Theater of Power: Girls With Guns to Category III
“if I make a fist it looks like I’m going to hit you” (Michiko Nishiwaki)

Although clearly possessing the appearance, physique and acting skills for femme fatale roles, it appears that Michiko also continued to develop her martial arts.  While her early screen appearances (“My Lucky Stars,” 1985; “Young Lady Detectives,” 1987) had involved relatively basic action sequences, within a year or two Michiko’s action performances were considerably more impressive, with higher roundhouse kicks and strong push kicks, punches or strikes.  By the time of her appearance in “The Mighty Gambler” (1992) Michiko appeared to have been studying Japanese styles expressing physical power, such as Shotokan or Goju-ryu.  While working in Hong Kong she reportedly studied wushu with Cheng Chi Chung.  Her later action sequences (“Raiders of Loesing Treasure,” 1992; “Passionate Killing In The Dream,” 1992; “Fatal Seduction,” 1993) seem  considerably more coherent in comparison to earlier fight sequences that appeared to have been enhanced by short takes, low camera angles and using objects to gain height advantage.  Michiko’s study of sword forms is shown to good effect in “The Mighty Gambler” (1992), “Widow Warriors” (1990) – with inverted blade – and “Fatal Seduction” (1993).  If her fight sequences did not quite approach the same fluid power as Agnes Aurelio or athletic flexibility of Shiomi Etsuko – capable of knee-striking a standing man’s chin – Michiko nevertheless projected remarkable talent seemingly acquired in a relatively brief span of time.

“I have to show that a woman can be strong and have beauty at the same time” (Michiko Nishiwaki)

Some reviews of GWG movies refer to them as “female-centric” action films, as if the absence of male leads were somehow unnatural.  This short-lived genre provided an almost unique opportunity for a few determined, talented female action actors to occupy center screen.  A few would go on to rank among the highest grossing female stars of the HK movie industry.  While it would be mistaken to regard these movies as explicitly feminist - female warriors having long occupied a role in Asian history and myth - some of the female action stars who became synonymous with this movie genre developed screen characters that directly challenged sexism deeply ingrained in both personal relations and the workplace.  Some went a step further to challenge gender role assumptions by strong portrayals of modernity and self-sufficiency - even indifference to males.  This challenge was particularly striking in the traditionally male arena of the action film.

By contrast, Michiko’s physique and sensuality earned her numerous HK movie parts cast as the counterpoint to such female action figures.  She appeared in supporting roles alongside many of the best-known female action stars, including Cynthia Rothrock (“City Cops,” 1989), Cynthia Khan (“In The Line of Duty III,” 1988), Moon Lee (“Princess Madam,” 1989; “Angel Terminators,” 1990), Sharon Yeung (“Angel Terminators,” 1990) and Yukari Oshima (“Outlaw Brothers,” 1990).  In all these parts Michiko was cast as criminal femme fatale, her seductive ruthlessness serving to sharpen sympathy for the female leads who were, in effect, her rivals.  In a further two movies (“Widow Warriors,” 1990 and “The Dragon Fighter,” 1990) Michiko played in supporting roles alongside Kara Hui Ying-Hung and Sibelle Hu respectively - representing a virtual clean sweep of the leading female action stars of the genre.

Three additional female-centric films made toward the close of the GWG genre involved assisting Sibelle Hu fight off the takeover of her casino in “The Mighty Gambler” (1992), a very low budget “odd couple” crime drama “Whore and Policewoman” (1993), and “The Avenging Quartet” (1993).  This film, which assembled the talents of former dancer Moon Lee, former dancer Cynthia Khan, martial artist Yukari Oshima and bodybuilder Michiko presented any number of possibilities.  Unfortunately, none was realized and the film cast the two Japanese women in small supporting cameos.  Although the contrast between their scheming and the good-natured innocence of Moon Lee’s and Cynthia Khan’s characters was a familiar device, the additional tension between Michiko’s character and her Japanese partner is unexpectedly intriguing - pitting elements of vengeful narcissism against bushido.  Albeit brief, this is the perhaps most interesting aspect of the movie.

