Friday, January 5, 2007

10 "kick ass women" movies

The Heroic Trio

Peking Opera Blues --
another Hong Kong movie with an all-female heroic trio

There's a major storm a-brewing around these here parts. Consequently, I figured it might be best for me to get a head-start with writing today's blog entry. At the same time, I also reckoned that it'd be easy enough to get an early start today because this entry's topic -- one which I'm writing about at the request of one nice reader who has made a project out of assembling her own list(s) of "kick ass women" movies -- is one that I've already spent lots of time thinking about as well as is close to my feminist heart.

When assembling a preliminary list of candidates to write about though, I came to realize that I had a bit of problem. Yep, the Asian filmophiles amongst you guessed it: Not so much a dearth of able candidates but just the opposite!

Therefore, before going any further, here's pointing out that this list of top ten "kick ass women" movies will be limited only to offerings from Hong Kong; thereby eliminating any detailed mention of otherwise worthy works like South Korea's My Wife is a Gangster (2001) and Saving My Hubby (2002) along with the Pan-Chinese Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).

In addition, this time around (for, if people prove receptive, there will be others!), I've restricted myself to discussing those movies which are available on DVD; and thus not any of those smaller-budget Girls with Guns movies that are filled to the brim with gutsy gals and possess titles like Widow Warriors (1990) as well as Angel (1987).

Furthermore, to ensure some diversity, I've -- and allow me to shriek our a frustrated plus heartfelt *yeeaaaargh* here before proceeding further-- actually done what I can to make sure that the list is not entirely composed of movies which star Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia and/or Michelle Yeoh! (So, rest assured that even though you don't see titles like The Bride with White Hair (1993) or Police Story III: Supercop (1992) on the list, it's not as though I'm not aware of their existence!)

With all the above caveats out of the way, here's what made the list:-

1) Peking Opera Blues (1986) -- An adrenaline-pumping rollercoaster-ride of a movie with scenes that make you hold your breath, pause to think, giggle, laugh, smile, cry plus cheer along with its heroic characters -- the three most major of whom all happen to be, in their own way, truly kick-ass females.

2) The Heroic Trio (1993) -- A super colorful super-heroine film with larger-than-life characters; the main three of whom are played by a trio of star actresses -- one of them sadly deceased -- with larger-than-life personalities of their own.

3) Swordsman II (1992) -- This sublime movie's main male star, Jet Li, is reputed to not love the film whereas its main female star, Brigitte Lin, has named it as one of her favorites of the slightly over hundred movies in which she has appeared. Small wonder, since not only does Jet Li have to share a considerable amount of screen-time with the movie's many fighting females but Brigitte Lin, as the memorably monikered Asia the Invincible, seemingly couldn't help but steal the show from him!

4) Wing Chun (1994) -- Michelle Yeoh's best role, even if not her best film; one that showcases her incredible grace and flexibility plus all-round action prowess. And yes, we know that it's wire-enhanced and all but that flying tofu scene still is a whole lot of fun to watch! ;)

5) Dragon Inn (1992) -- Brigitte Lin had a smaller role in this ambitious effort than had been originally planned due to an accident while filming. (Part of an arrow hit one of her eyes! :o) Nonetheless, she and Maggie Cheung Man Yuk do more than enough in what scenes they have in it to make the movie a winner (as well as put the leading man, Tony Leung Kar Fai, along with the villainous character played by Donnie Yen, into the shade).

6) Naked Killer (1992) -- With its sexy females and lesbian villainesses, this Wong Jing produced work is the closest to an exploitation film of any that's on this list. So those with a sensitive disposition might want to steer clear of it. However, those who can accept -- and even like -- their "kick ass women" bad as well as good really can't afford to give this visually luscious offering a miss!

7) Lady General Hua Mu-lan (1963) -- For those who were sufficiently wow-ed by Walt Disney's Mulan, go get thee a DVD of this delightful Shaw Brothers huangmei opera-style production which simultaneously gave the title character a significantly more feminist and filial attitude than the Hollywood cartoon double quick!

8) The 14 Amazons (1972) -- A star-studded blockbuster from the Shaw Brothers which brings to the screen the legendary tale of the Yang family of female generals. On a filmic note: Not only are there three generations of women warriors on display in this work but the one grandson of the family's formidable matriach is portrayed by actress Lily Ho!

