Her body belongs to her nation? A feminist reading of recent Chinese and American female spy films

Kimburley Wing Yee CHOI, Hong ZENG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Since the 2000s there has been a rise in female spies depicted in both Hollywood and Chinese cinema. This article employs Kaplan’s familial model and Braidotti’s discussion of body to analyze the problematic relation between women and nation in three recent female-led sexpionage spy films—Red Sparrow (2018), The Message (2009) and The Silent War (2012). Through situating these movies in the context of growing nationalism and political tension (i.e. “Cold War 2.0”) and post-feminist media texts emphasizing women’s liberated sexuality, we examine how Red Sparrow promotes American nationalism via advocating certain women’s bodily rights, whereas The Message and The Silent War promote Chinese nationalism by prioritizing women as state subjects rather than sexualized individuals. In these two Chinese films, the transcendence of the sexualized Chinese female spy-protagonist into revolutionary leader and symbolic mother figure is only realized through death by sexual and physical abuse. Although Red Sparrow asserts women’s sexual rights and challenges the notion of nation-as-family, the bodily rights it advocates operate within an individualist framework detached from the collective actions for women’s emancipation and empowerment. Red Sparrow also implicitly supports the virtuous heterosexual conjugal relationship, which reinforces heterosexism and a decidedly state-centric hierarchical and political ordering.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2497-2513
Number of pages16
JournalFeminist Media Studies
Issue number6
Early online date19 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank Dr. Nathaniel Ming Curran and Dr. Annie Hau Nung Chan for their editing supports.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Female spy
  • nation
  • women
  • body
  • post-feminism


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