Thursday, January 26, 2012

Women Warriors, Part Four: MICHIKO NISHIWAKI

(It's about damn time I restarted this!)

It's without question that each of the actresses forever identified with the 'Girls With Guns' movement of Hong Kong action films were each unique in a given way. Take the screen personas of those I've described so far. Yukari Oshima is as hard-edged and pure in her fighting ability and presence as a katana blade. Moon Lee embodies the cute girl next door you couldn't help but like...but don't get on her bad side! Michelle Yeoh, thanks in part to her background in dance, is grace personified, even in the eye of a storm of bullets or facing a room full of bad guys.

The lady I'm about to describe made her own mark, too, a beauty who seems to be built battleship-tough.

No one could have predicted the life direction that Michiko Nishiwaki took, but then she was a trailblazer in a truly unique way. In part to improve her self-image, she worked hard and long at bodybuilding, something most women in her native Japan wouldn't even have given a thought to. Michiko didn't just excel: she became her country's first bodybuilding and powerlifting champion! In the process, she got the attention of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, two fast-rising stars in Hong Kong cinema. Her one-of-a-kind combination of beauty and muscular strength helped her get cast in a truly memorable role as a Yakuza heavy in the 1985 comedy-actioner, "My Lucky Stars".

I've seen the film, and "My Lucky Stars" won't leave anyone feeling lucky to have watched most of it! The comedy can get tedious and doesn't translate well, even dubbed into English. But then the last half hour of the film hits, and the action that Jackie and Sammo are legendary for hits...and then we see Michiko, a quiet image in a floral kimono. Then she takes it off to fight a lady cop, and if you're a guy, if your jaw DOESN'T drop seeing this bodybuilding beauty in a one-piece swimsuit, then you're severely gay.

Michiko's options were limited, unfortunately, but not because of a lack of martial arts or ability to speak Cantonese, the prevailing language HK films used. (She got better with both over time, though.) Like Yukari Oshima, Michiko almost consistently was typecast as a villain because she was Japanese. She still made a truly memorable mark in most of her films, especially "In the Line of Duty 3", "God of Gamblers" and "Magic Cop". Michiko then broadened her horizons and moved to Hollywood, and has been seen on the silver screen doing stunts in films from "Blade" to "Mission: Impossible 3"...she has slowed down since to focus on family life with her husband and son in California.

Whatever we'll see Michiko in next, I've got faith she'll leave an unforgettable she usually does! :)

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