9) Fong Sai Yuk (1993) -- Being called a "mama's boy" may be considered insulting in the West. However, as this martial arts extravaganza whose titular protagonist was a real-life martial arts hero who had been taught kung fu by his mother shows, that's not necessarily the case in Chinese-speaking territories! And this especially when the supermom in question is played by the legendary -- and thoroughly feisty! -- Josephine Siao Fong Fong. :)

10) So Close (2002) -- If truth be told, this solitary entry on the list that's a 21st century offering is a work which, for some reason or other, many others -- including my father! -- enjoyed far more than me. However, even I cannot deny that it's got its share of fighting femmes as well as lots of eye-candy for action movie fiends. And that its climactic battle makes for pretty awesome viewing indeed... ;b


Madara said...

I don't know if this works as a link or not, but it's the URL for my list of "Female Action Stars of Hong Kong Cinema." It has three of the same films as your list as well as twelve other, similarly-themed titles that were available on back when I did the list (almost four years ago). PEKING OPERA BLUES is not there because it wasn't available on the site at the time, while SO CLOSE hadn't come out yet and the Shaw films you listed were still sitting in the vaults unrestored. But--guess what?--I just realized that there's an 'edit' feature, so I can ADD whatever's available now. What a great idea! (See also another of my lists, "Fighting Femmes of Kung Fu Cinema.")

YTSL said...

Hi leo86 --

The link to your list of 15 (which has *six*(!) Michelle movies on it plus two Brigittes and a few Cynthia Khans) is not "hot-linked" as is but it works if you copy and paste it into the space where URLs normally go.

Incidentally, I just finished watching another "kick ass women" film from the Shaw Brothers library this evening. THE JADE-FACED ASSASSIN (1970) stars Lily Ho and is quite wonderful. Indeed, just about the only problem I have with it is that pretty much everyone seems to get so easily fooled into thinking that the pretty feminine actress' character is male for much of the movie... ;S

Anonymous said...

WAIT -- GREAT list but one major glaring omission: Come Drink With Me.

Cheng Pei Pei HAS to be on there somewhere.

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous list! I'm very excited to see it. It's nice to see some spread across the decades, too. (Though it does look like the 90s were a pretty good decade for the kick-ass women movie genre.)

I've only seen 3 of those on your list (Wing Chun, Peking Opera Blues and the Heroic Trio.) I hope to see some of the others soon. (I'll keep my fingers crossed that I can track them down.) And I hope you'll feel encouraged to make more lists!

YTSL said...

To "Anonymous" --

If only the 2nd half of COME DRINK WITH ME had Cheng Pei Pei being as "kick ass" as in the 1st half, it might have been on my list. But as is...

And at least she's on my current list, even if it's only courtesy a small cameo as Wing Chung's sifu in WING CHUN. Rather, the women I truly feel sorry to have had to leave out are Kara Hui Ying Hung (so many good appearances but either in supporting roles or not so great movies) and Angela Mao Ying (I've only seen her in THE FATE OF LEE KHAN and BROKEN OATH thus far but what I've seen has me straining at the leash to check out the likes of LADY WHIRLWIND and HAPKIDO)! ;S

To Alejna --

The 1990s (especially the first half) probably is my favorite Hong Kong cinema period thus far -- not only were great "kick ass women" movies made but also a whole lot of very good movies in all kinds of genres. But "Girls with Guns" afficianados probably would go with the 1980s as the best decade for "kick ass women" movies.

Also, in my continuing exploration of older Hong Kong movies, I've found that earlier decades have their gems too (cf. my earlier comments about THE JADE-FACED ASSASSIN (1970) -- with its main star being female and a few more fighting femmes in the mix (although more often than not, on the side of evil!) besides!

Anyways, thanks you two for your comments -- and approval of my list. :)

just me said...

No Moon Lee and Kara Hui Ying Hung films??? :) But a lot of those films aren't very good, so I can't really fault you list. I was a big Moon Lee fan when I was younger and would sit through tons of rather silly films just to see her kick butt. :)

I also liked Jade Leung a lot in Black Cat and Enemy Shadow but must say those weren't great films too.

And I think I liked So Close a lot more than you did. :)


YTSL said...

Hi "just me" --

If I wrote a list of 20 or 25 rather than 10 "kick ass women" movies... ;)

Re Kara Hui Ying Hung: Looking at her career, she just doesn't seem to have gotten the respect from filmmakers that she deserves (even while getting steady work for a few decades now)! :(

And re Moon Lee: Aaah, Moon...whose infamous FATAL TERMINATION I've yet to be able to get my hands on (but whose non-action MIDNIGHT WHISPERS I finally managed to get a DVD of on my most recent trip to Hong Kong)!! :b

As for Jade Leung: Must admit that I don't much care for BLACK CAT. Rather, the Jade Leung movie that I like best is the apparently little known FOX HUNTER:-

And re SO CLOSE: I actually prefer the grittier as well as more exploitative NAKED WEAPON that came out around the same time. But for variety's sake, put in the former since the latter has bits that obviously have been copied from NAKED KILLER... ;b

just me said...

re: Jade Leung

How could I forget Fox Hunter? That was indeed one of her better films. I liked her and Moon Lee the most of the Babes with Guns actresses. I've even seen Black Cat 2, Flying Dragon Leaping Tiger, The Peeping Tom (Cat III), Green Hat and Satin Steel for Jade.

