AKA: Girls With Guns, Skirts Of Fury, Battling Babes, Butt-Kicking Babes, Ass-Kicking Chicks, Action Chicks, Action Heroines, Female Assassin, Female Killer, Female Warrior, Female Martial Artist, Girl Fighter, Chick Fight, Female-Female Fight, Female-Male Fight, Femmes FatalesThis list is for the movies, TV, and anime I recommend that have females fighting (not exclusively females fighting each other) as a central theme. I'm including series with fights using magical or psychic powers but will try to note the ones that are exclusively that. There's a fairly wide range (except for extreme horror/gore like Elfen Lied, The Machine Girl, etc., which I avoid). Sorted by my rating (those toward the bottom of the list are borderline and could be skipped without missing much). A better version of this list with images and trailers is here.
Aoi hitomi to nyuâju (2007)
Fukada plays a clinical psychologist recruited by the National Police Agency in an attempt to stay one step ahead of a bomb terrorist.
Sounds more exciting than it is. Its a decent movie but fairly dry and slow-paced. Kyoko Fukada can generally liven things up, but she isn't given much opportunity to shine, with only a few token lighthearted touches thrown in. Nor do they take an intense approach that would've generated more suspense. Would've helped if they'd cut it down from 1hr. 54mins. or added more depth to the characterizations. They hit a few beats but it fails to really build momentum and capitalize on the parts that work, so it ends up feeling rather pasted together.
Great series except for the attempts at parody
If they'd stuck with what worked, this would have been a gripping, moving series from beginning to end. I kept marveling at how immediately and consistently disarming Kyoko Fukada is, managing to play a character who's overtly stupid, whiny, and childish yet still comes across as guileless, humble, understanding, helpful, selfless, likable, and funny. I can remember only one moment where I saw something resembling a smirk (when her fiancé seemed like he might be mimicking her in the hotel). Impossible not to like her, and its rather terrifying how good she is at keeping it that way, with no sense of what might lie underneath should she ever slip.
Unfortunately, they tried to mix in parodies of police dramas with a lot of characters who are nothing but comedy props and it falls painfully flat again and again until you're groaning as soon as you see them start up, yet they do little to rework these parts by the end of the series. Maybe they felt they had no choice because the series is based on a manga. Fukada's character is transferred out of her department to work for a eccentric shut-in because she's seen as stupid, yet after seeing more antics of the other officers, she seems like an absolute genius in comparison. If you can bear with it through these parts, the rest is great. For more of Kyoko Fukada, I recommend Yama Onna Kabe Onna (2007).
Note: English fansubs for this are better than those on the Ember Power DVDs and their timings are based on them.
Yama onna kabe onna (2007)
J-Drama that's heavy on comedy. Takes place in a department store with many female salespeople packed into a small area selling purses. The literal title is "Mountain woman, wall woman," referring to the chest region. Kyoko Fukada, somewhat distant/flat in Fugoh Keiji, comes alive here, and has to be seen to be believed as the super cute/perky/innocent "mountain woman" who's the desire of all the men, the envy of all the women, and a subject of lead Misaki Ito's character's nightmares and fantasies. Eiko Koike is also a standout, but the whole cast is good. As it goes on, the series drifts back to more standard drama that's less successful, but its at its best in the earlier episodes with the sharp interactions between the women and crazy antics.
Sêrâ-fuku to kikanjû (2006)
Some good acting and not a bad series, but it ultimately gets bogged down in hand-wringing and guilt, with everyone trying to put on their 'super-serious' face and squeeze every drop of drama they can out of things. A schoolgirl becomes the leader of a yakuza gang. Sound implausible? It is, and its not played much for laughs either. The series just becomes uncomfortable trying to make the characters' motivations and interactions seem believable. Of course, these yakuza gangsters actually have hearts of gold; in fact, the series goes to such lengths to play this up that issues you're expecting to be raised never are. There's also little action or narrative momentum. By the end, I was getting bored. Don't be misled by the cover.
Yi ngoi (2009)
Accident's trailer gives a promising setup of a thriller focused on a team of assassins who make their killings look like accidents, but there's no follow through. Thrilling this is not, especially when you start to get into the grind of just how many niggling details have to be accounted for to make a death believable as an accident and how many things have to come together in the right way and at the right time or the whole thing has to be called off and back to the drawing board.
The movie might at least be intellectually interesting, but nothing is particularly believable or smart (the film is only capable of telling us Louis Koo's character is a genius rather than showing us) and there's minimal plot, dialog, or character interaction. Questions that should be asked aren't. Questions that no one really cares about are lingered on too long. Louis Koo plays the main character, Brain, dominating the screen time, and the disappearance of each of the other capable actors, none of whom are around for long, is keenly felt. I've seen Koo give some fine performances, but here he must spend most of the movie alone and silent, with no one to play off of, which is a tall order for any actor, even if they have a stellar script, which Accident most certainly does not. The silence also conveniently leaves out the need for the film to flesh out Brain's theories and what he's thinking and we're just left to guess--perhaps the director thought this would be a clever style because it would put the audience in the same mindset as the main character, but it just put me in the mindset of wanting to go to sleep.
