farewell, Eartha

Yesterday the world lost an amazing performer. Mistress of song, stage and screen Eartha Kitt died at age 81.

She may be best known for her role as Catwoman on the campy 60s TV show Batman, a character that she played with inimitable style and finesse. Not to mention with a growl.

She also had an amazing singing voice. My favorite song of hers has to be “I Want to be Evil.”

I Want to Be Evil

I’ve posed for pictures with Ivory Soap,
I’ve petted stray dogs, and shied clear of dope
My smile is brilliant, my glance is tender
But I’m noted most for my unspoiled gender
I’ve been made Miss Reingold, though I never touch beer,
And I’m the person to whom they say, “Your sweet, My Dear.”
The only etchings I’ve seen have been behind glass,
And the closest I’ve been to a bar, is at ballet class.

Prim and proper, the girl who’s never been cased,
I’m tired of being pure and not chased.
Like something that seeks it’s level
I wanna go to the devil.

I want to be evil, I wanna spit tacks
I want to be evil, and cheat at jacks
I want to be wicked, I wanna tell lies
I want to be mean, and throw mud pies

I want to wake up in the morning
with that dark brown taste
I want to see some dissipation in my face
I want to be evil, I wanna be mad
But more that that I want to be bad

I wanna be evil, and trump an ace,
Just to see my partner’s face.
I want to be nasty, I want to be cruel
I want to be daring, I want to shoot pool

And in the theatre
I want to change my seat
Just so I can step on
Everybody’s feet

I want to be evil, I want to hurt flies
I want to sing songs like the guy who cries
I want to be horrid, I want to drink booze
And whatever I’ve got I’m eager to lose

I want to be evil, little evil me
Just as mean and evil as I can be

heroine addicts

It’s been my goal for quite a few years to put together a website featuring information about and ratings for movies and other media featuring women who kick ass. One of my goals in starting this blog was to work towards that end, and I made some progress with various posts that have been part of my kick-ass women project.

In the course of my “work” on this project, I’ve come across a few other sites and resources on this topic. One great such website is Heroine Content, described on their about page as follows:

Heroine Content is a feminist and anti-racist blog about women kicking ass. More specifically, we write about women kicking ass in action films, with a side order of television and video game commentary as things catch our eye.

Just last week, Skye and Grace (the authors) celebrated 2 years of Heroine Content. In their celebratory post, they mention that they have reviews almost 100 movies, and even give a nice, handy list of those reviews.

If you haven’t visited over there before, and if you have an interest in seeing women kick some ass in the movies, definitely drop by. They have reviews handily organized along the following rating scheme:

kick-ass women characters I’ve wanted to be (or at least be more like)

I’m decidely not feeling kick-ass today. I have a nasty cold, and have stayed home from work to try to get some sleep. Unfortunately, sleep eludes me. And my mind keeps wandering back to the Action Heroine Blog-a-thon.

I’ve spent a lot of time putting together lists of shows and movies with kick-ass women. But so far, I’ve largely avoided committing to any sort of ranking. Sure, the first list of movies and the first list of shows had more of my favorites than the later lists in those series. But I generally have listed things by order of release date. So here I climb out on my limb, to make some sort of ranking.

Mind you, these are not necessarily my all-time favorite movies and shows, though many of those provide the source of the characters. It seems my list is a bit heavy on TV vs. movies, but let’s face it, TV shows give more opportunity for character development. And this list is about the characters themselves.

These are kick-ass women I’ve most admired for all their talents, skills, wit and strength. The kick-ass women I’ve most wanted to be like.

7 kick-ass women I’ve wanted to be (or at least wanted to be more like)