Black Cat 2 and Flying Dragon Leaping Tiger weren't very good, The Peeping Tom was horrible, I can't even remember Green Hat and Satin Steel wasn't good too except for this one helicopter stunt with Jade hanging on for dear life as they dragged her through a river . Now that was amazing.

Have you seen Phantom of Snake? It stars Cecilia Yip and Jade Leung and it's actually pretty good. It's one of her few non-action films.


YTSL said...

Hi again "just me" --

Tee hee hee re your Jade Leung gush(es)! Have seen a view of her movies that you mentioned (notably FLYING DRAGON, LEAPING TIGER -- most notable for my father refusing to believe that Cheng Pei Pei's character could be married to Sammo Hung's rotund one -- and SATIN STEEL) but have yet to check out PHANTOM OF SNAKE.

Re that last work: I know it has its fans but I've been a bit afraid to check it out. Frankly, it sounds like it could be a little bit too weird for my blood! ;)

just me said...

Hahahaha... I'm not really a big Jade Leung fan... really. :D

But seriously Jade, Kara and Ada Choi are only some of the actresses I feel should have gotten better films or better roles. Ah well, at least Ada's done pretty well in TV. :)

You've got to let me know how that non-action Moon Lee film is. I've never seen that one. And you really should try Phantom of Snake some day. It is wierd but good wierd. :) BTW, can anything really be too wierd for your blood??? :)

It's been a while but I remember Phantom of Snake was kinda hypnotic and dreamlike and not much seemed to happen. Strangely, even thought I can't really put a finger on why it worked for me but by the end of the film, I was like "huh, that wasn't bad". It is one of those films that you can't really imagine being made in too many other countries. But of course it has been established that I'm a Jade fan and I really like Cecilia Yip too so... I might be bias. :)

Now I'm off to go try and dig up some of my Moon Lee films. :)

P.S. Arsenal vs Liverpool tonight ..... GO ARSENAL!!!!

YTSL said...

Hi "just me" --

" Hahahaha... I'm not really a big Jade Leung fan... really. :D"

Um...I think it's only relative to your Ada adoration. ;)

"But seriously Jade, Kara and Ada Choi are only some of the actresses I feel should have gotten better films or better roles."

Let me take this opportunity to throw in Carrie Ng's name. (And for those who don't know: Carrie Ng is the woman who plays Princess in NAKED KILLER...).

"You've got to let me know how that non-action Moon Lee film is. I've never seen that one."

Will do.

"...can anything really be too wierd for your blood???"

Sad but true: I think so! Some Brigitte movie examples: Demented helmer Chu Yen-Ping's threesome of FANTASY MISSION FORCE (the one where, among other things, Brigitte takes a bazooka to her own house early on in the movie!), AMAZON COMMANDO and PINK FORCE COMMANDO (Brigitte chops off one of her arms and later attaches a machine gun prosthetic to it!!!)... ;(

"P.S. Arsenal vs Liverpool tonight ..... GO ARSENAL!!!!"

Arsenal 3, reigning F.A. Cup holders 1 -- You watched the match early this morning too? :)))))))))

just me said...

"Arsenal 3, reigning F.A. Cup holders 1 -- You watched the match early this morning too? :)))))))))"

Yup, I stayed up for the match. :) Wasn't the first Rosicky goal and the Henry goal fantastic? I thought Liverpool played badly though and although they tried hard in the second half, they never really convinced me that they could actually manage a draw, let alone a win, and in the end they didn't.

Cool... Arsenal win. :)

Everton play Blackburn Rovers in their FA Cup 3rd Round match tonight. Here's hoping they win too. :)


just me said...

Sorry to stay OT but... Good god, just checked the news, Everton is down by 3 at halftime. I can't deal with this. :( I'm going to bed. :(

YTSL said...

Hi "just me" --

My commiserations re Everton's heavy defeat. Getting back on topic: Perhaps you could get over your blues by (re-)watching one of your favorite "kick ass women" movies? (Some may find this sad but it doesn't make it no less true: I.e., one of the ways that I often successfully chase my blues away is to treat myself to a re-watch of "Peking Opera Blues"...)

just me said...

