Saturday, 23 September 2017

Women Who Have the Chops (and the Punches and the Kicks) – New York Times


Mr. Leitch explained: “I wanted to approach it like you would a movie with any other male action character. So there’s no distinction.” He added, “We don’t apologize for anything we’re doing, and we don’t give explanations for anything we’re doing.”

Still, Ms. Theron said these roles don’t come often enough. “I don’t think we’ve ever given women a fair shot to really have the opportunities to take on roles like these,” she said, citing Ms. Weaver’s as a big inspiration for her “Mad Max” performance. “I remember seeing her when I was young, and it really left an impression on me. She’s incredible. Linda Hamilton in ‘Terminator.’ Scarlett Johansson right now. Tons more women could be amazing if they just had the opportunity.”

Other female action heroes agree. Along with Ms. Theron, we talked to several stars who helped push the genre forward about how action roles have changed for women, how much thought goes into why they throw a punch and what it means for all viewers, and especially young girls, to see a woman kicking ass onscreen.

Atomic Blonde – Official Trailer #2 [HD] Video by Universal Pictures

Charlize Theron: Bruises and All

One way “Atomic Blonde” represents a new step can be seen in the scene where Ms. Theron faces off against a barrage of bad guys on a steep staircase. With brutal kicks and punches, she takes out each one — all while wearing thigh-high boots and fabulous ’80s eye makeup. But whereas in an earlier film Ms. Theron might have emerged unscathed, here she is shown beat up — her face swollen and bloodied. “I remember it was Day 2, my body was hurting, and my face is all bruised up, and my eye was swollen shut,” Ms. Theron said. “I remember thinking to myself, really?” (She used her dance background along with strength and fight training for four to five hours a day to pull off the sustained combat sequences.)

But that realism was important to show, she and her director said. “We wanted to ground the action and make it feel like it hurts,” Mr. Leitch said, “and sometimes people want to shy away from that when it’s a female character.” He added: “Part of the problem is that directors treat female characters too often as precious. They want to live in a fantasy world where they just do spinning hook kicks and knock out guys who are 6-4, and that doesn’t work either.”

Their solution was to show the consequences of action: Lorraine’s bruises, and injuries. “Then you have empathy for that character,” Mr. Leitch said, “and all of a sudden the movie works better.”

‘Furious 7’ Fight Scene featuring Ronda Rousey Video by Robert Hollander

Michelle Rodriguez: Positions of Strength

“When you see a staggeringly beautiful woman running around with a gun, and she hits a guy with the back of her hand and he flies away, that isn’t very realistic,” Ms. Rodriguez said. In choosing her action films — like the “Fast and Furious” franchise and “Resident Evil” — she looks for roles that show women capable of fighting for themselves, citing her fight scene with Ronda Rousey in the 2015 “Furious 7.”

“Guys, when they write women and they want them to be badass,” she said, “they still put them in lipstick and heels, and I’m over it.” Then there’s the plight of the autonomous woman. “Sometimes for guy screenwriters, it’s hard them to find the value in women if they’re not attached to a man, so they usually kill her off,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “She’s an independent woman, and she’s nobody girlfriend. ‘What do I do?’”

She avoids those roles, along with ones that exploit a women’s sexuality, show scenes of rape or excessive nudity, or show her only as someone who needs to be rescued. “I want to see roles where her purpose is fulfilled by her, not someone or something else,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “That’s what heroes do. That’s the right message. It’s powerful for young girls to see that bravado, to see that courage.”

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From left, Jen Yu and Michelle Yeoh in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000).

Credit
Chan Kam Chuen/Sony Pictures Classics

Michelle Yeoh: Not Just Protectors

Asian cinema has a long tradition of female fighters, but Ms. Yeoh (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “Star Trek”) remembers when that wasn’t always so: “At the beginning, when I started my career, it was always geared toward the men doing more of the action. I’m very happy that things have changed so dramatically. It’s because of what the audience demands as well.”

One change she’s noticed is in the motivations for fighting. “Initially, it was much more a maternal role: She’s fighting because she’s protective,” Ms. Yeoh said. But that’s no longer the sole reason, and she cited movies like “G.I. Jane” (1997) as an example. “They’re fighting not just to protect their babies, they’re doing it to protect their countries or protect justice. So the roles have evolved, and women have fought for these roles to say give us what we’re due.”

Martial arts have also allowed women to take on more action roles because, she said, they train you “to use your technique to outmaneuver someone who is bigger or stronger than you. To use their weight against them, the technique of deflecting — it’s not always about aggression, it’s about fighting smart, not just fighting hard.”

That changed mind-set can also redefine what’s sexy onscreen. “It’s up to the writer and director to make it more complex,” she said. “When you see a woman who is both mentally and physically tough, it’s also very sexy. It’s very important that we see that in the movies for young women and men.”

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Milla Jovovich in “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.”

Credit
Ilze Kitshoff/Sony

Milla Jovovich: A Political Statement

Ms. Jovovich (“Resident Evil,” “The Fifth Element,” “The Messenger”) remembers seeing “Alien” when she was 11 or 12 and being completely bowled over by Sigourney Weaver’s performance as the crew leader Ripley fighting the terrifying title creature. “I never knew a woman could do that,” she said. “It made me want to be able to go into battle and be a warrior.”

While that performance was a groundbreaker, actresses today can make just as much of a difference, she said: “We live in patriarchal society, we’re dealing with it so much in America. So I think it’s more important now to show women in positions of power. If audiences go to see women in action that means they believe a woman can do that.”

Movies haven’t always deserved that audience. “There’s always going to be some voyeuristic misogyny,” she said, but cited directors like James Cameron; Luc Besson; and her husband, Paul W. S. Anderson, as men who believed in women and cast them in roles of strength.

“When I did ‘The Fifth Element,’ I realized I was never going to be the girl in the movie that goes ‘watch out’ or ‘help me,’” she said. “I felt like on a personal level it felt disrespectful to play the damsel in distress.” Instead, she wanted to be more of an inspiration and has been gratified to hear from girls who have found her “Resident Evil” performance empowering. “It’s crazy the stories I’ve heard,” she said. “The power of a pop-culture image. It’s everything.”

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