(Invincible Asia is a character, played by Brigitte Lin out of the film Swordsman 2. I discussed this character in the blog before last. This blog contains some notes on Lin’s interpretation of this intriguing transsexual villain.)
As Invincible Asia, Brigitte Lin turns in a beautifully modulated performance. Moving from the male to the female, from the power mad to the emotionally vulnerable, from the creepy to the mysterious to the sexy, she has to cover a lot of ground in the performance of this part. But she seems to be completely anchored in the role and never gives in to the temptation to over act or be camp or forced. Given the bizarre nature of the role, it is surprising and impressive how understated Lin’s performance is for much of the film.
Invincible Asia is a male martial artist who castrates himself and transforms into a woman as part of an occult ritual that generates supernatural powers. I love Lin’s facial expressions as Asia encounters people who react to his / her sexual transformation and gender realignment in ways that confound or confront him / her. Sometimes s/he has to show hurt, such as when she is rebuffed by her concubine Cici (Yu On On) when Cici discovers his / her transformation. Sometimes s/he has to show that s/he is delightedly confused or borderline outraged such as when the film’s hero, Ling (played by Jet Li), bustles into his / her sphere and treats him / her as a fine bit of skirt he is going to chase after, rather than a martial arts supremo he should be frightened of. If you have a DVD of this film watch for Asia’s reaction after Ling asks him / her “are you married?” – it’s a classic (as are many of Lin’s reaction shots).
There is one quite lovely scene that showcases the excellent acting ability of Lin and Jet Li both. This occurs when their characters are sitting on a hillside at night together. This follows a slightly comic moment when Ling, not knowing he is addressing the notorious Invincible Asia but only caring that he can get his hands on the lovely lady in front of him, announces “Shit! Maybe Asia the Invincible has discovered me…” and sweeps Asia off to lurk on the hillside, supposedly out of harm’s way. They drink some wine and Asia plays a flute. Ling recites some poetry. Moved, Asia takes his hand. The sombre and poetic atmosphere of this little scene is in contrast to the more urgent energies of the rest of the film. Li and Lin impress with their ability to shift gears and modulate their performance so seamlessly to produce this sensitive moment without dropping character. In this scene Ling reveals to the audience a sadness and disaffection with the world that has motivated his intention of retreating to a life of seclusion and perhaps explains his cavalier behaviour in regards to romance. Asia reveals to us, and probably to him/herself, Asia’s burgeoning need for love and intimacy.
The casting of Brigitte Lin opposite Jet Li is interesting and effective. In all of his films, as a performer, Li’s persona is straightforwardly heterosexual, but in a low key and unobtrusive way. His screen persona seems to be refreshingly free of he-man type posturing. He isn’t the most blokey of blokes. By this I am not implying that he is gay or effete. Li is not macho but indisputably masculine. Brigitte Lin is all woman – beautiful, glamorous and elegant. But she has a strength about her that could never be called girly. If Li isn’t blokey, then Lin isn’t a chickybabe. In Jane Austen’s time she would have been called handsome rather than a beauty. Lin is neither butch nor girly but indisputably feminine. In this film, the cheek and boyishness of Li’s character, Ling, nicely contrasts to and plays off the gravitas and potential menace that informs Lin’s performance of Asia. A superficial interpretation of Chinese Taoist philosophy would inform us that male is yang, and female is yin. In this movie, with the pairing of Li and Lin and their characters’ dubious sexual behaviours, that reading would seem to be nicely and entertainingly subverted: male actor Li plays yin to female actress Lin’s yang. To good effect.
(The next blog I will post will be about Invincible Asia and the tradition of Cross Dressing in kung fu movies.)