"Perhaps you could get over your blues by (re-)watching one of your favorite "kick ass women" movies?"

Hey that's a good idea. I still haven't forgiven Everton for the dismal performance against Blackburn Rovers. Grrrr... :(

Well, I might just pull out So Close and maybe Peking Opera Blues. :) I don't have any of Kara's old movies and I don't have many of Jade's or Moon's with me currently.


Anonymous said...

Bury me high! Not Moon´s best but a good one and one of the FAR TOO FEW Moonmovies to be released on dvd. Wish somebody would release Fatal Termination (haven´t seen it) Nocturnal Demon (rocks hard! Ms Lee is cute and dangerous)- and many more.

YTSL said...

Hi Mikael --

Wah, more love there for Moon Lee! ;b

Anonymous said...

I do Love Moon.
Even bought the Tai Seng "Iron Fist " dvd. But it seems to be quite butchered. I rented that series on unsubbed vhs some years ago, and if memory sereves me right there was alot more of Moon Lee in it. And a lot more of everything. To be honest my memory does not always serve me that well though.

YTSL said...

Hi again Mikael --

A general observation arising from your comments: It really is sad that the "Girls with Guns" movies aren't accorded greater respect by home video distributors, etc. I know that many of them were low budget works but their often incredibly game and plucky female stars really do deserve better.

Anonymous said...

Much as I love Heroic Trio (believe me I do!) one cool thing with Moon Lee, Yeung lai Ching and other fatal femmes is the fact that they were not seminaked or running around in bikinis; they might be cute but they were kickass serious. No time for posing when they were lots of butt to kick. Policewomen or agents working side by side with male counterparts, as professionals. I like that.

YTSL said...

Mikael --

"Much as I love Heroic Trio (believe me I do!) one cool thing with Moon Lee, Yeung lai Ching and other fatal femmes is the fact that they were not seminaked or running around in bikinis..."

Omigod. A man after my own heart!!! And yeah, for the purposes of the "10 "kick ass women" movies" post, THE HEROIC TRIO won out for me because it has three heroic females rather than one but, for the reason you outlined above, the heroine in movies like ROYAL WARRIORS and WING CHUN actually rate higher in my estimation.

(Also, while we're at it, let's also throw in the observation that in the kind of movies you and I seem to like, the women tend to be not saddled with high heels but, rather, are practically plus comfortably shod as well as generally attired! :b)

Anonymous said...

I tried to remember the dvds I have and/or know of (subbed not dubbed) with Moon Lee as an action lead, but only came up with Bury me High, Inspectors wear skirts IV and Avenging Quartet ( a word of warning on the last one - as I recall my old vcd is better than the dvd from last year). Are there any others?

YTSL said...

Hi again Mikael --

Sorry, can't help you there. Pretty much every Moon Lee starrer which I've seen I've viewed on VHS tape. :(

Anonymous said...

hey, I finally watched The 14 Amazons (I've still got about 40 Shaws still wrapped and I'm off work for a few days so I'm going through some of them).

And I can say that the 14 Amazons is one of the most fun films I've ever seen. It was a bit confusing keeping track of all the "amazons" but all in all a great, thrilling, old-fashioned fun movie.

Why was Lily Ho playing a boy? They ran out of female parts and had to have her in it?

And I wonder why Cheng Pei Pei was not in it? Had she left Shaw studios by 1972?

Li Ching didn't have a big enough role but still a thrill of a film.

And the director is the father of Ching Siu Ting who directed Heroic Trio! How cool is that?

YTSL said...

Hi Glenn --

Thanks for letting me know that you finally viewed THE 14 AMAZONS and enjoyed doing so! :)

"It was a bit confusing keeping track of all the "amazons""

I know what you mean. In fact, after the film ended, I immediately went back to that scene near the beginning when they get introduced to figure out who was whom and which actresses played (some of) them! :)

"Why was Lily Ho playing a boy? They ran out of female parts and had to have her in it?"

There seems to have been a tradition of sorts for a time for females to play young gentlemen (cf. the huangmei operas like DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER). But, Lily Ho never ever appeared convincing as a boy, did she?! ;D

"And I wonder why Cheng Pei Pei was not in it? Had she left Shaw studios by 1972?"

Just checked the HKMDB and it might well have been so for she doesn't appear to have been in a 1972 movie and thereafter, she didn't appear in a Shaw Brothers production until the 1988 Golden Harvest-Shaw Brothers co-production that was PAINTED FACES.

"And the director is the father of Ching Siu Ting who directed Heroic Trio! How cool is that?"

Very cool indeed to my mind! :b