  1. Emma Peel
    The Avengers (1965-1967)
    For me, it all started with Emma. I stumbled across the Avengers when I was in high school, watching late night TV on a local channel. The show, with its British tongue-in-cheek humor and its 60s style, had me charmed right from the start. But the kicker was Emma Peel. I had never met a character like her before. She was in charge. Martial artist, sharpshooter, fencer, scientist, spy. And she had such intelligence, such a keen wit, and style to boot. (And yes, she had stylish boots.)
  2. Charly Baltimore
    The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
    It’s just possible that this is my favorite kick-ass woman movie. Sure, it’s not the best movie ever made. Sure, some of it was over-the-top. But hell, it’s an action movie. We’re not asking for real life. It had what we like to see in an action movie: action. Suspense, chases, fight scenes, unlikely escapes, plot twists, rescues, explosions and quirky characters. Samuel Jackson was great in this movie. So was Brian Cox. But the movie was about the kick-ass character played by Geena Davis. I’ll have a lot more to say on this topic at some point, but not one, but two, cool websites just independently wrote up reviews about this movie that are worth checking out: Heroine Content and The Hathor Legacy.
  3. Zoe
    Firefly (2002-2003), Serenity (2005)
    The show Firefly and the movie Serenity, featuring the same cast of characters, have quite a few strong women. There’s the gifted mechanic, the independent diplomat/courtesan, and the multi-talented and brilliant, if largely insane, teenager. But the woman that I fell for, that I most wanted to be, was the warrior woman, Zoe. I love her attitude and her dry wit. The sense that she was dangerous. A force to be reckoned with. And I love her relationship with her laid-back and playful husband, Wash. This is a woman with serious strength, but serious depth.
  4. Starbuck/Kara Thrace
    Battlestar Galactica (2003, 2004-????)
    When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a pilot. I’ve always loved flying, and couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do more. Starbuck is the pilot. An all out kick-ass, ace pilot. Plus she’s got some serious attitude. There is a character who is not afraid to speak her mind, who doesn’t shy away from a bit of confrontation. Qualities I could use a bit more of, myself.
  5. Chief Inspector Yang
    Supercop (1992).
    Okay, so in part I’ve wanted to be Michelle Yeoh, probably more so than this particular character. I don’t know a thing about her as a private individual. But I do know that she’s played some seriously kick-ass roles in a bunch of great action movies: Crouching Tiger, Tomorrow Never Dies, Wing Chun, to name a few. And you just gotta love that. Her role in Supercop was a particularly kick-ass woman: she was daring, competent, calm and man-oh-man, could she kick ass. Plus she had a prestigious job, and was well-respected in her position. If you want to read more about why I liked her character in this movie, I have a lot more to say on the subject.
  6. Samantha Carter
    Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007)
    Explorer. Adventurer. Scientist. Does she have the ultimate glam job, or what? Maybe most of what she talks about on the show is just pseudo-science, but I sure do love to see a strong, smart woman do her job. This is another case where the character’s gender is not really an issue. I can recall very few episodes where the plot was moved forward due to her being, gasp, a woman. For the most part, she’s just part of the team. And a particularly smart and kick-ass one, at that.
  7. Buffy
    Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
    It may shock some of you that Buffy is showing up kind of late on this list. After all, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. I’ve watched the whole series a number of times. (These are the DVDs that we put on when we go down to our basement to work out.) I love the cast of characters, the dialog, the bizarre scenarios. And the action. Buffy, as I’m sure you all know, kicks ass. However, this list is about women I’ve wanted to be, or at least be like. And well, while I’d love to the have the super strength and skills, be able to jump, flip, spin and kick like she does in so many of those fight scenes, there’s nothing in this world that would make me want to be a teenager again. And there’s the whole weight of the world business. That would be a bit much.

Michelle Yeoh: kicking ass in “Supercop”

Supercop (1992) Jing cha gu shi III: Chao ji jing cha, or Police Story III: Supercop¹

Starring Michelle Yeoh.
Directed by Stanley Tong.
(Oh, yeah. It also stars Jackie Chan)

Supercop is a seriously fun Hong Kong action movie: it’s got oodles of martial arts, chase scenes galore, big fireball explosions, crazy stunts, really bad bad guys, really good good guys, and the streak of comedy that Hong Kong cinema does so well. But what this movie really has going for it is Michelle Yeoh.

Michelle Yeoh kicks some serious ass in this movie. On so many levels.

Jackie Chan plays a Hong Kong cop sent to help an investigation in mainland China. Michelle Yeoh plays a higher up in a Chinese security agency. The two go undercover together in pursuit of a big bad guy.

The contrasting characters are set up right from the start, starting with this introduction:

This is Chief of Security Yang. She can teach you a great deal.

Jackie Chan is smiley and charming, casual and friendly. Michelle Yeoh is serious and formal in her military uniform. Jackie Chan shows that he’s a bit slack in some areas, Michelle Yeoh shows him up. Michelle Yeoh plays the competent foil to Jackie Chan’s amiable buffoonery.

