players portrayal of him using a female actor was an accident either. I mean aside from the obvious laughs (haha! Aang is being played by a girl!) I think the fact that the Ember Island players chose a big buff guy to act out Toph’s part and a lithe woman to act out Aang’s part actually says something about their characters. Just as Toph has elements to her personality that are traditionally considered masculine, I think there are elements of Aang that are traditionally associated with femininity.

Take for instance the palm-reading episode. While Katara gets excited and goes off to get her palm-read; Aang asks Sokka what he thinks they might be talking about. Sokka (normative male) is highly dismissive of his sister and her conversation with the palmist:

Aang: So…what do you think they’re talking about back there?
Sokka: Boring stuff I’m sure. Love. Who she’s going to marry. How many babies she’s going to have.
Aang: Yeah. Dumb stuff like that…well, I gotta find a bathroom.

This immediately piques Aang’s interest and then he is just as curious as Katara to know who he is going to marry and what his love life will be like.

Aunt Wu: Your destiny. This is incredible! You will be involved in a great battle. An awesome conflict between the forces of good and evil. A battle whose outcome will determine the fate of the whole world!
Aang: Yeah, yeah I knew that already. But did it say anything about a girl?
Aunt Wu: A girl? You want to know about love?
Aang: Yes!
Aunt Wu: I’m sorry. But I didn’t see anything… Oh, look I’ve missed something. Right here. It says “Trust your heart, and you will be with the one you love.”

We know that both boys are interested in love (through the course of the show Sokka has two girlfriends and Aang has a crush on Katara), but being seen to be highly interested in romance and actively being concerned about it (as opposed to just interested in girls/sex) is usually portrayed as something only women do (I am admittedly look at this from a hetero-centric point of view, as a lot of the media in which this dynamic plays out is hetero-centric).

Which is ridiculous of course, I know plenty of men IRL who are plenty more romantic than I am – but for some reason the admission of wanting love and romance is seen to be something that is only acceptable for women to do. (See also: the derogatory way in which we speak of boybands who mainly sing about romance; or the fact that romance fiction and romantic-comedies are seen as something only women would indulge in).

I am reminded of this article about masculinity in The Hunger Games and Peeta. Like Peeta, Aang wears his heart on his sleeve and is relatively open about his feelings for Katara. It takes a while for him to get the courage/confidence to admit his feelings to her, but once he does he doesn’t shy away from them. (I would even argue he is exceptionally-bordering-on-suspiciously mature about the whole thing considering he’s meant to be a twelve-year-old boy. I guess being the Avatar makes you grow up faster?)

Regardless, whether it is about Katara or about his flying-bison Appa, Aang is very in touch with his emotions and he isn’t afraid to show them. Once again, this is unusual for a male hero. (Because male characters are meant to be stoic, of course! Touchy-feely emotional stuff is for girls! Male characters are allowed occasionally to shed a single manly tear. Any other display of emotion must be done – with their fists.)

Aang is also remarkably comfortable in his own skin and knows who and what he is about. He does occasionally have doubts – but as we’ve stated before, he is always shown to be better off when he stays true to himself. When Sokka recommends a more macho-demeanour as a means of attracting female attention it only succeeds in doing the opposite – annoying Katara. Aang’s displays of sensitivity (which are much truer to his character) work much better and that is what Katara responds to.

This comfortableness and security in his own self also extends to when he is made to wear Avatar Kyoshi’s old uniform. Despite the lady’s clothing and make-up Aang is remarkably unfazed by it all. This is also very different to most male characters who, like Sokka, aren’t comfortable taking on different gender roles.  Men wearing women’s clothing has often been used as a comedic trope, and I would argue that while we’re meant to laugh at the sight of Aang in Kyoshi’s make-up and dress, the fact that Aang is entirely comfortable with it and the fact that the story and actions carries on (with Aang still dressed as Kyoshi) is a way of saying: it’s not a big deal. Yes, Aang in Kyoshi’s dress is an incongruous image and not what you’re expecting, but once you get over that it isn’t that big a deal. If Aang isn’t bothered by it, then why should anyone be bothered by the fact that he’s wearing a dress?

To conclude, Aang is a remarkable example of how masculinity and male heroism can be different from what it has always traditionally meant. Masculinity doesn’t only have to be the stoic, lone-wolf Marlboro Man. Male heroism doesn’t only have to be about using physical strength and violence to protect the ones you love. It can be so much more inclusive than that.

