Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays

Issue 10 – 2022 (2)

Deconstructing the Construction: The Female Images in Chinese Detective Films, 2010-2020

Ying-Hsiu Chou (University of Washington)

How to cite this article: Chou, Y-H. (2022) Deconstructing the Construction: The Female Images in Chinese Detective Films, 2010-2020. Tecmerin. Revista de Ensayos Audiovisuales, 10, 2022(2). ISSN: 2659-4269

In 2009, the Hollywood film Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie) became a phenomenal success globally. Together with the television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS: 2000 – 2015) and Sherlock (BBC: 2010 – 2017) as well as other media works, its influence created a wave of detective films across the Sinosphere, or the Chinese cultural sphere. The western detective genre which associates men with reason has been translated to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other Sinophone areas in part through fusion with other popular genres, such as horror, comedy, romance, and martial arts films. Arising from contemporary socioeconomic upheavals, resulting from globalization and the rise of China as well as their implications for the Sinophone world, Chinese detective films have created a novel image of masculine reason in popular media culture. It says, Chinese men are as mentally powerful as westerners and can do scientific reasoning just as well. This ideal of rational masculinity has become a unitary theme of a new Chinese cultural identity combating against Western cultural hegemony. However, to justify such a hyper-masculine Chinese subject, gender as a naturalized discourse has been reinforced within these films.

“Deconstructing the Construction: The Female Images in Chinese Detective Films, 2010-2020” is a videographic essay that explores the image of women in the most popular, influential Chinese detective films in the past decade. This project centers critical feminist praxis to make an ethnographic inquiry into Chinese cinema through videographic criticism. It not only closely analyzes cinematic works across China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other Sinophone areas but also looks into their production and reception among Sinophone communities. This cross-disciplinary work consists of four parts. In the Introduction, fragments of different Chinese detective films are presented and reassembled into clips for a short detective film, revealing how the detective story formula is ultimately male. Chapter One: (Stereo)Types is a supercut of invisible and/or irrational women featured in these films, showing the consistent stereotypes of female personae. By juxtaposing the film clips with behind-the-scenes footage, this chapter also draws attention to the power dynamics between directors and actresses. Chapter Two: Some Attempts collages film clips which show attempts made to empower female personae, interviews with actresses/female stars, and fan-made real-time comments (bullet screens), inviting audiences to co-interpret the contradictions and negotiations among various perspectives. The Coda looks at female stars/actresses “offstage” and listens to these female agents’ voices, opening up the possibilities of diverse multidimensional representations of contemporary women. By creating non-linear narration, ramified viewpoints, and associative thoughts, my work hopes to jar people into thinking about the female images in the Chinese detective film in a new, more complex way.


This videographic essay originated from the 2018 Feminist Ethnographic Studio guided by Sasha Su-Ling Welland and was developed with generous support from the Simpson Center for the Humanities and the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities. It has won the Second Prize of the Adelio Ferrero Award in Video Essays at the 2022 Adelio Ferrero Film and Criticism Festival, held in Alessandria, Italy.


  • Berry, Chris, and Mary Farquhar. (2006). China on Screen: Cinema and Nation. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Bhabha, Homi K. (1983). “The Other Question . . . Homi K Bhabha Reconsiders the Stereotype and Colonial Discourse.” Screen 24(6): 18-36.
  • Ginsburg, Faye D., Lila Abu-Lughod, and Brian Larkin, eds. (2002). Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Keathley, Christian, Jason Mittell, and Catherine Grant. (2019). The Videographic Essay: Practice and Pedagogy. http://videographicessay.org.
  • Leavy, Patricia. (2020). Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice. 3rd ed. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Rojas, Carlos, and Eileen Chow, eds. (2013). The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


  • Tsui, Hark. (2010). Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.
  • Chan, Peter. (2011). Dragon.
  • Law, Chi-leung. (2012). The Bullet Vanishes.
  • Tsui, Hark. (2013). Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon.  
  • To, Johnnie. (2013). Blind Detective.
  • Diao, Yinan. (2014). Black Coal, Thin Ice
  • Chen, Sicheng. (2015). Detective Chinatown
  • Yung, Philip. (2015). Port of Call
  • Chen, Kaige. (2017). Legend of the Demon Cat.
  • Su, Alec. (2017). The Devotion of Suspect X.
  • Cheng, Wei-Hao. (2017). Who Killed Cock Robin.
  • Chen, Sicheng. (2018). Detective Chinatown 2.
  • Tsui, Hark. (2018). Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings.  
  • Bi, Gan. (2018). Long Day’s Journey into Night
  • Quah, Sam. (2019). Sheep Without a Shepherd

Other videoessays in this issue

Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays
ISSN: 2659-4269
© Tecmerin Research Group
Universidad Carlos III de Madrid