The spread of Japanese AVs to Hong Kong and Yuki Maiko
Unlike the case of Taiwan, the social reality that is relevant to the consumption of Japanese AVs in Hong Kong is not related purely to the local sexual order, but depends on a cultural logic that underpins the emergence of Hong Kong identity in the 1980s. Elsewhere (Yau and Wong 2009) we have demonstrated that the Colonial Government of Hong Kong on the one hand transformed the Territory into a free market port by turning to export-oriented industrialisation, and on the other hand implemented a series of social policies aiming to improve the poor living standards of Hong Kong people in the 1970s. All of these social policies paved the way for the emerging middle class in Hong Kong to develop a distinctive identity. Growing up amidst the endless confrontation between the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the new middle class developed a worldview that combined their parents’ Chinese/traditional/old value system with their Western/modern/new one, which came to constitute the cultural logic of the identity of the new middle class, that is, ‘in-betweenness’. We argue that the popularity of Japanese AVs in general and one Japanese AV actress, Yuki Maiko, in particular in Hong Kong in the 1990s should be understood in terms of the ‘in-betweenness’ of the new middle-class identity.
Locally produced Hong Kong soft-pornographic movies in the 1960s and 1970s were commonly referred to as fengyue pin’ or ‘haampin’ (literally, salty movie) (Yeh 1997; Yang 2003). Since the portrayal of genitals was strictly prohibited, pornography actresses at that time were required to act coquettishly, flirtatiously, and aggressively, in order to make up for the fact that genital shots, not to mention depictions of sexual intercourse, were absent. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, most of these haam pin were exhibited in adult theatres or theatres located in some old areas, mainly on the Kowloon peninsula. While they attracted heterosexual, bisexual and perhaps some homosexual male patrons, pornographic movies remained a non-mainstream form of entertainment in Hong Kong.
Pornographic films began to enter the mainstream when Category III films sprang up in the late 1980s. Category III films were products of the Hong Kong government’s introduction of a film rating system in 1988 which classified films into three levels namely Level I, Level II and Level III. Seven years later, the ratings were amended, with Level II further being divided into IIA and IIB. The first three levels are advisory ratings, and thus carry no legal effect. Only Level III forbids minors under the age of 18 from watching the film. As a result of this change, more and more Category III films began to be screened at regular theatres. Since then, ‘Category III film’ has become an umbrella term for pornographic and generally outre films in Hong Kong. While considered graphic according to the mores of local society, these films are at best on par with movies rated ‘R’ or ‘NC17’ in the United States but are not comparable to those marked ‘XXX’.
Yip Yuk-hing was one of the earliest actresses to achieve fame starring in Category III films. Yip was the second runner-up for the 1985 Miss Asia Pageant, whose contestants are usually seen as dignified, educated, and elegant in the eyes of many Hong Kong people. Yip challenged this mainstream perception by starring in adult films. Her debut in the Category III film Take Me (1991) caused a huge sensation in Hong Kong. In the same year she starred in two more Category III films. All three films were huge commercial successes, not only establishing Yip as the Category III film queen in Hong Kong but also giving rise to the trend of mainstream actresses starring in adult films (Wang 1995: 225).
This trend underwent a subtle but vital transformation when Yung Hung debuted in Category III films. As the winner of the 1989 Miss Asia Pageant, her debut in the Category III film Can’t Stop My Crazy Love for You (1993) was a commercial success. However, she earned fame for her special temperament and ‘innocent’ outlook after starring in Chinese Torture Chamber Story (1994), in which she portrayed a ‘fragile, gentle, and pitiful’ woman (Yeh 1997:211). This new female image was even more obvious in the case of Lee Lai-chun. Lee first earned fame by debuting as a young innocent girl or yuk neui (literally jade girl) in Happy Ghost (1984). In 1993, she made a bold decision to take her clothes off and star in the Category III film Spirit of Love (1993), which opened the way for the ‘mei siu neui’ (equivalent to bishojo, meaning ‘beautiful young woman’) trend in Category III films (Yeh 1997: 213). The fact that she had been famed for her girl-next-door image and genteel outlook made this film a phenomenal success, attracting extensive media coverage not only in Hong Kong but also in Taiwan, mainland China, and Japan (Yeh 1997: 213).
Pirated Japanese pornographic VCDs (a precursor to DVDs) became widely available in Hong Kong from around the mid-1990s. At first, pirate retailers tended to sell Japanese pornographic VCDs via street stalls (Wong 1999:1). Gradually, retailers moved their businesses into small shopping centres, which had recently developed into major retail outlets for Japanese popular cultural items such as comics, TV game software, fashion magazines, and so on. This development occurred during a general boom for all kinds of Japanese popular cultural products, which took off in the 1990s. Almost all of these small shopping malls were originally located in the major retail areas of the Kowloon peninsula, which were usually flooded with young shoppers, especially during weekends. The sale of Japanese pirated pornographic VCDs quickly spread to the rest of Hong Kong and mushroomed in roadside stalls and inside the shopping centres in Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and the New Territories in the late 1990s. According to a local magazine, there were 110 retail shops exclusively selling Japanese pornographic VCDs in four major shopping malls on the Kowloon peninsula alone in 1999 (Lee 1999: 16).
