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Women's fighing
in movies and TV shows

Girls on the Loose
Mara Corday vs. Joyce Barker in "Girls on the Loose" (1958)

Part 3

Action Movies
Crime Films / Bad Girls
Female Prisoners

Русская версия

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4


Movie vidcaps


Racket Girls or Pin Down Girls (1951)
Pin Down Girls


Girls in Prison (1956)
Girls in Prison


House of women (1962)
House of women


Women's Prison (1955) with Cleo Moore and Ida Lupino
Womens Prison


Reform School Girls (1986)
Reform School Girl


Betrayed Women (1955)
Betrayed Women


Swamp Women (1955)
Swamp Women


Good Time Girl (1948)
Good Time Girl


The Story of Molly X (1949)
The Story of Molly X


Dragstrip Riot (1958)
Dragstrip Riot


Rush Hour 2 (2001)
Rush Hour 2


True Lies (2001)
True Lies


Kill Bill (2003, 2004). Episode not included to the film
Uma Thurman (right) fights against Vivica Fox
Kill Bill

Kill Bill. Battle in the winter garden
Kill Bill

There are so many crime films and variety of action movies containing women's fights and various combative scenes (including quite exotic ones) that even experts in cinematograph wouldn't be able to clearly classify them (and we are far from being the specialists)... As far as women's fights are concerned, we could roughly break them into three groups: crime film, "bad girls" movies (including the sub genre - women in prison) and mixed genre of action movies with fighting scenes, which assume action and violence as a basis. (In such movies, men and women are actively involved in violence actions (with cause and without it).

Movie episodes. Videoclips.
Click on one of the image below and wath the clip


Black mama, White mama (1972)

The Amazons


BloodRayne (1972)

BloodRayne


Worse than Murder

Worse than Murder


Wonder Woman (1976)

Wonder Woman


Mortal Kombat (1995)

Mortal Kombat


Betrayal (2003)

Betrayal


Malenka (1969)

Malenka


Alias (2001)

Alias


The Avengers (1998)

Avengers


Cellblock Sisters: Banished Behind Bars (1995)

Banished Behind Bars


Coffy (1973)

Coffy


Rat's Burial (1995)

Burial


Bulletproof Monk (2003)

Bulletproof Monk


Ballistic (1969). Animation

Ballistic

In the crime film there is a distinction between "bad" persons (criminals, enemy agents, terrorists, etc.) and "good" persons (police officers, secret agents, etc.) who defend democracy and common values (as they are interpreted by the authors). The center there is the minimum of personal reasons. Circumstances (sometimes far-fetched) often force the positive hero to curb a chief scoundrel by him/herself instead of calling for reinforcement as the law and the job descriptions require. :)

Plots in the genre of "bad girls" and "women in prison" emphasize on personal reasons of characters. There is little unambiguity as far as "bad vs. good" is concerned. Often, in "Women in prison" movies, a female protagonist is an innocent victim, attempting to survive. She usually don't participate in contentions being more often a whipping girl. Serious brawls occur between local tough girls and it's difficult to determine who is good and who is bad. The exception is represented by the movies where a covert woman takes root into the prisoner society.

An "Action movie" is a loose concept but the most important component of these films is "action", in particular violence (in this context, women's violence). In past years, with spreading of oriental martial arts, more and more action movies appeared containing women's combative scenes with usage of manifold fighting techniques (with weapon and without it).

An Action Movie is a genre in movies which involves excessive fighting and stunts, normally in close-quarters, as compared to wars. The genre, although popular since the 1950s, became one of the most dominant forms in Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s. Recently, with tremendous achievements in the computer graphics, special effects are widely adopted in the scenes of violence and action. Current trends in action film include a development toward more elaborate fight scenes, perhaps because of the success of Asian martial arts elements, such as kung fu and karate. Actors in action movies are now much more skilled in the art and aesthetic of fighting than they have been in the past.

Popularity of the action movies attracts attention of feminists who noticed that the separation was very clear in most such films between the physical male who controls the scene and the look and the female, who is almost always the object of the look. Until recently, the most of female characters in the action film are still portrayed as incompetent and lacking in good judgement. These characters tend to unintentionally make life harder for the hero. Although female characters in most action films are nothing more than objects, a sweet prize for the winner, hostages, loving wives and the like, there has been a move towards stronger female characters.

The science-fiction action movie ALIEN (1979) by Ridley Scott and its continuation ALIENS (1986) by James Cameron probably happened to be the first action movies to feature a strong female protagonist, independent of a guiding male lead (Sigourney Weaver). This is true as far as mainstream film with is considered with real characters and emotions - of course, entertaining odd jobs with "Bruce Lees" in skirts appeared long before (for instance, in the TV serial телесериале CHARLIE'S ANGELS (1976 - 1981).

