File(s) under permanent embargo

Reason: Restricted by author. A copy can be supplied under Section 51(2) of the Australian Copyright Act 1968 by submitting a document delivery request through your library or by emailing

Spectacular bodies, anatomical curio and one-armed wonders on screen: a focus on representations of disability in Asian cinema

posted on 16.02.2017, 05:25 by Lew, Catherine Elizabeth
This thesis is a study of disability representation in Asian cinema. In the majority of mainstream cinematic representations the disabled body is fore grounded as a spectacle, an entity of fascination, and this spectacular body is comprehended in terms of deficit. This thesis will contend alternative modes of understanding the disabled body as powerfully enabled. It will reframe disability representation beyond an understanding of disability as a 'lack' or failing, in order to find more inclusive readings of the disabled body in Asian cinema as a powerfully enabled spectacular body. The thesis will analyse representations of the spectacular disabled body in action films from Asia made during the 1960s and 1970s through to the present day. In Chapter One the spectacular body is reframed in an exploration of the martial arts action film, Crippled Avengers (Cheh, 1978). This chapter centers on the cinematic methods used to construct a spectacularised disabled body- in particular, how the choreography and the reconfiguration of limb loss using prostheses contribute to a foregrounding of a powerful spectacular body. In Chapter Two, the trope of blindness is used in the samurai film Ichi (Sori, 2008) to depict an empowering figure of a blind heroine. This chapter analyses how the notion of sight, visual perception and the ocular create blindness as a spectacle in itself, which leads to greater perceptual insights for the protagonist's sensory experience, particularly through the images of her physical suffering and protracted combat scenes. The final chapter considers the figure of a savant and mental disability in the martial arts action film Chocolate (Pinkaew, 2008). This chapter explores the notion of learning from television via heightened mental acuity; a concept that allows us to observe the body transform into a spectacular martial arts body that is fashioned through repetition and televisual mediation. For each chapter, the notion of spectacle refers to the film techniques used to visually elevate the display of hyper capable bodies. Together, the three chapters explore different dimensions of disability that revise, reconfigure and reconsider disability representation in Asian cinema. The aim of this thesis is to recuperate neglected aspects of disability representation in contrast to Hollywood-centric studies that focus predominantly on the able-bodied hero in action films. Instead, the thesis will argue for a multi-dimensional understanding of disability in Asian cinema by drawing attention to the more extraordinary and spectacular aspects of disability representation as it is played out in contemporary action cinema from Asia.


Principal supervisor

Olivia Khoo

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Media, Film and Journalism

Campus location



Faculty of Arts