Elsewhere (Yau and Wong 2009) we have explored the popularity of Yuki Maiko, a typical bishojo actress, among Hong Kong viewers through analysing her nine pirated pornographic VCDs. We showed that in these pornographic movies she is almost always portrayed as innocent, sweet, childish, virginal, shy, cute, fragile, pitiful and simultaneously sexual. From the interviews with 17 men in Hong Kong in the early 2000s, we found out that most of our male informants were fans of Yuki Maiko and that their identification with her was precisely due to her innocent, sweet and fragile image. We have to add immediately that Yuki Maiko’s popularity is not confined to our 17 male informants, as demonstrated by the Yuki Maiko campaign launched by a local pornographic magazine known as Nightlife. On 12 April 1997, eight thousand Hong Kong Chinese men packed into Mongkok in order to catch a sight of their latest ‘neui san’ (the goddess), Yuki Maiko, who was about to sign autographs in a nearby shopping mall (Law 1997:42). The commotion caused by her public appearance in Mongkok even caught the attention of the Hong Kong Police which sent a team of officers to the site to maintain order (Law 1997:42).
Interestingly, we found that the image embodied by Yuki Maiko is very similar to that of the emerging sex ideal since the mid-1990s mentioned above. Recall that local pornography had been dominated by a female image which we would term as ‘sexual-cum-aggressive’. However, the debut of Yip Yuk-hing alongside other former Miss Asia Pageant contestants as Category III porn actresses in the early 1990s challenged this mainstream image by providing another possibility, that porn actresses could be educated and not necessarily vulgar. The ‘innocent’ images ofYung Hong and Lee Lai-chun served to further consolidate this new female ideal. All of this arguably gave rise to a new female sex ideal which we would term as ‘sexual-cum-innocent’. We argue that the image embodied by Yuki Maiko is an extension of this new sexual ideal.
Our research has shown that the sexual-cum-innocent image embodied by Yuki Maiko is favoured by a particular cohort of men, who are younger, better educated, and work in the service sector rather than the manufacturing sector, which can be verified by our 17 informants. In other words, their taste for this new sexual ideal is class-based and thus historically specific. We argue that their identification with the sexual-cum-innocent female image is closely related to the changing class structure and cultural trend with regard to female models. Growing up in the endless confrontations between Chinese and Western, traditional and modern, and old and new, the new middle class have longed for something in between. Japanese culture, which is neither Western nor Chinese, neither traditional nor modern, and neither new nor old, has become a symbol of their new identity. The immersion in Japanese pop culture of which the shojo (young girl) female model is an indispensable part equipped many young middle class men with the necessary literacy to appreciate and identify with this cute, gentle, and fragile femininity. All of this arguably contributes to the immense success of Yip Yuk-hing and Lee Lai-chun, among others, during the early to mid-1990s. As Yuki Maiko, who is sexually shy and cute but whose movies are immensely sexual, came to Hong Kong during the late 1990s, she immediately became a household name among men in Hong Kong. Just as the new middle class identified with a sense of ‘in-betweenness’ embodied in Japanese culture, they likewise opted for a sense of in-betweenness in their sexual taste, that is, the sexual-cum-innocent style of woman best exemplified by Yuki Maiko.
This chapter started with a brief history of adult videos in Japan and described some of the major characteristics of their production, circulation and consumption in their home country. We then followed Japanese AVs overseas, arriving in Taiwan as the first stop and Hong Kong as the second and final destination. Reflecting on what we have discussed, we can discern one common theme across the whole journey: the historical agency of the local consumers. Recall how Taiwanese men selected their favourite pornography according to the locally constituted sex roles of men and women, and how Taiwanese women found little interest in watching pornography but when asked to choose between Japanese AVs and American pornography, they tended to prefer the latter because doing so helped them resist male domination in sex. That is to say, the consumption of Japanese AVs is mediated by the local sex roles of men and women in Taiwan. The agency of Taiwanese consumers therefore lies in the particularity of the local sexual culture. In short, the Taiwanese people we have interviewed cannot be considered as passive receivers but rather as selective consumers of Japanese AVs.
If Taiwanese informants are selective consumers, Hong Kong informants know how to utilise Japanese AV girls to match the image of the new female sexual ideal in Hong Kong. Recall that the new middle class men preferred the sexual-cum-innocent Yuki Maiko because she appeared as the best example of the new female ideal in the 1990s. This preference has to do with the emerging identity of the new middle class and should be understood in the historical context of the local pornographic movies in which female ideals were formed.
Although both Taiwanese and Hong Kong men tend to prefer Japanese bishojo AVs to American pornography, their reasons, as we have shown, are different. Taiwanese men are interested in Japanese bishojo actresses more than American porn actresses because the former resemble their ideas about women’s ‘real’ sex more than the latter. In contrast, Hong Kong men prefer Japanese bishojo AVs to American pornography because the former match their ‘real’ self-image better than the latter. As a result, Japanese AVs exist as pornographic entertainment in Taiwan but they function more as identity markers than as pornography in Hong Kong. Different local societies clearly give rise to different forms of indigenising the global in pornography as much as in any other product.