With the main character being a stony hired killer, there's no one to root for, and it doesn't take too many lingering shots of Brain furrowing his brow to convey the wheels of his genius brain are turning while conducting surveillance of mundane events until you stop caring. Slogging through to the ending adds little, so you might as well just move on when the boredom gets intense. There's really not any "twist" at the end that redeems things, as some reviewers try to make out; I don't know if the film's creators really even intended there to be. If you're "blown away" by the ending, either you haven't seen many movies of this sort, or you should probably consider yourself a pretty thick.
Accident is just another triumph of atmosphere over substance that relies on cheap tricks to bypass viewers' ability to think critically about the weaknesses of the script by implying things that never materialize and various other manipulations that leave you feeling used at the end when it becomes apparent that the things you had to forgive in the hope that this was leading somewhere have led nowhere worth going. Overheard (2009), also with Koo (and Ching Wan Lau and Daniel Wu), comes to mind as an example of a better surveillance-themed movie.
Gôruden suranbâ (2010)
Misleading trailer; this isn't really a conspiracy action thriller
From the trailer, this looks like an action thriller with good acting. Well, I made it 50 minutes because of the acting, but it was abundantly clear the trailer was misleading. This is actually an art house movie that, according to some reviews, is an "uplifting" and witty commentary on Japanese society.
Characters don't act like real people, and things are deliberately structured to meander and not make sense. What the movie seems to think is funny is either trite, lame, or, most annoyingly, disturbing, and there are no reassurances something horrific isn't about to happen any second. There seems to be a gleeful nonchalance at work keeping you from becoming invested in anything, and I had to check some reviews to see if it was worth sitting through another 90 minutes to finish it. After seeing a string of glowing reviews along these lines, I knew it wasn't:
"Most movies suffer from the need to explain everything. They do not leave any room for imagination. They are designed for people who love to avoid thinking and just want to consume what's put in front of them. The celluloid guinea pigs.
Movies that come close to what art's supposed to be involve the viewer, inspire contemplation and leave many things unexplained simply because art doesn't dictate perspectives, it opens perspectives. A great movie is a movie that allows us to see ourselves in it."
This is not a thriller to pop in for some excitement and get lost in; some say it gets better towards the end, but you'd better have a *lot* of patience to find out. See the twitch and meniscus reviews I added in the external reviews section for a couple of more realistic appraisals.
This is the kind of movie that loses the viewer's trust, much like the 'prankster' who says "Oh, your wife called earlier and said she was on the way here, but it sounded like she got into an accident and the line went dead" and then laughs at your horrified expression and chides your for not 'getting' their joke, and director Yoshihiro Nakamura is now on my 'avoid' list.
Pointless by-the-numbers movie with stereotypical characters and unconvincing acting all around. Didn't need to be made. The novelty of the CGI wears off quickly and then there's another 2 hours of movie to slog through. I was expecting better from James Cameron. So many years in development and yet almost nothing creative in it. It seems with CGI there's even less room than usual to change things as you go along when it becomes apparent they're not working. But the script, written by Cameron, was quite bad to begin with. He must have just been given free reign due to his past successes, and, given the commercial success of Avatar, will probably be again, unfortunately, with no one daring to tell him anything sucks or that its been done better before and he needs to either come up with something new or find someone who can. The story was so derivative and simplistic I felt like rolling my eyes and had to make myself finish it. I'll certainly be screening his future movies more carefully, no matter how much money they make.
Chao suo xing jing (2005)
Definitely not good, but...
If this were a rough cut of a film, I'd say it had potential; unfortunately, this is the finished product. There could have been a good mix of drama and comedy with some care and polish, but there are constant reminders of its absence, with a phallic microphone drifting down into the frame like some kind of arousal meter, missing sound effects, generic music, and visual effects done in 2D rather than 3D that seem more like sticky notes that say "Insert this type of effect here" than actual effects. The leads, Sonija Kwok and Tiffany Lee, are both attractive and can act well--in fact, the acting is either good or funny all around--but it would be hard to make their roles seem more artificial or arbitrary if you tried. There's also little action and even less gun play, despite the misleading DVD cover.
Two different types of digital cameras are used: one really bad one with pixelation, artificial sharpening, and blown-out highlights, and the other pretty good but with artificial blurring. They look so different that whenever they switch between them it seems like they're either switching to a hazy flashback scene or a different time of day, as if hours have passed.
Perhaps they simply ran out of time to film some scenes and needed to add filler because between scenes they'll keep cutting back to the stars just dancing in the middle of a plaza for no apparent reason, having a good time as if they need frequent breaks from their difficult police work. The main character's friend gets shot and she goes to catch who did it, but not before some more dancing.
A 7 rating is surely more than this movie deserves on its own merits, but I got some good laughs out of its shortcomings and liked the leads.
