Girls With Relations and Girls With Guns

“The more you pity him, the more wounds you’ll have” (Nadeki, “Pink Panther”)

A relative latecomer to GWG films, Nadeki was arguably the last female martial artist to attain any real productivity in this genre.  She missed most of the best opportunities in the period 1987 – 1990 that rapidly capitalized on the initial impact of films made by Cynthia Rothrock, Michelle Yeoh, Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima.  Instead, Nadeki’s best work coincided with the rise in popularity of Cat. III titles.  Even “Cheetah on Fire” includes a gratuitous scene wholly irrelevant to its story.  Nadeki was willing to appear in several Cat. III titles (“Erotic Passion,” “Satyr Monks,” “Rock on Fire,”) and, although she did not personally participate in any explicit scenes, nevertheless is on camera during at least one such sequence in “Rock on Fire.”

Nadeki’s screen presence, skill and reserved formality even in Cat. III contexts offers possible clues concerning the appeal of martial arts in GWG films, and where androgynous clothing or manner and the physical vigor of martial arts may fall on a continuum of sensuality and visual pleasure.  Of all Nadeki’s parts, “Pink Panther” may involve the most direct statement in opposition to traditional gender role stereotypes.  Unlike virtually any other comparable genre film or performer, Nadeki’s character is depicted as loyal to no one other than her female comrades.  There is no male partner or police supervisor, or even respect for the law.  She simply carves her own path, expressing dismissive contempt for reliance on conventional relations.

To some extent, this is a recurrent theme.  In an early supporting role (“Killer Angels”) Nadeki was cast as the girlfriend of Gordon Lau’s bodyguard character.  However, she does not actually develop any on-screen relationship.  Instead, her part is all suspicion and counter-aggression.  Although she was cast as the partner of Ken Lo in “Mission of Condor,” her character is conspicuously independent – undergoing a reversal of loyalties during the film.  Similarly, when again cast as a girlfriend of Donnie Yen in “Crystal Hunt” it was as an “ex,” thereby allowing their parts to each develop.  Yet other parts are virtually disengaged from personal relations (“Cheetah on Fire,” “Lady Killer,” “Wonderful Killer,” “Rock on Fire”), contributing to character depictions of competent, independent individuals who are pragmatic and determined.

Nadeki’s relatively narrow range of casting illustrates the trajectory of the female action genre.  Several earlier genre classics (e.g., “Royal Warriors,” 1986; “Angel,” 1987) retained the conventions of romantic overtures toward their female leads.  Together with the patriarchal authority structures of these police dramas, such devices suggested continuity with traditional gender roles and relations.  However, within a scant few years the genre had rapidly evolved.  By the early 1990s, when Nadeki began to have substantial parts, leading roles for female action performers had become stripped to their defining essentials.  In her early 1990s roles Nadeki was on screen for the action (“Mission of Condor,” “Crystal Hunt,” “Cheetah on Fire”), with only passing reference to interpersonal relationships.  This would be refined even further, so that by the time of her casting in “Pink Panther” (1993), “Satyr Monks” (1994) or “Rock on Fire” (1994) Nadeki’s screen persona had become implacable, remote, and progressively disconnected from social ties or obligations.  Ultimately playing a conspicuously independent, coolly professional police detective (“Rock on Fire”) or coldly fanatical avenger (“Pink Panther”), Nadeki’s very austerity and zeal for combat provided a stark contrast to the other character portrayals in these films – whether of vulnerability, exploitation or abusive male conduct.
A film genre that had emerged a few years earlier, seemingly as a variant on male action roles, by the mid-1990s had completely appropriated their defining features.  In so doing, the portrayal of actual males became increasingly unflattering.  While the sincerity of such contrasts in Cat. III productions might be doubted, the trend nevertheless seems clear.  By the mid 1990s female action films had largely co-opted traditionally male-gendered attributes of autonomy, integrity, dedication, courage and martial prowess.  “Yes, Madam” (1985) and its numerous successors portrayed an effective female functionary who could represent and enforce a coherent, recognizably patriarchal agenda.  The films of a decade later had inverted – if not subverted – the power relations.  By now, the female action figure had largely become the avenger – the punisher – of a personal rather than criminal code.  Nadeki’s rather formal screen presence, deadpan facial expressions and physical prowess were perfectly suited to such roles.