1 Comment

Filed under Review, Thoughts, TV

Ginie Muses: The Women of Avatar the Last Airbender

TV Show: Avatar the Last Airbender
Creators: Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Years:
2005 – 2008
Rating: 5/5

Once again, I am several years behind fandom and have only recently discovered ATLA. To be fair – I partially blame M. Night Shyamalan for this. I may have ended up watching that terrible excuse for a film against my will, and it put me off looking into the TV show for a good few years (up until there was a lot of flurry on Tumblr over The Legend of Korra) and – having been drawn in by all the artwork and character designs – I ended up checking out the original series to see what all the fuss was all about.

All I can say is? Oh my gosh my feels. There are too many of them. How does a Saturday morning cartoon simultaneously manage to make me giggle-snort with laughter and also move me to tears? (Yes, I did. Just a little when Zuko was re-united with Uncle Iroh. Shut up.)

Basically, this show is good. Really, really good. The animation is stunning, the kind of research that went into re-creating a Sino-centric fantasy universe is impressive and fantastic and the characters are wholly believable and well-fleshed out with different motivations and conflicts; and as the series progresses they all learn and change a lot.

It’s also probably one of the few mainstream TV shows that features POC’s so prominently and also has a remarkable number of girls in the cast that aren’t merely love-interests and serve as main characters in their own right. Anyway, without further ado – here is my post celebrating the women of Avatar the Last Airbender.

Also! ~*SPOILERS*~

Katara (Water Bender)

Katara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of all the women on this show, Katara is probably the most conventionally feminine – she’s often described as motherly and caring, she has healing powers and she looks out for everybody in the group. But you know what? This is also cool. I feel too often when we think of “strong women” in the media we think of the Action Girl – she’s hot, she’s tough, and she fights and talks just like a man! And while there’s nothing wrong with this, this version of strong femininity often ignores or dismisses traditionally considered ‘feminine’ virtues such as compassion and mocks other displays of femininity, whether it be in dress or in interests. Katara takes all of that and shoves it back in their face – yes she’s motherly, yes she’s a healer and yes, she takes an interest in her appearance. But she’s also a master waterbender, a strong fighter and following the death of her mother, is someone who has had to grow up very quickly and learn to be brave very young. I also like that throughout the series she has more than one flirtation. Katara isn’t a particularly flirty character, but her interactions with Haku and Jet are refreshing in a female character aimed at young girls – finding “the One” was never her goal; she found different men attractive throughout the series and that was ok. The fact that she ends up with Aang makes sense when you consider all that they’ve been through together and the fact that they have quite compatible personalities (i.e. they’ll both always do whatever they can to protect and help people in need), that and she never really got to spend enough time with any of the other guys to see where those relationships might have led. But I liked that there was a possibility for something different, and I liked that as far as Katara was concerned, Aang wasn’t her only option.

I also like that despite all of this, Katara has her own potential for darkness: bloodbending. Although initially horrified by thought of controlling other people by bending the water in their bodies (i.e. blood – this kid’s show goes to some dark places), canonically Katara has used bloodbending twice. Once against Hamma to protect Aang and Sokka, and the second time against the man she thought killed her mother. While the first time left her anguished and horrified at what she had done, the second time she had done it was in revenge-fuelled rage, and you can see that even the best of characters have the potential to do evil things. What makes a person good is ultimately in the choices that they make, and when Katara finally comes face-to-face with her mother’s murderer, Katara makes the decision not to kill him – even though every fibre in her being wants revenge on what he had done. This level of complexity (moral or otherwise) is rarely ever shown in a female character, and for these reasons Katara is an awesome character. When people mention their favourite Katara-moment, they’ll usually cite her challenging Master Pakku to teach her waterbending (in the Northern Water tribe only men are allowed to learn this martial art) and the waterbending fight which ensues, in which Katara holds her own against a sexist waterbending Master. While that scene is awesome, I must admit that the defining Katara moment for me is when she tells Sokka:

“No! I will never, ever turn my back on people who need me… I’m going down to the village. And I’m going to do whatever I can!” – Katara, The Painted Lady (S3E03)

Because that is who Katara is. She learnt early on how to stick up for herself, but what makes her truly a hero is that she’ll always stick out for others too.

Toph Bei Fong (Earth Bender)

If Katara represents a more conventional view of femininity, Toph represents what we usually assume a strong female character to be. And just as femme heroes shouldn’t be dismissed because of their femininity, female heroes who don’t fit prescribed gender roles shouldn’t be dismissed either. She’s a tomboy, she spits, she’s sarcastic and she can kick your ass. She’s also blind and twelve-years-old. I tend to think Toph follows a more recent tradition of female action-heroes, the one where a young-harmless girl turns out to be far more deadly than anyone could ever imagine (See: Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, or Hanna). However unlike Hit-Girl (and unlike most female action heroes) Toph doesn’t need rescuing at the crucial moment by the ~real~ hero of the story. Toph holds her own in all fights, and in the season finale plays her role in defeating the Fire Nation. I must admit, that what I do love about Toph is her sarcasm. A lot of the more hilarious moments in the show are a direct result of what she says.