Kûru dimenshon (2006)
Weak film that drags but has a few good scenes
It doesn't take long to see this a B-grade, amateurish flick with a flimsy, clichéd, underdeveloped script that seems like it got used before the author had finished writing major sections of it, and it just stalls a number of times, seeming to not know what to do. Notably absent is good music that could create a mood to cover other deficiencies. Its like watching dailies or audition tapes at times. None of the characters are ever fleshed out in anything but a trite, superficial way that's often laughable; instead, there's a lot of dead air to think about how things that should have dramatic weight have none. Still, the movie isn't entirely a waste if you like the "girls with guns" genre. Mika Shigeizumi as Junko puts in a convincing performance as one of the assassins who enjoys her work a little too much and some of the action is well done.
But for something good in this genre see So Close (2002) or Naked Killer (1992), or perhaps a Moon Lee and Cynthia Khan movie like The Avenging Quartet (1992) or A Serious Shock! Yes Madam! (1992).
Lü cha (2003)
Forced combination of romance and surreal, psychological thriller doesn't gel
Saw this for Vicki Zhao and her performance is worth a watch, but the movie itself is disappointing.
Vicki plays Fang, a graduate student who goes on lots of blind dates. The film opens on one of these with a guy named Chen. Chen is clearly disappointed at the sight of Fang, seeing her as reserved, inexperienced, and unlikely to put out, and he doesn't try to hide it. His patronizing, loutish behavior quickly causes Fang to walk out on him. Chen chases after her and crudely propositions her as a parting shot. She slaps him and leaves but he's waiting for her at her school the next day in stalker-like fashion. He apologizes but, in the course of their conversation, freely volunteers the fact that he hit his previous girlfriend upon discovering her infidelity--albeit, he says, with a slap like the one Fang delivered to him. Though Fang is repulsed and starts to walk away from him again, she doesn't seem sufficiently afraid of him and even consents to his accompanying her on her next blind date with someone else--for her protection, he says! We begin to suspect there's something very wrong with Fang as well, as she tells a series of increasingly disturbing stories of a "friend's" childhood. Fang says her friend describes her as too conservative, but she's not merely emotionally detached--she can be eerily dissociative, seeming mainly interested in telling stories, and turns cold or angry when the conversation takes a turn into subjects she's not comfortable with. Chen quickly picks up on this and offers to listen to her stories in order to maintain contact with her. As the storytelling goes on, the cinematography becomes distractingly strange and erratic, jumping between different times and places, and at times it even appears Fang is talking to herself. We're left to guess if these stories are real or not, and whether Fang is drawing him into something sinister.
This escalates when Chen decides to pursue another woman, Lang, at the same time. Lang is an outgoing, sexily dressed piano player pursued by many men that for some reason a friend of Chen seems to think is a sure thing for Chen. But when Chen goes to make his move and gets a clear look at her face, he sees that she looks exactly like Fang but shows no sign of recognizing him. After hearing Fang talk so much about the traumatic childhood of her "friend," this is chilling, and you immediately wonder if she has multiple personality disorder. This is solidified when Lang denies being Fang, seems to have a very different personality, and claims to know no one named Fang. Chen's initial reaction is anger and humiliation and wanting to know what kind of game Fang is playing, but in the face of Lang's repeated and convincing denials, he seems as inappropriately undisturbed by Lang as Fang was by him. He continues pursuing both Fang and Lang and doesn't do a lot of speculating, so we're left to do it ourselves. Is Chen of sound mind? Could Fang have a twin? Or if she has multiple personalities, are there others, and what might they be capable of? A more innocuous explanation might be that Fang earns money for school at night playing the role of Lang, entertainer of men, and her patrons knowing she was a graduate student would make her less desirable. But the fact that Fang as Lang never admits this to Chen and so convincingly and effortlessly deceives him about not being Fang as he recounts their past conversations and reveals his feelings for Fang, makes this possibility disturbing as well. You really have to wonder about Chen. He doesn't follow Fang or Lang to see if they live in the same place or try to meet anyone they know except the "friend" of Fang's stories. Is he thinking he can help a fragile Fang/Lang integrate different parts of herself or is he taking advantage of a mentally ill person, playing one personality off against the other? Surely he isn't oblivious to the fact that, if Lang is merely a role Fang plays, Fang wouldn't believe his interest in her could be genuine if he continued to see Lang and hid it from her? Chen reveals early on that his ex, besides being a cheater, was also a compulsive liar. Chen's great interest in Fang's story of her "friend's" traumatic childhood seems like it could be compassionate and an attempt to get her to open up, but as he continues to seem unfazed by its growing horror and the chilling way Fang strings him along, you begin to wonder. Fang claims at times to be making her stories up, but continues as if they're real. Is she just breaking the tension? What else could Fang be lying about and does she herself even know what's real and what isn't? Is there something similarly disturbing in Chen's past that attracts him to all this?
There are some touching moments in this film, but they're held back by all these undertones that can feel manipulative and keep you at a distance, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was left with a dissatisfied feeling at the end, like I'd been jerked around for little purpose.