The New Wave of Female Actions Heroes

You’ve heard the buzz. The first five minutes of Haywire see a friendly chat in a diner erupt into the kind of head-bashing, floor-grappling brawl you’d expect to see at your local ‘Fight Club.’ In this case, though, the prime ass-kicker is female and, if those first five minutes are anything to go on, movie-goers are in for a very different take on the action heroine. Yes, we’ve seen babes kick butt before, but it’s always been in a style-over-substance context (Kill Bill, anyone?). Haywire is clearly an exception: Eclectic auteur Steven Soderbergh was so inspired after seeing mixed-martial-artist Gina Carano in action that he built a whole picture around her. The role, if it matters, is a Jason-Bourne-esque covert agent who, naturally, is double-crossed by her handlers. Soderbergh corralled a bevy of A-Grade beef for Carano to swing at: Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas and a particularly slimy Ewen McGregor. What makes this movie different is that wen you see this girl take on, and take down, male opponents twice her size, you can believe it.

Is Hollywood finally done with “Waif Fu”? That’s the peculiar form of physics-defying fighting ability (as coined by sites like where a character’s martial skill is inversely proportional to their flimsiness. Having the most petite girl deliver the beatdowns seems in its own way perversely sexist. Carano’s casting is a step towards correcting this trend, or at least providing an alternative. In the meantime, there remain plenty of stick-figure femmes fatales fu’ing up the silver screen. Let’s see how they measure up.

River (Firefly series)
The genetically-modified prodigy from Joss Whedon’s cult sci-fi series (TV show Firefly, movie and comics Serenity) is the epitome of Waif-fu. She’s capably played by Summer Glau, a real-life former ballerina, whose en pointe moves are turned into kicks in the head. Seriously?

Selene (Underworld movies)
Kate Beckinsale stars as an elegant, icy cool, vinyl-clad vampire in the Underworld series (installment #4 out soon). Sure, we get that the vampiric powers give her super strength etc.; still, don’t expect us to buy she’s pulling off all that killer kung-fu in a corset.

Alice (Resident Evil movies) [pictured]
Supermodel-turned-actress Milla Jovovich is the undead-mashing heroine of the Resident Evil series, astoundingly coming back for a fifth round. Count it as just improbable when she flying roundhouse-kicked a zombie-dog off a wall (you had to see it; if you did, you didn’t believe it). Jovovich also has the dubious distinction of starting this trend, with her alien antics as “Leeloo” in The Fifth Element.

Cataleya (Colombiana)
Perhaps the most lithe of all the ladies on this list is Zoe Saldana, playing a master assassin on the trail of the drug kingpins who killed her parents. Hence the vengeance part of the tagline, “Vengeance is Beautiful.” Presumably, the beautiful part comes from this woman’s gazelle-like physique. They just don’t build master assassins like they used to.

What are your favourite action cinema waifs? Give us a roundhouse in the Comments.

Image courtesy of Alliance Films.

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