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The best Woman Warrior movies

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 Post subject: The best Woman Warrior movies
PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2012 12:43 pm 

Joined: Mon Feb 07, 2011 2:06 am
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I'm asking myself for the best of their kind, but I can't find nearly as many as I expected. I don't just mean films like the Hong Kong girls-with-guns actioners, but films that actually, actively explore what it means to be a warrior woman. Films that explore mission, identity, and sacrifice, films that ask questions about what it means to pursue a warrior's path, and what it means to be a woman. You can make a movie with a woman holding a sword or a gun, but unless the movie actually asks what it means for a woman to take up a sword, then it isn't really about female heroism.

By those descriptors, Zhang Yimou's Hero isn't a woman warrior movie, despite astonishing performances by Maggie Cheung and Ziyi Zhang, but Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is. The Kill Bill movies are, since the path of the female assassin is presented in direct conflict with the path of motherhood, in the lives of the Bride and Vernita Green, as well as the female assassin in Part 2 who allows the Bride to live after learning that she's pregnant.

What else qualifies? What are some movies that not only portray chicks kicking ass, but actively explore the meaning of warriorship in a woman's life?


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 Post subject: Re: The best Woman Warrior movies
PostPosted: Wed Sep 26, 2012 2:26 am 

Joined: Thu Dec 02, 2010 1:15 pm
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Not clear on what distinction you're trying to draw. Do you mean police or military officers vs. assassins or vigilantes? Or civilian women who act heroically when thrust unexpectedly into a situation. When I think "warrior," I think more of savagery and Conan the Barbarian types. TVTropes has a number of subtypes:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ActionGirl


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 Post subject: Re: The best Woman Warrior movies
PostPosted: Wed Sep 26, 2012 2:52 pm 

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I think the main difference between men and women in these roles, is that with women, there is usually more attempt made at providing motivation. With the likes of Clint Eastwood, Arnie or whoever, they don't need any particular justification for being a bad-ass. They simply are. It's less common that a woman occupies similar territory - a fairly rare example would be someone like Varla from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!.

More common are specific motivations, such as:
a) Maternal instinct. The classic example would be Ripley in Aliens, even though Newt is not actually her daughter, but a surrogate for one lost to the passage of time between the two movies. Sarah Connor in the Terminator movies (and TV series) is another one.

b) Personal experience. There is some incident or series of incidents, generally tragic, that triggers a violent response. This would cover the rape-revenge genre such as Thriller: A Cruel Picture and Ms. 45, but also Kill Bill and Xena. The latter is particularly good at exploring the philosophical and moral sides of violence and its effects.


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 Post subject: Re: The best Woman Warrior movies
PostPosted: Wed Sep 26, 2012 4:30 pm 

Joined: Mon Feb 07, 2011 2:06 am
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Hyomil wrote:
Not clear on what distinction you're trying to draw.


Not too clear, was I? Sorry about that.

Any of the tropes will do. I'm looking for films that actively explore the tension between the woman and the fighter. I chose the phrase "woman warrior" after Maxine Hong Kingston's semi-autobiographical novel The Woman Warrior, in which the image of Hua Mulan and Chinese swordswomen (nuxia) are held as examples of female power in a culture that Kingston represents as misogynistic.

A woman warrior is any female who fights, barehand or with a sword, gun, or bow and arrow. But remember the Rocky movies? Rocky 1 is the only one that's really about boxing. It's about training, about working hard, about the hopes and aspirations of a working-class athlete, about trying to earn some respect, about the strategies a boxer learns and the setbacks he faces, about trying to get a chance at the title. The sequels have boxing in them, but they're not about boxing.

There are plenty of movies that have women who fight in them, but they're not about what makes a woman fight. Angelina Jolie in Salt is a movie about a woman who fights, but its focus is never on the conflict between the "woman" and "warrior" sides of her identity (probably because the part was written for a man). On the other hand, Buffy, especially the early seasons, actively wishes she could be a "normal" teenage girl, going on dates, wearing pretty clothes, but instead she has to cope with the burden of her responsibilities: she HAS TO fight.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has three important female characters, all warrior women, and all dealing with their internal and external conflicts in different ways. Cheng Pei-Pei was denied advancement in martial arts because her teacher didn't want a female student, so she poisoned him. Michelle Yeoh has been a warrior woman (nuxia) in the best and most traditional sense, but she wants to settle down, ideally with Chow Yun Fat, and become a wife, but Chow is drawn away by his obligations to Michelle Yeoh's dead husband. Zhang Ziyi has daydreamed of life as a warrior woman (nuxia), but she has been weighted by other people's expectations. Every subplot of that film asks what it means to be a warrior AND what it means to be a woman.

I'm looking for movies that ask what it means to be both a woman and a fighter.

I suppose Thelma and Louise qualifies, but my preference is for empowerment.


