May 26th, 2006

Chick flicks

Last night we watched a truly-insane 1983 Hong Kong martial arts-fantasy called Demon of the Lute. While the film was entertaining on that "oh my god, this is so absurd I can't believe I'm seeing it" level, there was something else about it that really struck me: It was obviously made for children (one of the leads is a seriously asskicking kid who can't be more than 7 years old), and here it featured a gorgeous but very strong female lead (who finally undoes the evil eponymous character by acquiring the legendary "fiery bow and arrow", and firing said into the lute, destroying it).

When I was a kid, female leads were few and far between. For those of us who did not dream of following in the high-heeled footsteps of Beaver's mom, there was basically Emma Peel, and...uh...well, there was Emma Peel. The movies gave us little but moms, girlfriends, and general damsels-in-distress. Even science fiction copped out - I mean, Lt. Uhuru was beautiful and supremely competent, but we all knew the boys just were not ever going to let her fly that damn ship. She was destined to do nothing but open hailing frequences and fiddle with that little silver thing in her ear.

Ahh, but Mrs. Peel...Mrs. Peel was everything a girl child without maternal aspirations could have hoped for. She was brilliant, confident, had a terrific sense of humor, could do anything her male counterparts could (and usually do it better), and she could karate chop to boot. She was - very sadly - unique, a breath of fresh female air in a culture dominated by menfolk.

Unless you were living in Asia. And get out of my way, those of you who want to whine about "but they bound women's feet!" (Go read up some more about that practice, then we'll talk...) If you were growing up in Hong Kong, you routinely got to see women in strong lead roles (to say nothing of the range of women who also worked behind the cameras, and still do). Is it any wonder I love Asian cinema?

Ricky Lee says that Netherworld feels like the bastard love child of The Avengers and Hong Kong cinema. No surprise there. I want to write fiction that features women in proactive lead roles, not as screaming mimis, moms and significant others. I'd love it if, thirty years from now, somebody looks back and says, "Wow, that book I read when I was a kid...!" Because we need some new Mrs. Peels, don't we?