The Weaver's character impulsed the Girl Power phenomenon that emerged in Hollywood towards the early 2000s when more and more action-movies with powerful female leads appeared.

Perhaps, the most typical example of an action film with strong women and women's combat is the outstanding (and controversial) movie KILL BILL 1,2 (2003, 2004) by Quentin Tarantino. Fascinating Uma Thurman surpassed herself in arts of fighting, suffice it to say that she fought with knifes against Vivica Fox, against Chiaki Kuriama (Samurai sword against a spiked ball; by the way, Kuriama just "came" from BATORU ROWAIARU (2000) in her school uniform), against Lucy Liu with Samurai swords (exceptionally spectacular battle in a winter Japanese garden) and against Daryl Hannah(partly hand-to-hand, partly with swords. In fact, Uma Turman has finished off a lot of people there... something close to a hundred...

In fact, martial arts are used in the most of fights in the action film (mostly Kung-Fu). Hong-Kong studios produce a lot of such movies. Tireless Jackie Chan, who works in the mock style seems to be the king of this genre. His arch look and terrible English slightly compensate the primitiveness of the combative scenes and vacancy of the plots, diluting them with cheap humor. Of course, combative women appear here too - in the movie, ARMOUR OF GOD or LONG XIONG HU DI (1987) Chan fights concurrently against four "beautiful" Amazons.

Bad girl movies are a subcategory of "film noir") (black film) labeled by latter-day movie buffs to describe the dark films of the 1940s and 1950s starring beautiful women who were usually on the wrong side of the law. The movie posters to these films usually featured sexy artwork of the lady in question, posed seductively, and these images today in original posters and reproductions are as collected today, as are the films themselves are on VHS and DVD.

Who fights above all beyond athletic venues? Certainly, the "bad girls". Who are the bad girls after all? Hooligans having antisocial behavior who pick a fight with each other and peaceful citizens. Prostitutes alienated out of the society. Various female criminals or just women temporarily being off the beam...

In the movie ANGEL 4: UNDERCOVER (1993) a "bad girl", jealous fan of a famous rock star (quite unequable bozo, a little reminding John Bon Jovi), kills potential rivals while a female officer of the law machinery investigates the case. After all, the women are engaged in a fight but the beautiful agent appears much tougher, so the fight is a mismatch and looks not exciting.

Fighting between Teri Hatcher and Charlize Theron from the movie TWO DAYS IN THE VALLEY (1996) by John Herzfeld became a part of the Amazon's best catfighting scenes. The girls with model appearance are fighting toughly and skillfully like men. What else attracts in this scene? Probably, its absolute meaningless... You barely can seriously consider it as a fight over the dead body of the man killed by themselves. They simply are in bad mood and they don't like each other too much... In short, contemporary women are on edge. Unfortunately, James Bond didn't stick around and everything finished tragically for the one of the participants. It's quite typical for a comedy of absurd, which the movie really is. :)

The most of plots in the film of crimes (for instance, "a good girl fights against a bad girl") are rather primitive and trite. However, some women's fights are staged quite well. In the very end of the boring movie BALLISTIC (1995), a spectacular female fight occurs all the sudden. Ballistic, a dark-skinned female police officer Marjean Holdentakes root in a criminal gang. She is disclosed and forced to fight against a mighty girl (muscular Cory Everson), a girl-friend of a head scoundrel and his guard. The fight is very well choreographed, even though it's not too much realistic. As always, the "good girl" (more cunning and lissom Holden) defeats the "bad girl" (looking stronger Everson).

As it was said, oriental martial art techniques are demonstrated in the most fights shown in the modern movies. Just one example: a fight between two girls in an underground tube in the movie BULLETPROOF MONK (2003). The girls (Jaime King and Victoria Smurfit) fight to death brutally and dynamically (and the choreography do not depress too much.) As usual, the good one wins. :)

There is a well-known scene of a girlfight on a limousine backseat from the film TRUE LIES (1994) with Schwarzenegger. Jamie Lee Curtis is a secret agent and Tia Carrere is a terrorist. The scene is short and there is nothing exciting, except the "sensual cadre" in which Jamie slowly squashes Tia away by the bare feet.

Perhaps the ultimate bad girl movies are "women in prison" films (WIP); the majority of which were made well after the classical "film noir" period and include one of the more socially-conscious films of the genre, WHY MUST I DIE? (1960).

