Merry Chicksmas: Celebrating the Female Action Star

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For a couple of years now some friends of mine have started a tradition. Every Christmas they pick an action star and binge on their movies. Starting with the “12 Days of Bruce-mas” – because Die Hard is a Christmas movie – the tradition continued the next year with Samuel L Jackson. They get people involved online and they all share their viewing experiences and movie choices. It’s a fun way to get into a theme and appreciate what makes it great. This year however, instead of focusing on one person, the decision has been made to celebrate all the great female action stars. So this year, instead of chucking on ‘The Grinch’ or ‘Elf’, why not celebrate the holiday season by watching ‘Aliens’ or ‘Terminator 2’?

Those classics are the obvious ones of course. And while you could easily fill your month (in actuality the celebrations tend to go through to January for maximum watching) watching the movies everybody thinks of, this 1Up Culture will throw a few more names in your direction to help aid you in your Chicksmas viewing.

Now keep in mind, the rules for Chicksmas are pretty loose. The only real definition you have to follow is that the movie must involve a female in some sort of action role. She doesn’t have to be the lead (ensemble characters are often the most memorable), but she does have to kick some level of ass. On a personal level, I also like the character to have some measure of a narrative arc, rather than just arrive, kick ass, and leave. So use this article as a starting point for your very own Merry Chicksmas!

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Chocolate – Jeeja Yanin

If your martial arts work is getting you compared to the legendary Tony Jaa, then you must have a certain special something. And while the Thai born Jeeja Yanin is quick to humble herself to such claims, she is no joke. Combining devastating muay that techniques she picked up training under Jaa with the flashier Tae Kwon Do form, of which she’s a third dan black belt, Jeeja Yanin is a true student of the arts, and someone who can kick ass even when the cameras have stopped rolling.

It is in the 2008 film ‘Chocolate’ where Yanin gets the chance to stretch out and showcase her array of skills. She plays Zen, an autistic girl who learns martial arts through mimicking the techniques she sees in schools and in the movies, and uses them to settle her mother’s debts by righting the wrongs done to her family. Not only do we see the great mix of her Tae Kwon Do and Muay Thai abilities, but we also see her drawing inspiration from one of her favourite movie stars – Jackie Chan, mixing comedy and clever use of her environment to put on a great scene in the warehouse. Jeeja Yanin might not be the most famous person on this list, but pound for pound she’s arguably the most legitimate.

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Serenity – Summer Glau

Considering how much I love the series, it’s amazing that in the years I’ve been doing 1Up Culture how little the cult classic ‘Firefly’ has been mentioned (the articles that is, there may be a five part series analysis I did with Jareth on 1Up Culture Cast of course…). While the series itself wasn’t too full of action outside of a few gunfights and bar room brawls, the movie decides to up the ante, particularly with everybody’s favourite deranged psychic – River Tam.

Summer Glau’s extensive dance history came in handy for the movie. We get a couple of stellar fight scenes with River gracefully walloping anyone who tried to stop her, be it man or Reaver. While Mal is captain of Serenity, both the ship and the movie, this movie is as much about River as it is anyone else, and in between the great fight scenes we get some great acting from Summer.

Bonus points also go to Gina Torres as Zoe, who is the designated ass kicker on the team. While she prefers to stop people from a distance, she looks no less awesome doing it.

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The Force Awakens/Rogue One – Daisy Ridley and Felicity Jones

That’s right December is more about Star Wars these days than it is about miracle births in Bethlehem. For the second straight year we’re getting a Star Wars movie to close out the year, and both of them have female characters at the front and centre. And while at this stage we can only speculate as to just how deserving Felicity Jones’ role as Jyn Erso will fit into the ‘Chicksmas’ role, I would say it’s worth the bet to see it in cinemas and find out for yourself.

And if not, we have Daisy Ridley as Rey “heritage and last name currently unknown”. The Star Wars movies always have plenty of action and adventure in them, and while the boys get plenty of time to have their fun, Rey is leading the way with this movie. Whether it’s piloting the Millennium Falcon like a veteran of the skies or being one of the few women to be seen wielding a lightsaber in the movies, Rey has got you covered and is inspiring a whole new generation of fans.