“She wants me to do that . . . with her!  I’m not interested in this at all” (Michiko, “Passionate Killing In The Dream”)

When it was Michiko’s turn to occupy the starring role in several of her later movies, she would be given a more conventional part - either as a dutiful lover (“The Real Me,” 1991), a freelance photographer and fiancee (“Passionate Killing In The Dream,” 1992) or business owner (“Raiders of Loesing Treasure,” 1992).  Once again, female action actors provided a counterpoint - either as the jealous wife of her lover played by Kara Hui Ying-Hung in “The Real Me” (1991), the lesbian fashion director “Catherine” who makes an unsuccessful pass at Michiko’s character “Sha-Sha” after seeing her working out (“Passionate Killing In The Dream,” 1992), or the devoted personal assistant, driver and bodyguard “Little Pepper” in “Raiders of Loesing Treasure” (1992).  In these instances it was Michiko’s character that was the center of romantic interest of the leading males.  The female supporting characters were romantically rejected - either by the male leads or Michiko’s character.

“. . . romantic film and everything” (Michiko Nishiwaki, in English)

If the personal is also the political, then Michiko’s roles can be argued to have affirmed gender role stereotypes and the status quo.  Examples include relatively graphic nudity and depictions of sexuality spanning her Asian movie career (“Young Lady Detectives,” 1987; “In The Line of Duty III,” 1988; “Princess Madam,” 1989; “The Real Me,” 1991; “The Avenging Quartet,” 1993; “Hero Dream,” 1993).  Her characters have also often been courted, married, or grieving for a partner (“In The Line of Duty III, 1988; “Widow Warriors,” 1990; “Angel Terminators,” 1990; “The Dragon Fighter,” 1990; “Passionate Killing In The Dream,” 1992; “Raiders of Loesing Treasure,” 1992).  These roles emphasize relations with men as a primary determinant of her characters’ actions.

Other, more subtle indicators of male dominance include appearing as an assistant or subordinate - often kimono-clad (“My Lucky Stars,” 1985; “God of Gamblers,” 1989; “Princess Madam,” 1989; “The Real Me,” 1991; “King of Gambler,” 1991).  Elements such as accepting or seeking romantic or sexual advances from males, or accepting male control, are relatively prominent in Michiko’s appearances.

It is only in movies in which the female leads were either themselves unsuccessfully courted (“City Cops,” 1989; “Outlaw Brothers,” 1990), a few cop roles (“City on Fire,” 1993; “Big Circle Blues,” 1993) or action cameos (“Fatal Seduction,” 1993) that Michiko’s character does not appear explicitly as a sexual object - although all three of the latter movies feature gratuitous rapes of minor characters, and Michiko’s HK policewoman is treated quite disparagingly by Mark Cheng’s Taiwanese cop in “Big Circle Blues” (1993).  In “Whore And Policewoman” (1993) there are several rape scenes - including the attempted rape of Michiko’s character.

“I’m enjoying you, you lousy rubbish” (Michiko, “Hero Dream”)

Graphic or explicit sexuality is present in many of Michiko’s 23 films.  Of approximately 15 movies falling under the GWG classification  Michiko’s characters display overt sexual relations with men in five of them - including most of her more substantial parts.   Michiko’s character is involved in sexual scenes in another three films, while overt sexual scenes are present in a further four.  Of her 23 movies, relatively graphic sexuality is present in a total of 12.  Perhaps this emphasis on sexuality may be viewed as a studied contrast to the asexual persona adopted by some of the leading GWG stars.  Michiko evidently sought to capitalize on both her physical strength and sensual physique.

Lingering impressions of Michiko’s roles involve a combination of physical power, sexuality and potential violence.  The presence of such contrasting elements both distracts and fascinates.  She had every reason to be proud of her physical condition and appearance, and appears to have understandably sought to display it to advantage.  The unpredictability of Michiko’s characters reflects the acting talent and dedication she also brought to often small parts.  The results are indeed striking.