The WIP genre is a beneficial area for the female combat fans - many women tied together inclining to violence - in prison they live according specific rules and hierarchy. The mentioned Barbara "The Doctor" expressed a few interesting thoughts regarding this genre: "Among the most popular subjects of latter 20th century catfight art, the female prisoner, straddles the line between the "empowered" wild woman and woman under control. In the mega sense, these women are "controlled": they are in prison, after all. In the narrower sense, however, they are members of a females-only society, which, in the fantasy, replicates the violence, hierarchical politics and forced sexuality of male institutions (and male fantasies, by the way). Prisons are real, of course, but don't confuse a real prison with this stuff! Glorified by libraries of B movies, these women are gorgeous, voluptuous, scantily clad, strutting packages of volcanic sexuality and they're always looking for a fight. They fight over turf, over words, over "stuff" and, quite often, over other women and they fight in the way you get the erotic message. A typical example: HOUSE OF WOMEN (1962) contains plenty of catfights. The prisoner woman is a wild woman anointed as such by our society: she broke the law, she engaged in criminal behavior, she's wild as hell and, in this fantasy, we are cast into the role of voyeurs, peeking behind the forbidden walls into a forbidden enclave. It's the taboo, as much as the action, that provides the enrichment of this fantasy.

WIP films are a subgenre of exploitation film (that typically sacrifice traditional notions of artistic merit for the sensational display of some topic about which the audience may be curious, or have some prurient interest, especially sex, gore, and violence.). Their stories feature imprisoned women who are subjected to sexual and physical abuse, typically by sadistic female prison wardens and (sometimes) by other inmates.

Hollywood made movies set in women's prisons as early as the 1930's such as HOLD YOUR MAN (1933) with Jean Harlow but generally only a small part of the action took place inside the prison. It was not until the 1950's with the 1950 release CAGED, 1950) starring Eleanor Parker and Agnes Moorehead, WOMEN'S PRISON (1955) with Ida Lupino and Cleo Moore as well as BETRAYED WOMEN (1955). The whole storyline (sparkling with catfights) of those films was set in correctional facilities.

The most well-known examples of the women in prison film are perhaps ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS (1975) by Don Edmonds and Jonathan Demme's CAGED HEAT (1974). Actress Pam Grier (famous by the 1973 movies ARENA and COFFY) starred in a number of films in the genre, such as THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1971), THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972) and WOMEN IN CAGES (1971).

Women in prison films developed in the 1930s as melodramas. Young heroines were shown the way to a righteous life by way of the prison. Under the influence of pulp magazines and paperbacks, they became popular B-movies in the 1950s. Since the 1970s they are a specialty product of pornography. Women in prison films have more to do with male heterosexual fantasies than real prison life (female combat is its component.) The lesbian theme in these films also influenced mainstream cinema in films as CHICAGO, 2002).

European cinema too had its share of the genre with titles like a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Frauengef%C3%A4ngnis&action=edit" target=new>FRAUENGEFANGNIS (Women's Prion or Barbed Wire Dolls, 1975) and a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063977/" target=new>99 MUJERES (99 WOMEN, 1969) by a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Franco" target=new>Jesus Franco.

This genre is so well developed that some actresses (like above mentioned Pam Grier) specialize in such roles. In the typical for the genre movie, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1971) a group of women prisoners working at a corn plantation steps aside in order to let two of them "sort out their relationship" physically. One of the fighters (Pam Grier) plays a bad girl. The bout continues in a big dirty puddle where the pugnacious girls find themselves in process of the argument. The Pam's opponent wins (a good girl! ). The fight is staged very showily, some kind of a duel. The other women do not interfere playing seconds.

Basically, some of these films are more remembered by their catfights rather than their quality. Even quite bad movies sometimes have well presented female fights. One of the movies is undeservedly well-known - REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS (1986). One of three catfights should be noted - a brief good fight between a head bad girl and a black prison inmate.

Another plot of fighting between white and black girls occurs in the movie BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (1972). When two troublemaking female prisoners (one a revolutionary, the other a former harem-girl) can't seem to get along, they are chained together and extradited for safekeeping. The women, still chained together, stumble, stab, and catfight their way across the wilderness, igniting a bloody shootout between gangsters and a group of revolutionaries. Perhaps, the subject of a fight between female captives fastened together became a prototype of the famous slave fight in the THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS (1983), even though that fight is much more sensual.

The typical movie about a "stranger" in a women's prison is 99 WOMEN (1979) by Jesus Franco. The film follows a familiar pattern. A group of girls are brought to an inescapable fortress/prison were they are to serve out their sentence. Inspector Leonie Carol (Maria Schell) is sent to underground assess the staff and the condition of the inmates. After all, Schell and her inmate are involved in a "tag-team" fight against another pair - the facilities cruel head matron (Mercedes McCambridge) and the prison's on-site governor (Herbert Lom).

As it is in any mass culture area, the vast majority of "bad girl"/WIP films are not shine by high quality. In order to see how bad a typical film in this genre might be, read a brief description of the movie BAD GIRLS DORMITORY (1985) from "the Encyclopedia of women in prison films": "Carey Zuris stars as a rape victim/boyfriend killer thrown to the wolves at a juvenile detention facility. This low budget tacky film has all the right elements. Bad catfights, 4 shower scenes, lesbians, drugs, incest, gang bangs, rapes, kung fu, suicide, murder, and tons of nudity."


