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Women of Steel

November 26, 2000

Finally! A cover story on female-led action films--haii yaa ("Women on the Verge of a Breakthrough," by Lorenza Munoz, Nov. 19)!

As the author of the forthcoming book "The Cinema of Tsui Hark," I was particularly pleased to see a mention of Tsui's 1991 masterpiece, "Once Upon a Time in China"; however, you are grievously in error in saying the film's directors were "Yuen Cheung Yan and Tsui Hark, among others." Certainly Yuen was one of a bevy of talented action choreographers on the film, but the sole director of record was Tsui Hark, and indeed the film is usually considered to be one of his finest works, bearing many of his signature stylistic flourishes and themes.

And speaking of Tsui: Even a brief discussion of female-driven action films simply must include his seminal 1986 "Peking Opera Blues," which featured a trio of battling beauties long before "Charlie's Angels" hit the big screen.


North Hollywood


While it is true that Hong Kong studios made the pioneering films in this genre, many of their stars were, and still are, Americans, a case that is as true for female as it is for male action stars. Female action stars have been appearing for over two decades in these films, though none was mentioned in the article.

What was most troubling, however, was that by omitting these individuals, Munoz failed to give credit to true martial artists working in the movies, focusing instead on actresses who are either trained in the dance or who had to take brief, intense sessions so they could start to look competent on screen.

Contrast this, for example, with the reigning head of the female martial arts stars, Cynthia Rothrock. Rothrock is a five-time winner in international competition, a legitimate master of the martial arts. In addition, she has made dozens of films in a lengthy career, using those legitimate skills that she acquired in years of training and then tested in tournaments. Her signature moves, which includes a feat she has labeled the Rothrock Sting, have been developed out of the competitive arena, not from a choreographer's fantasy of what martial arts should look like.




I'm surprised there was no mention of Angela Mao Ying, who starred in many wonderful martial arts movies from the 1970s such as "Lady Kung Fu," "Deadly China Doll," "Iron Maiden," "Back Alley Princess" and "Enter the Dragon" (in which she played Bruce Lee's sister). She is definitely a vital part of female warrior film history.



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