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Ophelia Unbound in Asian Performances Open Access Deposited

Asian directors leverage Shakespeare’s own propensity to undermine dominant ideologies of gender—notably through the Ophelia figure—in their effort to renew Asian performance traditions. How do Shakespeare and modern directors talk to each other across cultural and historical divides? How does Ophelia become “unbound” through supralinguistic structures of spectacle and music? With case studies of three Hamlet films: Haider (India, 2004), The King and the Clown (South Korea, 2005), and Prince of the Himalayas (Tibet, 2006), this article examines how Asian films negotiate with Asian cultural norms, ideas of Ophelia as an iconic victim, and the image of Hamlet as a brooding male intellectual. Outside their country of origin, these films attract audiences who are enthralled by the performance of the exotic, whether it’s Shakespearean or Asian motifs. Within their local market, the name brand of an editorialized Anglophone Shakespeare helps to boost their production value. Filmmakers see the co-presence of Shakespearean and Asian motifs as an asset, as “double kisses.” They use selective elements, such as conventionalized Bollywood dance and Chinese martial arts sequences, as common denominators and bonding agents between different periods and cultures.

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