If you love Korean content on Netflix, chances are you’ve probably seen My Name floating around the Top 5 list, and it’s on track to be another of Netflix’s biggest hits.
The high-octane action drama follows Yoon Jiwoo (Han So Hee) who’s determined to hunt down and kill her father’s murderer. She joins a mafia gang who train her up to be a killer, and then goes undercover in a narcotics unit as a mole, pairing up with fellow cop Jeon Pildo (Ahn Bo Hyun) as they navigate cases together. She has to straddle a fine line between cop and gangster mole until she solves her father’s murder mystery.
Who doesn’t love a strong lady who can kick ass? There have been a number of movies focusing on femme fatales who train themselves up to become a lone vengeance army, as we’ve seen in Colombiana (where Zeo Saldana tracks down her parents’ drug-lord murderers), Peppermint (with Jennifer Gardner avenging the deaths of her husband and child), and Sentinelle in which we see a soldier avenging her sister’s assault.
While Jiwoo represents a formidable fighting character in a Korean drama, she’s definitely not the first. In Netflix’ Sweet Home, there’s Yi-kyung (Lee Si-young) who’s a former firefigher and ex-special forces trained in martial arts. If you want to see more women kick ass, check out these Asian films with strong, leading female fighters:
Chocolate (2008) | Thailand
Some of you may remember Tony Jaa and the Ong Bak series, which thrust Thai cinema into the limelight for its quality of high-octane action sequences. Chocolate (also known as Zen, Warrior Within) follows the same formula when it comes to its fight scenes – no wires or special effects. All the action you see on screen are 100% real, and 1,000% dangerous. This was also Yanin “Jeeja” Vismistananda’s debut film performance.
Chocolate tells the story about Zen, an autistic young woman who goes around collecting debts owed to her cancer-stricken mother to pay for her chemotherapy. As a young child, Zen had uncanny reflexes and learned martial arts by watching Bruce Lee movies, so when she’s forced to defend herself during debt collection, she’s more than capable of incapacitating others. As her debt collection reaches the ears of the final boss, she has to fight all his underlings in order to protect herself and her family.
The Villainness (2017) | South Korea
Female assassins aren’t big in Korean films, and The Villainness is one a few to go international thanks to its intense action sequences and a body count in triple digits before the opening credits finish. Kim Ok-vin also looks totally at home wielding swords, daggers, and battle axes. The film is loaded with unique first-person camerawork, and its impressive action choreography and cinematography earned it a 4-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s also announced in July 2021 that Amazon will be adapting the film into a TV series.
Former assassin Sook-hee was honed from childhood into a merciless killing machine by a criminal organisation, but a betrayal sets her on the path to become a sleeper agent with the promise of freedom after 10 years of service. Living a normal life is no easy task, but when 2 men appear in her life suddenly, her past appears to her in a tangle of flashbacks that reveal her traumatic past. What she uncovers could destroy everything she’s worked for.
Furie (2019) | Vietnam
Vietnam may not be instantly associated with action flicks, but Furie showed us what they’re capable of in terms of action and cinematography, with lead actress Veronica Ngo praised for her acting. The film takes us from a sleepy Vietnamese village and across the countryside as our heroine fights her way to the city; the action sequence is reminiscent of spy movies, as she rides on stolen motorcycles and jumps on top of moving trains amidst all the action. Furie was selected as the Vietnamese entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, though not nominated.
Furie, or Hai Phong, is a notorious former gang member who moved to a small village in rural Vietnam to raise her daughter, Mai. However, Mai is kidnapped by a trafficking ring one day, and the gang soon find out how far Furie’s willing to go to bring her daughter home. She tracks the gang all the way to the city, fighting her way to get to Mai on buses, boats, trains, and motorcycle as henchmen after henchmen try to stop her – until she has a showdown with the final boss in order to rescue her daughter.
Maria (2019) | Philippines
When it comes to action films, the Philippines isn’t exactly known for strong female roles – especially not one in the lead. While Maria isn’t exactly praised as an original take on the vengeful assassin (the opening scene seems lifted from Bourne Identity, and other parts have John Wick vibes), it does open the door for other productions in the country. The action sequences are noteworthy.
Maria is a former cartel assassin who betrays her employers (by refusing to kill a father and daughter), and has to fake her death to start a peaceful new life with a husband and daughter. When her former employers discover she is alive, she’s back in the crosshairs – with her family murdered. Maria gets help from a friendly ex-assassin and then tracks down her former employers, most notably her ex-assassin partner, to exact her revenge.
Want more femme fatale flicks?
The Netflix-produced Kate (2021) is about an assassin who was poisoned and has only one day to discover the culprit and exact revenge on them. Set in neon-lit Tokyo, the action sequences are impressive, as we see Kate – who’s barely hanging on to consciousness – fight her way through the ranks of the yakuza with just several doses of heavy painkillers, and a hankering for lemon soda.
The Old Guard (2020), based on a comic book, is about a team of immortals specialising in revenge, led by Andy, played by Charlize Theron. She’s also no stranger to being in action roles, having been played the role of an MI6 field agent tasked with investigating the death of a fellow agent and recovering a list of double agents during the Cold War in Atomic Blonde (2017), which is also based on a comic.
The theme of killer female assassins is further cemented by the films like Anna (2019) where we see a young model-turned-assassin who turns into a double agent, Hanna (2011) which sees Saoirse Ronan as a 16-year old Hanna the assassin who’s bent on revenge, and Salt (2010) where Angelina Jolie is CIA agent Evelyn Salt who has to prove her innocence after she was accused of being a sleeper agent for the Russians.
No challenge is too great for these strong, resilient, and formidably intelligent women of the movies.