Women in martial arts


Forget about the men, it’s time for the ladies to step into the spotlight. Arthur Tam explores the women that have shaped, contributed and kicked major ass in Hong Kong martial arts cinema. Photography by Calvin Sit. Art Direction by Phoebe Cheng. Cover art by Stanley Chung

No one would argue that Hong Kong, starting with the rise of Shaw Brothers, has dominated martial arts cinema for much of the last 50 years. Local film makers laid the foundation for many of the greatest action films ever made, giving rise to revered international action heroes like Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan and, of course, the greatest of the greatest, the dragon himself, Bruce Lee.

Yes, these are the men that we adore to this day, but we forget that to their yang there has always been a strong yin.The great women of Hong Kong martial arts cinema are often overlooked and overshadowed by their male counterparts. It’s unfair and ludicrous since much of the genre was shaped by female fighters like Cheng Pei-pei, Kara Hui, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Mao, Cynthia Rothrock and Yuen Qiu. In the 50s and 60s, female lead roles in wuxia and kung fu films were just as prevalent as male roles and the ladies threw it down with as much strength, speed and tenacity as the men did, if not more.

These day it’s all about fighting to level the playing field and in the light of increasing girl power, what better way to celebrate than to acknowledge women in an industry that has been so essential to the popularity of Hong Kong pop culture. Snapped tendons, bruised eyes and broken bones – yup, they went through it all and more. It’s time we all recognise.


Cheng Pei-pei (鄭佩佩)
"I'm very proud, and competitive to a fault. I thought, if a man can do it, so can I". Read more


Kara Hui (惠英紅)
"Once you snap enough tendons because of something, you begin hating it." Read more


Michelle Yeoh (楊紫瓊)
"To be respected and appreciated as an action or martial artist is a privilege". Read more


Juju Chan (陳鈺芸)
"It's time to revive HK martial arts films, especially with girls". Read more


Mandy Ho (何佩珉)
"When people look at me, they don’t really see someone who would practice kung fu”. Read more



Chi Tsi-ang (錢似鶯)
The first female martial arts figure to break the glass ceiling in action movies. Read more


Polly Shang Kwan (上官靈鳳)
A 1960s actress of Cantonese origin, likened as 'the phoenix to Bruce Lee's dragon'. Read more


Angela Mao (茅復靜)
Mao went from songstress to martial arts star and helped pave the way for future female action stars. Read more


Yuen Qiu (元秋)
Qiu began her career as one of the earliest female stuntwomen in the film industry and famously went on to star in The Man with the Golden Gun and Kung Fu Hustle. Read more


Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan (楊盼盼)
Known for her dizzying kicks and fast footwork, Yeung's most prominent roles were in the 1990s movies Angel Enforcer, Angel Terminators and The Way of the Lady Boxers. . Read more


Cynthia Rothrock
The self-proclaimed 'queen of martial arts films' is one of the few Western female martial arts heroines to achieve stardom in the HK movie scene. Read more


Cynthia Khan
A 90s mainstay, Khan defied the social standards applied to women by defeating male characters and showing remarkable endurance in fights. Read more



Top 5 fictional female martial arts fighters
From folklore to TV dramas, these ladies not only kick ass but challenge social norms. Read more


The best martial arts classes in Hong Kong
Want to become the next Wong Fei-hung or Bruce Lee? We round up some of the best martial arts classes in town, so you can get started. Read more


Top 10 Chinese kung fu styles
The men and women who beat up baddies on the silver screen use a variety of different styles of kung fu to dispense justice. We check out 10 of the most colourful styles. Read more



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