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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Post #2: The First Uber Bad Ass Kickass Screen Heroine

John Scalzi wrote an interesting article on the heroine of Aliens, Ellen Ripley, and how her character paved the way for later tough heroines. Read it HERE. He traced how the toughness of the heroine morphed into the heroines we know later: Terminator's Sarah Connor and even perhaps, X-File's Scully.

I totally agree but want to point to another icon that broke through the stereotype of women in action movies. It was Chien Pei Pei's groundbreaking role as wu xia's (okay, we call it kung fu here) first super heroine. I know it's an entirely different genre, but growing up in Malaysia, kung fu was like science fiction/fantasy to me, what with the odd language (mandarin not being my first) and revision of historical facts, as well as all the clan names and their different fight techniques.

Chien Pei Pei kicked ass. I can't stress enough how important she was in breaking through the usual mediocre roles of the damsel-standing-there-in-distress in these movies. I can remember how I suddenly "got" why my little brother loved those stupid ai-yah! movies, as I called them, when I watched the now classic Come Drink With Me, in which a governor sent HIS DAUGHTER off to save her kidnapped brother from some gangsters. I remember thinking, "Wow! He sent his daughter! Not some kungfu mercenary, not some big guards--his daughter!" And she just strolled in and faced bunches of these bad dudes and slayed them all.

In those days, the wu xia movies weren't sped up or full of tricks (oh, like flying for endless seconds and 500 somersaults) so watching Chien Pei Pei with swords was more like watching Chinese opera (very slow, very deliberate, with lots of Chinese clacky dramatic music), but it was still one lone female against the baddest thugs.

One of my favorite scenes in some of her movies is her disguised-as-male stranger moment. She usually sauntered into town in a big hat that had this long veil and the thugs would think the stranger was a male. And she would have these smart-ass lines that rivaled Clint Eastwood's before she destroyed the enemies. You guys don't even know how many hats I messed up trying to stitch on the long wispy veils that she made famous ;-).

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the wu xia movie that finally received attention from the west, paid homage to Cheng Pei Pei by casting her as the bad woman at the end of the movie. I was so delighted at seeing her that I forgave how unforgiveably bad the ending of the movie was. Or how horribly Chow Yun Fatt spoke mandarin. LOL.

Chien Pei Pei's standard lone heroine, like Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Riley, paved the way for the many kickass movie heroines we see on the screen today: in the eastern front we see shades of her characters in Michelle Yeoh's long career in HK cinema before her role as one of the Bond girls and, in the west, in Jennifer Garner's Elektra, Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft, and on the small screen, Sarah Michelle Gellar's Buffy.

Happily (how I love modern tech), there are tons of scenes from Come Drink With Me on Youtube, and I can rewatch some of these at leisure. I did find one short scene of Chien Pei Pei when she was much, much older. Man, the lady can still move at her age. And yeah, still kicked a man's butt all by herself, ha!

Now, if I can find a scene of her in that hat, blowing guys away with her short swords, my day's made ;-).

As you can tell, the seeds of writing lone kickass heroines were planted in me a long, long time ago, way before Miss Alien Wombinator.

Do you have any favorite action heroines from the movies or small screen?

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kim said...

minute 9 or so, i think thats what you mean

if you search for cheng pei pei in it has several more. that link appears to be the entire movie. it is kind of a neat hat.

kim said...

shoot wrong link, meant this one

Gennita said...

LOL, Kim, trust you guys to go looking for it for me. I went to the second link to look. No, that's not The Hat, LOL, at the 9:00 mark. But wow, that's another old one, with the really bad scenery, heh heh. Reminds me of Star Trek.

Gennita said...


I'm loving this link you sent me, though. This has one of my favorite bad guys of all time, Lo Lieh, and man, does he look young here! And Cheng Pei Pei gets to play two roles--mom and daughter! The split screen use is pretty good for 1969 ;-). I'm fast forwarding to go look at the dragons. They were always fun to laugh at; like I said, like star trek aliens.

kim said...

lol sorry, a big part of my job is to hunt stuff down online and I really enjoy finding stuff when others can't. too bad I couldn't help this time but glad you got a laugh :)

kim said...

hmmm one last effort...i cant give up the fight....

this has a veiled hat, but she looks like a girl still:

ok... now im really going to sleep!

Monique said...

Great clip!!

Gennita said...

BINGO! That's a variation of The Hat. LOL. I remember this movie well because it has the other star I loved, Shih Tzu. She followed Cheng's footsteps into kickass sisterhood ;-).

Thank you, sweets, for these links. You've succeeded in wasting my whole evening away between Olympics and watching (and cracking up over) Dragon Swamp. Tomorrow I'll go get a wide brimmed hat and fix a veil on it for the rain and wind....

Gennita said...

Kim, can I add that the link you sent me was ONE HILARIOUS SYNOPSIS? OMG. That whole plot outline was simply the best. Thanks again for the laugh.

Dee said...

I love all the links. I don't know what I'm hearing but they're still fun to watch.

kim said...

:-D haha i hadnt even read it til you mentioned it, my fav line: terrorized by "monks" running a supernatural protection racket

Sarah said...

Cool post!


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