While being rescued from drowning by Suki.
Toph: Oh Sokka, you saved me! -kisses Suki-
Suki: Actually, it’s me.
Toph: Oh…well, aheheh. You can go ahead and let me drown now.

I also like that while on paper she is slightly in danger of falling into the disability-as-a-superpower-trope, Toph’s explanation for how she can “see” (i.e. through the vibrations she feels in the ground) makes intuitive sense considering she’s an earthbender and is used consistently throughout the show. Whenever she’s in water, sand or another element that doesn’t conduct vibrations as well as steady ground, she has trouble ‘seeing’ what she is doing and what is going on. Despite this, the show makes it clear that it isn’t her disability, her gender, her age or small stature that hold her back, but other people (most notably her overprotective parents). I think Toph’s initial clash with Katara also makes sense in view of all these things. Their personalities and experiences are very different – Katara who has had to take care of her family all her life is naturally motherly and slightly bossy. Toph on the other hand has been ‘handled’ all her life by her parents and carers and the last thing she wants when she’s finally found her freedom is to have someone else tell her what to do, even if some of Katara’s suggestions are entirely sensible. But I like that despite these differences they have quite touching moments of friendship, such as in Tales of Ba Sing Se and when they are both in prison together.

Also, Toph invents metal-bending. Basically she’s amazing.

Azula (Fire Bender)

So the first time Azula is presented to the audience, I must admit my first thought was “Wow. She is so eeeevil.” Like, I was genuinely impressed with how fucking terrifying she was, and I would happily list her as one of the most intimidating fictional characters ever created. This isn’t because she’s a firebending prodigy (which she is), or because she’s powerful (which she also is). It’s because she’s a master of manipulation, and one who knows just which buttons to push to threaten people into submission. I also think Azula is the one character who could have easily been a guy without changing a single thing to her storyline; and in any other production, they probably would have made her a guy. Tragic sibling-rivalries concerning actual struggles for power in fiction only ever seem to happen between two brothers (while female sibling rivalry is usually presented in the form of conquest over a male object of desire); and the fact that they chose to make her a girl (despite no ‘reason’ to do so story-wise) I think is a step in the right direction in terms of the way we think about representation. I think Azula presents an interesting contrast to Zuko, mainly because Azula represents what Zuko may well have turned into if he had never been banished from the Fire Nation. Of course, we’re given hints in their back story that Azula was always the more talented and the more violent one, but I think we have to remember that even though Zuko changed his mind  and decided to fight on Aang’s side in the end, he did some horribly manipulative things too. Both Azula and Zuko are a product of a self-aggrandising nation and culture that believes in its own superiority and only respects displays of  intimidation and power. While Zuko had an opportunity to experience a different kind of life, Azula did not; and moreover Azula was always rewarded for her  displays of ‘strength’, while Zuko was always punished for showing ‘weakness’. I think this is the true difference between the two siblings, and while I don’t excuse any of Azula’s actions there is something slightly tragic about her character.

The episode The Beach shows a more human side of her, the tragi-comedy of Azula trying to flirt with a boy she finds attractive while failing miserably because the only interaction with others she’s ever had has always been through coercion and intimidation. (This is also different from most female villains; while most female villains are usually portrayed as manipulative, they are usually portrayed skilled seductresses who use their sexual wiles in order to manipulate supposedly hapless men. Azula is no seductress, and at no point does she use her beauty to manipulate anyone.) The betrayal of her friends of Mai and Ty Lee drives her to near insanity; first of all because I think a part of her maybe have believed that their friendship was genuine (but how can it be when it’s based on fear?) but also because Mai’s love for Zuko outweighs her fear of Azula. Azula, who has never been able to convince anyone to love her (not even her own mother) is suddenly left in a position she has never been before: powerless. Because if love outweighs fear, than what does she have left to bargain with?

And a special shout-out…

To Suki (Leader of the Kyoshi warriors, who shows Sokka a thing or to about what it means to be a warrior), Mai, Ty Lee and Avatar Kyoshi herself. They aren’t as central to the show as the above three ladies are, but the world of ATLA has a lot of interesting women both in the lead roles and in secondary roles and that is a welcome change from the usual line-up of characters in action-adventure stories.

Things also seem set to be just as awesome in the spin-off/sequel series Avatar: The Legend of Korra which I look forward to watching and reviewing. In the meanwhile if you’re interested in exciting previews (the shows doesn’t come out until the 14th of April) sign up to Korra Nation here.

For my analysis of how Aang challenges traditional narratives of masculinity and male heroism, please click here.


4 Comments

Filed under Review, Thoughts, TV