This movie is in many ways another buddy cop story: two characters with different backgrounds and personalities are partnered up for a short time to fight some crime. Like Lethal Weapon or Beverly Hills Cop. Or like another one of Jackie Chan’s movies, Rush Hour, about which Roger Ebert coined the term wunza:

“Rush Hour” is our reliable friend, the Wunza Movie, pairing two opposites: Wunza legendary detective from Hong Kong, and wunza Los Angeles cop. And wunza Chinese guy, and wunza black guy. And wunza martial arts expert and wunza wisecracking showboat. Neither wunza original casting idea, but together, they make an entertaining team.

In this case, one’s a loveable clown, and one’s all business. One’s from Hong Kong, one’s from Communist China. And one’s a man, one’s a woman.

In spite of the man-woman partnering business, this is a woman-man partnership that is not gooped up by sexual tension and romance.

It’s not that Michelle Yeoh is asexual, she’s feminine even. Neither of them is asexual. It’s just that their partnership isn’t about sex. Yeoh’s gender comes up a few times in the movie, such as when Chan worries that she’ll get in the way of his policework because he’ll be worried about her. “I can’t look after you,” he tells her. She retorts that she was supposed to “look after” him. It’s totally believable that she should be the one looking after him.

I love it that even the undercover character, the little sister “Hana” to Jackie Chan’s undercover role, is still a strong woman. She stands up for, and to, her “brother” in the interactions they have for the benefit of the bad guys. When Chan slaps her as a ruse to keep their cover from being broken, he explains to the bad guy onlooker: “She gave me some of her female backtalk, so I thought I’d teach her a lesson.” Hana/Yang/Yeoh’s response? She slaps him right back, saying:

You think you’re superior, huh? Mao Tse Tung said that women are the real power of society.

She’s a partner to Jackie Chan, not a sidekick. If anything, he seems a bit like her sidekick. She’s an agent, not just a pawn. She doesn’t need to be rescued. She comes to the rescue.

In fact my absolute favorite scene, and I don’t think I can possibly do it justice, is when Yang (Yeoh’s character) comes to the rescue in a country restaurant. She and Chan have gone undercover with a group of minor thugs in order to go after a big bad, and the group goes out to dinner in a restaurant. Some local police recognize some of the bad guys, and move in for an arrest. While Yang is out of the room, Chan and the bad guys have a fight with the police, and are rounded up. Enter Yang. She jumps in, and I mean literally jumps in, to the rescue. Taking down two guys at once with a single double kick. What follows is a brief but well-choreographed fight scene where Michelle Yeoh gets to show off her skill and grace, fighting off at least two at a time.

In this scene, she’s wearing her hair in braided pigtails with ribbons, and dressed in a bright red cardigan with a white-collared shirt. She looks a bit like a little girl, with her braids flying. At the same time, she’s kicking some serious ass. I love it.

The movie’s not ideal as far as being all about women kicking ass. There is a woman in distress, in the form of Chan’s girlfriend, played by Maggie Cheung. Her role is in part as the woman who moves the plot forward by means of her cluelessness, and who ultimately finds herself bound up, gagged, and in need of rescue. In spite of that, she shows some spine and wit of her own. Overall, the women characters are strong, intelligent, and more than just pretty faces.

Michelle Yeoh’s character is not flawless, either, mind you. She makes a few mistakes here and there. After all, the plot does need to move forward, and it is Jackie Chan’s movie, primarily, so he can’t be expected to make all the mistakes. At the same time her businesslike competence is never “softened up” and shown to be a flaw, as is all too often the formula. Her strength and strength of character remain assets through the end of the movie.

Michelle Yeoh’s character has everything I like to see in an action movie lead: she’s smart, competent, clever. She thinks on her feet (or sometimes up in the air with feet kicking), and doesn’t back down easily. She shows moral character. She’s calm, intelligent, resourceful. Witty and tough.

And since we’re talking action, let’s not forget all the action. Michelle Yeoh totally kicks ass in the action department. Can I just point out that, in this movie, Michelle Yeoh performed her own stunts? Yeoh not only gets her share of kick-ass fight scenes, she also gets some cool chase scenes. Can anyone top the chase scene where she perfoms a motorcycle jump to land on a moving train?

I rest my case.

This post is part of the Action Heroine Blog-a-thon.


¹ I’ve only seen the dubbed version. As dubbing goes, it’s better than most. One thing is that Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh dub their own lines. I can’t compare the dubbed English script to the original Cantonese dialog. I’ll refer to this movie by the title on this dubbed release, since that’s the one I know. 

on kick-ass women characters

Joss Whedon kicks ass.