Kill Bill
Убить Билла (Kill Bill, 2003, 2004)


In the Part I, we cited Barbara "The Doctor" who told about two the most exciting female fights in the pseudo-historical cinema genre (the first one was between Amazons, the second - between Roman slaves). Barbara has found a model fight in the action/crime genre too. She discovered an unusual plot of women's fighting in the television series LA FEMME NIKITA). In fact, the serial may be also attributed to the WIP genre, even though it is not about a prison - women are actually prisoners in so-called "house".

Nikita (Peta Wilson) is a street girl who is accused of killing a cop and then convicted and sentenced and then "rescued" from her cell by a secretive agency where she is trained and fielded for her work: assassin. The agency (called "Section One") kills bad guys, an admirable enterprise in the spy genre.

On an operation to get industrialist and terrorist financier Charles Meyer, Nikita is sent to a "modeling agency" run by Amalin Anagar, which is in reality, not just a brothel, but also an arena where beautiful girls are forced to fight each other to the death in a place called "The Pit." While undercover at Anagar's, Nikita tries to protect a naive young girl named Sondra from fighting in "The Pit," while also trying to figure out a way to save all the girls at Anagar's (an objective which is not in the mission profile). The female fight theme is dominating in the episode, which by the way is called HAND TO HAND (1999). There is an interweaving theme - a rivalry between Madeleine (section's Second) and Renee from a competitive firm visiting the "Section One"...

So, to accomplish her mission, Nikita is going to have to go at it physically and fight Aurora (who is called "the big mama" of the house.) At this point another theme appears - Siamese fighting fish. Scenes of the fishocaidal little critters in their bowls are interspersed constantly with the other action and it builds up: scenes of fish alone, then one scene of two of them in a tank and, during the subsequent fight, of the fish actually fighting. Which brings us to possibly most powerful theme: Water. The fish scenes tip us off as to what's going to happen: rather than fight in a pit, as they usually do in this place, the women will tonight fight in a pool of water.

The symbolism is very obvious: the women and the fish, both trapped, both forced to fight. Nikita and Aurora in the tank with their long, flowing costumes, interwoven with shots of the fighting fish, were beautiful as well as scary. By the way, women's fighting in water and underwater is not at all the invention of authors of Nikita. In fact, liquid is an advantageous substance for demonstrating women's body in dynamics. Female wrestling in mud, oil and other substances became popular not for nothing.

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Anyway, the writers of this episode score! The water turns everything on its head: Nikita is a highly trained fighter but, in water, she is robbed of many of her acquired skills. Additionally, because the women fight in full length gowns, they are literally turned into fighting fish But there's something deeper at work here. Water is our foundation. It fills our bodies. It is our pre-natal environment. It is a source of life, danger and fascination for us. It runs in wide rivers at the depths of our psyches.

Water makes for an erotic experience and the fight itself, while nothing spectacular in the action department, is among the most erotic fights Barbara have ever seen. With spectacular music in the background (a lovely score with a moaning voice), lighting that uses the water to its maximum, a dungeon like room with the pool in the middle, a group of men in individual rooms watching (far above the action), and those gowns floating in that water like the tails of fish! The fight is not so much the "slug and kick" female fighting we are seeing with increasing frequency on the tube but an exploration into the eroticism of female fighting (which is, after all, what this "brothel" is all about, right?).

Although Nikita is matched against the "big mama" of the house who wins all her fights (which is why she's still alive), for a time, Aurora seems to be winning. Aurora, by the way, is played by actress and martial artist Marjean Holden). But Nikita executes a flip in the water and a kick out, and then proceeds to dunk her opponent. She doesn't kill her though. Instead, after a complex maneuver she escapes the poor, hands Aurora a gun and does her "egress"... When Nikita comes close to finishing her opponent off what is that on her arms? Gloves... white gloves. She's also in a different dress! I guess they shot that one separately but didn't have a substitute shot so they used it -- it's not noticeable in the video action but, in vidcaps, the gaff is revealed! Still, a brilliant piece of television!

This exotic episode one more time confirms the fact that eroticism is a primary factor for filmmakers in women's combat. Whatever feminist say...


Femme Nikita Femme Nikita - fishes
Femme Nikita. Hand-to-hand (1999)



*) Note: Barbara's direct speech is italicized


Not being experts in cinematograph as well as not considering this review to be anyhow exhaustive, we stop discussing the Action and Crime film at this point. We will welcome in every way possible any impulse to complete and correct this article.

We appreciate the inestimable help by Mr. Lebowsky.

The most of the photographs and videoclips are taken from the websites: Bout Time Studios, "Women in prison" and Fighting Females Article

May 15, 2006




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Last updated: May, 15, 2006


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