In days such as ours, where everyone seems to have an opinion on every given subject (whether or not they have all the knowledge of any given subject they decide to tackle in conversation) – it is nearly impossibly to be an earnest artist and not offend at least one person. Some thrive off of this sort of notoriety and even feel slighted if they aren’t inflicting some kind of anger in their audience. That sort of attitude is one I’ll never personally understand, being a very live and let live sort of guy. Still, no matter what you do, someone is going to hate you. Wow, that sounds a lot harsher than the way it was intended… regardless, I am thinking in particular about the way Asian cinema is often portrayed within certain parts of the little media that it often receives. There’s a heavy cloud that floats over Asian cinema that is often misinterpreted. The thick bravado and macho cinema of action and exploitation within markets such as a Japan and Hong Kong tend to put out a fairly misogynistic overtone with some viewers – and granted, there’s most certainly a good deal of that in some of these markets. Japan in particular tends to be a bad perp when it comes to portraying women in an inferior manner. For a lot of this, there really is no excusing it. Not by Western values at least. My personal viewpoint on it, and take into consideration that I am far from a feminist (too much negativity in that camp for me to dare read up on their issues or focus on all the talking points), is that I see much of this as being a core part of traditional values passed on for centuries – and breaking the habit can be tough; and who are we to really judge and force them to move in the fashion that much of the world chooses to progress to? Regardless though, my point with this article today is to point out that it’s not all Samurai and Kung Fu flicks with women sitting on the sidelines waiting for their heroes to rescue them. Female heroines are often just as popular amongst mainstream crowds as the macho manly flicks are too. Much like the rest of the cinematic scale too – Asian cinema often seems to be a step ahead of Hollywood in terms of quality too. So, with all of that said, this isn’t a socio-political article. I’m far from intelligent enough to handle that one, so… let’s just say, this one is for all the ladies in the house. Throw your hands in the air.
So anyway, how could one discuss the fine ladies of butt-stomping without starting with the monolith land of butt kicking – China. The home of the most popular martial arts we all know, Kung Fu in all of it’s various forms. In many of the seventies based martial arts films, women sometimes took a backseat when they weren’t being portrayed as the enemy, but there were exceptions. The Wing Chun form of martial arts often proved to be a good device for the women to get in on the action. Wing Chun, being a form of Kung Fu that relies more on fitness than power, also has a legend that follows along with it that is often popularized. That of a young maiden who is coerced into marriage with an evil ruler, but makes the offer that if she can defeat the ruler in combat – that she is free to marry the true man that she loves. So, given time to train, she goes to a Buddhist monk and the two develop the style. When the young woman, named Yim Wing Chung, takes to task the evil ruler – she wins, marries the man she loves and passes the style on to him. In films like Fist of the White Lotus, this style is felt heavy within the film and it is a woman that comes to the rescue of our leading man in teaching him a style that requires little physical force but is still quite effective. Later on the actual myth of Yim Wing Chun would be acted out in it’s most popular form as Wing Chun – starring Michelle Yeoh, who is in my opinion probably the first face that should pop in anyone’s mind when it comes to women who really showed that they could compete with any man in terms of being a compelling action hero. In Supercop AKA: Police Story III, Michelle Yeoh starred alongside Jackie Chan in what I consider to be one of the best action/stunt related Kung Fu films of all time. Stealing the show from Jackie, Michelle is showcased in the end credits receiving just as many injuries as Jackie and causing nearly everyone to groan in pain when they see her fall from a moving vehicle – seemingly moving at twenty miles per hour. It proves to be one of those defining moments in a career that you’d either love to forget, or can’t get enough of. Regardless, Michelle Yeoh took on the world alongside Jackie – and showed just how tough one woman could be.
Moving on with Japan, filmmakers such as Takashi Ishii are constantly making films where the women take lead focus; often as vengeful warriors out to put and end to a society that has held them behind. Got to love a good vendetta! Ishii in particular strikes me as a director most known for his study of females. I don’t know enough about his directorial habits to say one way or another what leads his films in the directions they stray to, but ever since his debut with Evil Dead Trap females with strong roles in his films are a constant part of his cannon. After Gonin, which was lead by an all male cast with quite a bit of brutality on hand, he followed up with a sequel with basically the same premise but with an entirely female cast. A very strong film with five tough ladies trying to find their own way out of an imminent death, much like their male counterparts in the first film. Since then he has made the Black Angel series about a female killer finding her way in the Japanese underground – and Freeze Me, one of his most interesting and popular films following a young woman raped by four men who all come back into her life to victimize her some more. However, she decides the only way to keep them out of her life is to kill them all one by one and freeze their bodies in refrigerators. Yeah, not my first choice either, but it works but the film is about her dealing with these four individuals as they come along and whether or not they will all become freeze dried mafiosos over time. Along with the works of Ishii, there have been tremendous films like the Azumi series, 2LDK and many other female empowered female action films. However, the kingdom of Female power films the world over right now absolutely has to be South Korea. No country on the earth is providing women the star treatment quite like they are right now. From films like Saving My Hubby where a young woman must track down her drunken husband, save the day and look after her child. To films like My Wife is a Gangster where our leading lady just so happens to be the boss of her own mob clan, and going by the dying wishes of her sister must find an applicable man to marry even though she feels far strong enough to live without one. South Korea is just brimming with action, comedies and romantic comedies that are far more than just "chick flicks". Yeah, yeah. My testosterone pumped male friends might not buy into that all too easy, but trust me, after one sitting of My Sassy Girl and Please Teach Me English – most guys will even have to admit the South Korean people know how to make a great romantic comedy. A dying art form here stateside.
So, I’m hoping that maybe some of this comes in handy for someone out there. All you guys who think chicks can’t lay a good beating down, or all the geek girls just looking to pump up their library with something that is going to speak just to them. The East isn’t just a place for gore, blood soaked teenagers or ghost children who crawl out of TV sets. It’s also a place where the ladies can get their action on and not feel held back by the girly girls who are too afraid to break a nail.