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Ghost in the Shell – Atsuko Tanaka/Mimi Woods (Japanese/English Voice Actresses)

And no I haven’t gone into the future and brought next year’s Scarlet Johansson adaptation to us all early, I’m talking about the 1995 animated movie – hey there’s no rule stating it has to be live action. And there’s a reason why people are so protective of this franchise. Ghost in the Shell is an incredible blend of wonderful animation, story, action and dense philosophical themes. This is more of a thinking (wo)man’s movie than many of the others I’ve mentioned, but Major Motoko Kusanagi is perhaps more interesting a character than anybody else on this list, and could probably outfight the lot of them. And while it may be slower narrative, there’s still some dynamite action sequences that still hold up today. There’s more to the franchise than just this movie, but the sequel ‘Innocence’ may lean a bit too heavy on the philosophy/action ratio to properly qualify.

We can only hope next year’s Hollywood adaptation deserves to be on this list this time next year. Please Hollywood, don’t screw this one up…

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Mad Max: Fury Road – Charlize Theron

Now for fans of this movie, this should be the kind of movie that you think of alongside Aliens and Terminator 2, it’s that strong a female lead. But while the movie certainly exceeded box office expectations, it is still easy to note the name in the movie: Mad Max. Ignore the title, this movie’s star is Theron’s Furiosa, the take no nonsense driver of both vehicles and story. This is the epitome of visually glorious action, and should be at the top of action movie binge sessions in general, least of all when the theme is on female leads. It’s a story told through actions rather than dialogue, but even without the verbal barrage it can be digested as either just an awesome action movie of one with deeper meanings and themes.

The best of themes being of course, that wanton destruction is fun to watch. Thank you Charlize Theron.

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Michelle Yeoh/Ziyi Zhang

Readers of 1Up Culture will know I’ve already sung praises over one of the incredible fights scenes these two women had in this movie, and while that fight is impressive, don’t let it detract from the story (and movie as a whole). There’s a reason this movie broke through the cultural barriers and become popular not only in its native country of China, but the Western market as well. Because of Crouching Tiger’s success, other movies like House of Flying Daggers, Hero and Memoirs of a Geisha were able to gain traction overseas, introducing audiences to a style of cinema that was hard to find at the time.

It’s not just the ladies who get to display the incredible and mesmerising Wuxia fighting style that would characterise many of the Chinese action movies of the early 00s that would reach out West, but Yeoh and Zhang steal the show. Wire-Fu might be one of the more polarising styles, but it does lend itself to visually stunning action scenes. By including Crouching Tiger on your Chicksmas list, you get two fantastic leading action ladies for the price of one.

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Kill Bill 1&2 – Uma Thurmon

I swear every time I do some kind of movie list Kill Bill rears its violent head. But what kind of ‘Chickmas’ would be complete without Quentin Tarrantino’s tribute to the 70s Hong Kong action scene? The two movies are filled to brim with top notch action scenes, be it Uma’s decimation of the Crazy 88 gang or her duels with the assassins she once fought alongside.

Uma’s role as The Bride is iconic, but it’s not just her who gets to show off her action prowess. We get some great fighting from Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii, Daryl Hannah as Elle Driver, Vivica A Fox as Vernita Green and Chiaki Kuriyama as Gogo Yubari. The Kill Bill duology gives you two films of crazy over the top action and plenty of women trying to kill other women to enjoy this December.

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Mulan – Ming-Na Wen (Voice Actress)

Far and away the biggest ass-kicking princess in Disney’s lineup (even though she’s not technically a princess), Mulan is incredibly pro-active and assertive. Determined to protect her father, she dressed up as a man and enlists in the army as the family’s representative, and proceeds to save China as both a ‘man’ and a woman.

There’s huge growth in Mulan’s character through this movie, learning her own strength and perseverance as she battles not only her own inexperience and ignorance to certain situations, but also perceptions of what a woman can and can’t do, both naturally and within the ancient Chinese cultural sense. Now sure, the iconic and bombastic song the movie is known for might be about being a ‘man’, but this movie is all about the female power, and up there with Aladdin and Lion King as my favourite animated Disney films.

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Edge of Tomorrow – Emily Blunt

Based off of the Japanese light novel ‘All you need is Kill’, Edge of Tomorrow might be primarily a Tom Cruise action piece, but he only gets to be an action hero thanks for the tireless efforts of Emily Blunt’s character Sargeant Rita Vrataski. In their world she’s a famous warrior against the invading alien force, and much of the movie is her guiding Tom Cruise’s Bill Cage through life and death situations, until he gets good enough to survive on his own.

This isn’t just a movie with a great female star, it’s just a damn good science fiction movie in general. Cruise can be a bit hit or miss in that area, but Edge of Tomorrow is an engaging watch and uses it’s premise well. But there’s no denying Emily Blunt’s on-screen presence throughout.

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