I’m sure many of you already knew this.

I’ve been a fan of Buffy and Firefly/Serenity for a bit, and therefore had some awareness that Joss Whedon could produce, direct and write some cool stuff in the kick-ass woman department. However, I developed a whole new level of appreciation for his own kick-assedness when I saw this video of him talking about answering the big question: “Why do you write such strong women characters?” (Thanks to bs and orangerful for bringing my attention to this clip.)

I had been very excited to see that he was lined up to write a new feature-length film version of Wonder Woman. Cool, huh? However, I’m sad to say that I’ve recently learned that he is off the job. Damn.

In other kick-ass-woman-related news, there’s an upcoming blog event that should be worth checking out: The Action Heroine Blogathon. (hat-tip to Lazy Eye Theater, and thanks to jenny for making sure I knew about it.) I’m hoping to participate, with some sort of new post in the kick-ass women series. I’m even hoping that YTSL will have a new post of her own along the same lines. (Any chance?) Anyone else out there have some movies or shows with action heroines they want to write about?

10 great movies with kick-ass women who don’t necessarily kick anyone’s ass

I’ve been putting together a number of lists of movies, TV shows and other media that feature women that I have called kick-ass. (For an index to the lists, see the kick-ass women project page.) The lists so far are mostly about movies and shows in the action genre, with lots of nods to those women characters who can really kick some ass. As in physical kicking of physical asses. It has recently been suggested to me that it would also be nice to see more about movies with women who kick-ass in a more figurative sense: strong, courageous, intelligent and in control. Possessing of dignity, integrity and wit. So, here goes:

10 great movies with kick-ass women who don’t necessarily kick anyone’s ass

  1. Cold Comfort Farm (1995)
    Flora Poste (Kate Beckinsale) is a witty young woman who likes to put things in order. She is not easily daunted, even by her somewhat menacing eccentric relatives. (This is one of my favorite movies, too. Also a very funny and pleasant movie.)
  2. Dolores Claiborne (1995)
    This thriller features several strong and intelligent women characters, played by Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Judy Parfitt.
  3. Contact (1997)
    Jodie Foster plays Eleanor Arroway, a brilliantly kick-ass scientist. (I actually haven’t seen this yet, but have it on good authority that her character kicks ass.)
  4. Zero Effect (1998) Kim Dickens plays Gloria Sullivan, a young woman who brilliantly and calmly masterminds a scheme for her own ends. An excellent mystery movie overall, too.
  5. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
    Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) flouts tradition and disguises herself as a boy in order to pursue her desire to act on the stage.
  6. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
    In this adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles), is a high school girl who knows her mind. And knows a lot of other things, too.
  7. Saving Grace (2000)
    Brenda Blethyn plays Grace Trevethyn, a courageous and innovative woman with a green thumb who turns to unusual measures to make money to save her house.
  8. Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001)
    Audrey Tautou stars as Amélie, who uses her wit and creativity to make a difference in the world around her.
  9. Bend it Like Beckham (2002)
    Parminder Nagra plays Jesminder ‘Jess’ Kaur Bhamra, a teenage girl who defies her traditional family’s wishes to pursue her love of football (as in soccer). Also features Keira Knightly as another footballer.
  10. Volver (2006)
    This Almodóvar movie is dominated by strong women characters.Penélope Cruz stars as Raimunda, a daughter, a sister, and a mother of a teenage daughter. Courageous and resourceful, she pulls things together to protect her daughter after an incident where her daughter kills a man in self-defense.


This post is being kicked over to the //engtech group writing project #3.

Thanks to bs, who suggested a version of the title of this post in a comment.

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on kicking ass

I’ve been working for some time on an endeavor that I have dubbed “the kick-ass women project.” So far, the project has involved putting together various lists of movies and shows that have prominently featured women characters who, in my opinion, kick some ass.

However, I have yet to either define the term kick-ass or really describe what it is that I mean by the expression kick-ass woman. So here goes a try.

A kick-ass woman is a woman is more than ordinarily strong, courageous, and intelligent. Kick-ass women (or for that matter, kick-ass people in general) are those who face up to challenges that are beyond the ordinary, stand up for themselves and for others, and demonstrate their stength, courage and intelligence.

What do I mean by strength? Well, strength of character, primarily. Courage to stand up for her beliefs, for her rights, or even for her wants. Plus the brains to figure out what needs to be done.

