The period from the 1960s to early 70s sees an unprecedented commingling of genres across cultural boundaries in the realm of popular cinema. Within an international nexus of revisionist westerns from the US and Italy, new-style wuxia pian from Hong Kong, and revivalist jidaigeki from Japan, violent action stands out as lingua franca, a medium of exchange, hybridization, and transposition. This paper pinpoints a specific moment in global film history through the idea of a cinema of revenge. My approach is cued by the predominance of vengeance stories within this cross-cultural genre constellation, but rather than treating revenge as a theme, I unfold its operations as an “impulse towards structure,” drawing from John Kerrigan’s work on revenge tragedy. If the drama of classical antiquity discloses revenge’s structuring role as the essential building block of action and acting, in cinema it continues to evolve as a generative grammar, a template for actions and relations that extend forward and backwards in time. The peculiar temporality of revenge, both repetitive in its reprisals of violence and linear in its implacable causality, points to the logic behind the convolutions of time that mark the films of this period. The proliferating forms and narrative effects to which revenge gives rise attest to its viability as a system of reciprocal actions. The high body counts characterizing the cinema of revenge must be situated in the framework of its distinct economy, not written off as gratuitous spectacle.
"Circuitous Action: Revenge Cinema,"
Criticism: Vol. 57
, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol57/iss1/3