Women on top

Why it’s immensely satisfying to see on-screen rampages by female characters

November 10, 2017 03:23 pm | Updated 03:23 pm IST

All men, regardless of their virtues or innocence, deserve to be thrashed frequently, for reasons that are known to all of us. I include myself in this list of course, and am happy to report that I am at the receiving end with pleasing regularity. When the pummelling happens on screen, especially when administered by women, it is nothing short of an apogee. Before we get diverted to masochistic territory, let me draw your attention to Byung-gil Jung’s The Villainess (2017) where the seemingly fragile Ok-bin Kim goes on a revenge-fuelled rampage across South Korea, pausing only to have a baby. The action is kinetic, balletic and brutal, and all sorts of shady men meet their maker at her hands.

Close to The Villainess for visceral thrills is David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde (2017), where it is Charlize Theron’s turn to go on a rampage across East and West Berlin in 1989 just before the fall of the Wall. Checkpoint Charlie is duly checked, the Cold War is at its zenith, and double and triple crossing is the norm. When we first see Theron, we feel her pain. Her body is a mass of cuts and bruises and she is immersed in an ice bath. She fights, shoots and slashes her way through masses of KGB, Stasi and numerous other agents and double agents. There is no script to speak of and what little there is borrows from Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out (1987), but the satisfaction of seeing her cutting a swathe through some truly nefarious examples of humanity, stopping only to make love with Sofia Boutella, is reward enough.

Cinema has a long history of female action heroes, but not nearly enough, in my humble opinion. Who can forget Uma Thurman as The Bride in the Kill Bill (2003-04) films, Angelina Jolie in Salt (2010) and the Lara Croft (2001-03) films, Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Saoirse Ronan in Hanna (2011), and Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996).

Hopping over to a sub-genre, the feminist western, good examples include Johnny Guitar (1954), The Ballad of Little Jo (1993), Bad Girls (1994), The Quick and the Dead (1995) and Gang of Roses (2003), and one of the best films of 2017, Sarmad Masud’s My Pure Land , the UK’s entry for the foreign language Oscar category. One of my favourite films in this genre is Zorro’s Black Whip (1944) where the redoubtable Linda Stirling plays Barbara Meredith, who dons the mask to fight crime in Idaho. It has some immensely cheering dialogue. A character named Hammond says: “Barbara Meredith, she’s the Black Whip!” and a character named Baxter replies: “She couldn’t be! The Black Whip’s got to be a man! He’s outshot us, outrode us, and outfought us, stopped us at every turn!”

And for the weeaboos (Japanophiles) amongst you, I give you Zeiramu (1991) where Yuko Moriyama plays Iria, an alien bounty hunter who travels to Earth to capture an escaped bio-engineered fighting machine called Zeiramu. You’re welcome.

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