Of course, I also enjoy the action genre, and added to these fundamental kick-ass qualities, I appreciate additional qualities. A kick-ass woman should ideally have some physical strength and the ability to hold her own in a fight. And I do have a penchant for women who can show off some martial arts skills, and literally kick some asses. Or other bits. In action or suspense movies, a kick-ass woman should also be able to outwit her opponents.

In some ways, a kick-ass woman character can also be defined by things she is not, things she does not do. For example, she doesn’t wait around for some man. To rescue her. Solve things for her. Notice her charms. Send her flowers. Marry her. She is not just the “love interest,” the prize, the trophy. She is not helpless. This is not to say that she can’t be a love interest, or accept some help, or be noticed for her charms. She can like getting flowers. She can even have romance, love, sex, marriage, whatever. More power to her. But these things are not the extent of her worth, her self worth, her role in whatever movie or show we’re watching.

I like to think of women as fundamentally strong, courageous and intelligent. This is the baseline. Sure, some women are stronger, others wimpier. Some brilliant, some not as bright. But generally, women have the potential to kick ass. It’s just that all too often in the media that is served up to us, whether it’s the more traditional male-dominated action and suspense movies, or the “chick movie” type romantic comedies, the women characters are overshadowed or underdeveloped. Watered down, or just gussied up.

Like many others, I want more movies and TV shows to feature women who demonstrate their strengths.

So, where am I going with this project? Well, I’ll probably put together a few more lists. It has come to my attention that I should put together lists of movies where the ass-kicking is more figurative than literal. While heavy on the action genre, my existing lists do include some such non-action movies, but there are certainly more out there.

I’ve also come across a number of other resources (books and websites) that discuss, rate or list kick-ass women movies and shows. I’ll get around to writing about them. At some point.

I also still have this plan of reviewing and actually scoring individual movies (or shows), based on the kick-assedness of the women characters.

I even have plans to write more about the expression kick-ass, and why I’ve chosen it over terms like sheroe or heroine.

more kick-ass women movies

I’m happy to share that YTSL from Webs of Significance has put together another list of her favorite kick-ass women movies, which ties in fabulously with my ongoing project to collect, catalog and critique movies and other media featuring kick-ass women. This latest list expands upon YTSL’s previous offering (which consisted of Hong Kong movies), and has movies from Korea, Japan, Thailand, and mainland China, in addition to a few more Hong Kong offerings. I hope you’ll check it out!

As for me, I’ve been a bit delinquent in my progress with the kick-ass women project, with almost a month having passed since my own last list. I still have plans to move into the next phase of the project, including more detailed discussions of what it means to be kick-ass. Perhaps this will give me the needed kick to my own hind quarters…

still mad as hell

We watched Shut Up and Sing (2006) a couple of nights ago. It’s the documentary about the Dixie Chicks, and their experiences following the “controversial” comment made by Natalie Maines.

Just in case you don’t know (or remember) the story, the incident in question was during a concert where the Dixie Chicks were preforming in London in 2003. At some point during the show, lead singer Natalie Maines made some comments about her objections to the impending war in Iraq, including a fairly offhand remark about the president:

Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas

Uproar ensued, fueled by right-wing activists, and involved the banning of Dixie Chicks’ music from radio stations, public denouncements and CD trashings, and even death threats. (Check out the Wikipedia article on the Dixie Chicks for details on the controversy. See also Alice from And She Wrote‘s recent post concerning free speech.)

Those were darker times, all too recently, when public expression of dissent was equated with treason. It was chilling to see how violently people reacted to a few fairly innocuous words. It was a time when many people, including me, were uncomfortable about speaking out in public about political issues, especially criticism of the president and objection to the war.

The band instantly earned my respect. I hadn’t known their music before, not being a fan of country music, and still wasn’t interested in hearing their songs. But soon after news of the comment and the backlash reached us, I remember going to a local record store and buying their CD, and a refrigerator magnet that said “he’s not my president.”

The movie “Shut Up and Sing” shows how these events affected the lives and careers of the three women of the band, and how they bravely stood up for free speech. I love it that their song “Not Ready to Make Nice,” from which the title of the movie is taken, expresses continued anger over the events:

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell…

They’re right to be angry. And we shouldn’t forget what happened. We shouldn’t allow freedom of expression to be trampled.

Anyhow, the movie paints an interesting picture of recent history. It’s well worth watching. Plus it has a really great trailer: