Monday, November 01, 2021

Female Assassin Movies

One of the most enduring action sub-genres has been that of an assassin movie. Each year, there are many examples of both male and female assassin movies that continue to be made no matter what the state of world is. There have been many female assassin movies made in different parts of the world so people could have started at a different place depending on their specific cinematic journey. One early starting point is Japanese cinema with Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood (1973).

Lady Snowblood

For others, the starting point could be female assassins that exist in wuxia films. Wong Kar-wai explored this world in Ashes of Time (1994) while Hou Hsiao-Hsien covered this in his beautiful film The Assassin (2015).

The Assassin

The more famous of these wuxia films in North America is Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).

At the turn of the century, for some the starting point may have been Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003-04), which in turn was inspired by Lady Snowblood among its many inspirations.

Kill Bill
However, for me the starting point for female assassin movies was France with Luc Besson’s Nikita / Le Femme Nikita (1990) starring Anne Parillaud. 
Of course, Besson also went on to direct one of the most brilliant male assassin movies a few years later with Léon: The Professional (1994) starring Jean Reno and a very young Natalie Portman making her acting debut. But Besson has returned to the world of female assassins more frequently and directed Lucy (2014, starring Scarlett Johansson) 

and the recent Anna (2019, starring Sasha Luss). 

He also co-wrote the script for Colombiana (2011) staring Zoe Saldana as a ruthless assassin going by the name of Cataleya.
Woman with one name or a nickname

Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Olivier Megaton’s Colombiana stand apart from other films in this sub-genre because the film’s title is not the woman’s name or her descriptor. Instead, Tarantino’s film title is the target of the killer. If the film had been called The Bride, it would have fit with other such films in this category such as Lady Snowblood (1973), Atomic Blonde (2017), The Villainess (2017), Red Sparrow (2018), Black Widow (2021).

Colombiana is a title pointing towards the killer’s origin location. If the film had been called Cataleya, then it would have been right at home with other one name titles such as Nikita (1990), Hanna (2011, directed by Joe Wright), Lucy (2014), Anna (2019), Ava (2020, directed by Tate Taylor), the recent Kate (2021, directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan).

Common Framework

Back in the day, the story mattered when it came to these films. Now, the story isn’t relevant. The framework of these films is the same and the backstory is quickly dispensed with or told in flashbacks such as that in Kate.

The story often involves a young girl trained to be a killing machine because her parents were killed and she is orphaned and wants revenge. In these films, the girl turned killer woman is ruthless, cold-blooded, has an incredible ability to survive bullets, fights and can leap from buildings without ever getting a scratch. She is essentially a video game character come alive. On top of that, the female assassin can easily cross borders like a ghost, change her identity at the drop of a hat and never be caught unless the script demands it. Since these movies are all aware of other such films in the sub-genre, the goal of each subsequent movie is to increase the action, the gore and body count. At times, scenes from these movies are hard to distinguish. Segments from Anna, Kate and Red Sparrow could have been spliced together and one wouldn’t have noticed.

Like horror films, these assassin movies are churned out and follow a specific template. The only variation is the body count continues to increase as is the gruesome manner of killing. In the male assassin cinematic world, John Wick and its copycats will continue to be made while the same is true of the female assassin world. The recent news that a female spin-off of John Wick will be made called Ballerina isn’t a surprise. In a way, these assassin movies run in a parallel universe to the comic book hero movies yet are all part of the same studio roller coaster.

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