A couple of weeks back Heather listed her “Top Ten Action Stars” They were all male. Not a huge surprise as when you think about it, it is difficult to come up with a credible female action star. I could only think of two: Cynthia Rothrock, who lets be honest her movies are crap and Michelle Yeoh who prior to Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997 had mainly made Cantonese language movies that aren’t that well known in Europe and America. If I can quote Heather on the subject. “There were only a few women I could even consider. It was kind of sad. I would love for the day when action women become just as big as our action men! Let Tarantino make more movies like Kill Bill, James Cameron loves his leading ladies tough, and if we embrace the world of Joss Whedon that may start to happen though”. With this in mind I think we need to start with Cameron, Tarantino and Whedon:
The Alien movies are all very different but are all good in their own way because they are held together by one central thing, not the aliens but Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). You could take Ripley out of the Alien movies and put her is a different scenario and the character would still be great, but take Ripley out of Alien and it wouldn’t work just look at the rubbish AVP and its even worse sequel for proof. And for those that haven’t seen it with a great script, compelling characters, perfectly choreographed action, and no Smurfs it is probably James Cameron’s best movie.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day aka T2(1991)
Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) was a waitress until a cyborg travelled back in time to try and kill her. This would send most people mad, judging from her predicament at the start of T2 that’s what most people thought had happened to Sarah Connor, how wrong they were. Galvanised by a will to protect her son and the future of mankind in the process Sarah Connor transformed into an action heroine. Taking the part seriously Linda Hamilton is leaner and more toned than in the first movie, or any other movie she has been in for that matter. Forget Arnold Schwarzenegger this is Linda Hamilton’s movie. If you put Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley up against each other in a ring I don’t know who would win but it would go the distance and it wouldn’t be pretty.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) Vol. 2 (2004)
The vast majority and the best part of Kill Bill Volume One concatenates on the Showdown At The House Of Blue Leaves. With The Bride (Uma Thurman) travelling to Okinawa to obtain a sword and onto Tokyo for the House Of Blue Leaves. The Japanese parts of the movie could make an entire action movie in their own right. As we go into the second movie we get more back story and find out a little more about The Brides past as well as some more epic battles. But what elevates Kill Bill is that we aren’t just dealing with The Bride, we also get O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and most notably Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama). There are also several female members of the Crazy 88. With Kill Bill: Vol. 3 announced for 2014 there could me more to come, more flashbacks to her time with the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad would be good.
Anyone who has seen the TV show Firefly will know that Zoë (Gina Torres) is a seriously tough character, while Nathan Fillion’s Mal has been described as a space cowboy Zoë is every inch an intergalactic Amazon but the real action heroine of this movie is River Tam (Summer Glau). With two great fight scenes where she takes on multiple adversaries and kicks their asses.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Having seen and been a big fan of Ang Lee’s previous movies I really didn’t see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon coming. An epic martial arts movie that to date is the only martial arts movie to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Although Chow Yun-Fat gets top billing as Master Li Mu Bai the real stars of the movie are Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang. By the time the film was made Michelle Yeoh was probably the biggest female action star in the world, in her late thirties she had already made more than a dozen martial arts movies over a decade and a half and had even diversified by becoming a Bond girl. Ziyi Zhang on the other hand was only twenty and appearing in just her third movie, amazingly it was a her first action movie. The two share some pretty amazing sword fight scenes that helped bring Wushu to a wider western audience.
The Matrix (1999)
In 1999 Carrie-Anne Moss was already thirty-two years old and I had never heard of her. In a youth obsessed industry her chances of becoming a star beyond the age of thirty where slim at best but then came the part of Trinity in The Matrix. With “Bullet Time” crane kick, the scorpion kick, running around the walls and most of all her PVC catsuit nobody was about to forget Carrie-Anne Moss or the character of Trinity. And that’s all in the first few minutes of the movie we still have the rescue of Morpheus with that consists of a gunfight that reinvented action movies. Then came two (rubbish) sequels where Trinity also had some great action scenes most memorably the freeway chase from Reloaded (the only thing worth watching in the movie).
Coffy (1973)/ Foxy Brown (1974)
Okay so I’m cheating by picking two films but Coffy and Foxy Brown (both movie and character) are interchangeable and virtually indistinguishable. The movies are dated, clichéd and not especially well made or well acted but like their star Pam Grier they have a certain charisma and are always watchable. These are movies made at a time when a typical bond girl was the somewhat drippy Solitaire from Live and Let Die. Within the history of cinema it is hard to call these movies classics but they are classic examples of the Blaxploitation sub genre and as such an important part of cinema history. And where would Tarantino be without their influence? Pam Grier and the characters she played
I could have picked any number of Japanese movies from recent years but Azumi stands out for me. At just eighteen years old Japanese TV star Aya Ueto was cast against type as teenage assassin Azumi. Based on the manga series of the same name created by Yu Koyama, Azumi was directed by maverick filmmaker Ryûhei Kitamura. Azumi is an orphan who along with other orphans is trained to be an assassin from an early age. As they reach maturity the group faces a devastating final test before beginning their first mission. The fight scenes especially the sword fights are really well choreographed and the action kinetic. Like Summer Glau in Serenity the greatest appeal of Aya Ueto is that she does not look capable of the action/violence the movie has to offer.
Not a brilliant film but the an enjoyable one none the less mainly because character Selene (Kate Beckinsale) really does kick ass and she looks pretty incredible doing it. It is easy to dismiss a genre piece like this by saying the female character isn’t human therefore the regular rules don’t apply but Selene doesn’t take on weaker humans she goes after werewolves and other vampires. It isn’t just about physical ability, it is a moral question too, she goes against the hierarchy to do the right thing and did I mention incredible she looks whilst doing it!
There isn’t actually much action in Nikita but the action that is there is excellent as is Anne Parillaud in the title role. Forget the crap American remake The Assassin (aka Point of No Return) and go for the French original. Parillaud’s complex and often vulnerable character has become the blueprint for similar characters for twenty years. Through the character of Nikita the film also explores some interesting ideas surrounding morality and redemption but you can forget all that and just enjoy the movie as a visual treat.
How do you define an female action star? Its such varied and subjective thing, anyone who is wondering at the absence of the Tomb Raider movies, I left them off the list on account of them being crap! That brings me onto the inevitable honourable mentions.
Angelina Jolie as Fox in Wanted (2008)
Angelina Jolie as Jane Smith from Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)
Milla Jovovich as Alice in Resident Evil (2002)
Milla Jovovich in Leeloo in The Fifth Element (1997)
Rhona Mitra as Sonja in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)
Rhona Mitra as Eden Sinclair Doomsday (2008)
Franka Potente as Lola in Run Lola Run (1998)
Yumiko Shaku as Yuki in The Princess Blade (2001)
Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in Batman Returns (1992)
Devon Aoki as Miho and Rosario Dawson as Gail from Sin City (2005)
Malin Åkerman as Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II in Watchmen (2009)
Brigitte Nielsen as Red Sonja in Red Sonja (1985)
- Grace Jones as Zula in Conan the Destroyer (1984)
Maggie Cheung as Flying Snow and Ziyi Zhang as Moon in Hero (2002)
Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, Halle Berry as Storm, Rebecca Romijn as Mystique and Kelly Hu as Lady Deathstrike in X Men (2000) and X2 (2003)
And finally Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars (1977) The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983): to quote Heather “Leia was a badass”
Who have I missed?