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 Post subject: Re: The best Woman Warrior movies
PostPosted: Fri Sep 28, 2012 6:24 am 

Joined: Thu Dec 02, 2010 1:15 pm
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Going off that, the only thing that occurs to me is The White Dragon (2004):



Not much I've seen that centers around disciplined training, though there's occasionally some brief montages. That seems to be more common in male-centric movies. As Jim said, in movies (and probably, to a large extent, in life), its men who are driven to ritualistic aggressive or combative activities as a way of life, and it only seems to come out in women in response to some dire situation where the need is called for. Perhaps the woman already has great fighting skill, but there is not much interest in how they developed it; its more in seeing them put it to use at the height of its power, often after they've patiently endured being acted out upon as long as anyone could be expected to or done everything else anyone could be expected to. Not as many fights where the woman is so determined (aka desperate) to get something or prove something that she's willing to endure a string of humiliating losses, injuries, and shunning or abuse from peers to get it but then finally achieves some kind of symbolic victory and status or rank within a group because she's either suffered so much or become so good that her peers grudgingly respect her, or at least her admirable dedication. (aka compulsion)

"Empowerment" is a word often used without regard for different types of power and perceptions of power. Men are often portrayed as having a lust for power for its own sake to act out aggression and hatred and women as only having to develop power out of necessity to defend against that and the consequences of it. (And this development of power may be done in a quiet/secretive/underhanded manner rather than the righteous or challenging displays or confrontations of males.) A motivation for attaining power in the first place may be the dis-empowerment of others rather than justice/equality/etc. Its often observed that once power is attained, there seems to be a tendency to use it even when its not necessary. And also a lack of interest or outright contempt for developing non-warrior approaches. Men seem to have a deep need to be warriors/hunters and go looking for trouble and, if they can't find any, will stir some up (maybe under the pretense of creating better warriors for the next time trouble just happens to come their way), while women are just as happy not to be warriors if there isn't a situational need for it. As you said, Buffy fights because she HAS TO. If she didn't have to, she'd rather be doing something else. Males, on the other hand, might not.

Power might be seen as coming from being more masculine, since more masculine traits are traditionally associated with power. (Or women may see that as the only way to be treated as powerful and therefore deserving of respect. Or of achieving the kind of power that comes from being feared.) Or it might be seen as coming from becoming more feminine, since that would be a trait/power males could not have. There's the power of charisma, which could obviate the need to fight and the risk of harm at all. This was a theme in the anime Grenadier. The main character's opponents' will to fight would sometimes dissolve because of her feminine traits, whereas they might not have if she were male. (The socializing or maternal traits seen more often in females vs. the territorial traits seen more often in males.) Other times, it seemed to increase because the males could not stand to lose their power or status or be perceived as vulnerable, especially in front of other males.

Another form of power would be learning how to be powerful without any need to display it as an achievement, warning, or reason to be treated differently, or even seem it all (displaying childlike qualities, for example) and thus not a threat to those in power. (The question might then be "what good is power if you can't do any of those things with it?" which gets back to why people want power in the first place.)

Another thing I notice is the word "power" is sometimes used when dominance is what's meant. There seems to be a greater desire for dominance in men than women, and this is seen in fights. Women tend to win with a certain nonchalance or calm satisfaction that they've put an end to something so that they can now get back to what they wanted to do, but men are more often gleeful in their victory, like a touchdown dance might be in order or certainly some extra crushing or creative way of savoring it or rubbing it in, and seem delighted and triumphant about the prospect of settling into a permanent dominant position over the loser that they've managed to make submissive and keeping them so. The submissive person may also settle into a permanent position with behavior that provokes a need for domination in some other way.

On a side note, it occurred to me the word misogynistic ("hatred of women" according to the dictionary) is interesting because:

1) its so broadly used. "Homophobia" (which has somehow been allowed to be defined as either fear or hatred of homosexuals. "Phobia" means "fear" in most people's minds and is used when more often what is meant is hatred. A fear of homosexuals would not be such a problem as a hatred of them. Also, people who have a fear of water, for example, you would not think of as hating water.) is often heard, but seldom "gynophobia" (It, too, can mean either fear or hatred.). I've never heard a man called gynophobic--its always misogynistic. People seem to be encouraged to think of negative attitudes towards homosexuals as stemming from fear but negative attitudes toward women as stemming from hatred (or maybe resentment). (Interestingly, "misophobia" is also a word, meaning "an abnormal fear of dirt, especially of being contaminated by dirt." Come to think of it, why also no separate words for fear/hatred of male vs. female homosexuals?)
2) of the one-sided nature of its usage. I just looked up to see if there was a word for "hatred of men" because I've never heard of one. Only "man hate," "daddy issues," and other trivializing characterizations. Turns out there is: "misandry".
3) its non-specificity and that often no further explanation is seen as needed. All women are hated or just those with certain personality traits? And are those traits always unique to women? And are all ages of women hated equally?
4) there also doesn't appear to be a word for not perceiving value in feminine traits, only hatred (though some definitions do soften "hate" to also include "dislike"). The closest word for that seems to be "sexist" or "objectifying"--other extreme, all-encompassing words often used as if they beg no further explanation.


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