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10 Asian Biopics for Women's History Month

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March is Women's History Month. In addition to reading up on history, take a look at how notable female figures, from artists and athletes to royals and revolutionaries, are remembered and reimagined on the silver screen.

Ko Ah Sung in A Resistance
A Resistance
Yu Gwan Sun was only 17 years old when she passed away in prison in 1920 as a martyr of Korea's independence movement. Incidentally, March also marks the anniversary of the March 1st Movement, and Jo Min Ho's somber, stirring biopic pays homage to the young activist who was arrested for organizing demonstrations against Japanese rule in her hometown. Ko Ah Sung portrays the heroic resistance of Yu Gwan Sun, who is remembered as one of the most symbolic figures in Korea's fight for independence.

Yoshinaga Sayuri in Actress
Tanaka Kinuyo was one of the greatest actresses of the golden age of Japanese cinema, regularly appearing in the films of Mizoguchi Kenji, Ozu Yasujiro and Naruse Mikio from the 30s to the 50s. She was also Japan's second ever female director; she made her directorial debut in 1953 with the romance Love Letter which was selected for the Cannes Film Festival. Ichikawa Kon's 1989 biopic depicts the early life of Tanaka Kinuyo, from her humble beginnings to her rise to stardom. The trail-blazing actress is portrayed in the film by another legend, Yoshinaga Sayuri.

Tang Wei in The Golden Era
The Golden Era
Hong Kong director Ann Hui's biographical drama chronicles the turbulent life and literary defiance of maverick Chinese writer Xiao Hong, portrayed by Tang Wei. The winner of five awards at the 34th Hong Kong Film Awards, the film paints both a sweeping landscape of the literary scene and historical turmoil of early 20th century China, and an intimate portrait of a progressive female writer who lived, loved and created on her own terms.

Anita Mui in Kawashima Yoshiko
Kawashima Yoshiko
Anita Mui takes the title role of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Manchu princess who was executed for acting as a spy for the Japanese army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Eddie Fong's sweeping 1990 biopic rethinks the life and circumstances of this complicated and controversial figure, who was raised in Japan after the fall of the Qing Dynasty. Abused and manipulated by her adoptive family, she later struck out on her own, and became a Japanese spy and influential fixer in Manchuria, even forming and commanding her own militia unit.

Son Ye Jin in The Last Princess
The Last Princess
In a Daejong-winning performance, Son Ye Jin stars as the tragic and courageous Princess Deokhye, the last princess of the Joseon Dynasty, in Hur Jin Ho's heartrending film based on a novel by Kwon Bi Young. Held captive in Japan from a young age, Princess Deokhye struggled for freedom against the unforgiving tides of history and personal loss. Even after the end of WWII, she struggled for the right to return to her homeland.

Peter Chan's Leap
Peter Chan's award-winning biographical sports drama chronicles four decades in the history of the China women's national volleyball team. Episodic stories capture the team's ups and downs over three generations as well as the decorated career of Lang Ping, the first person in volleyball history to win gold at the Olympics as both a player and a coach. Portrayed by Gong Li in the film's later years, Lang Ping was a star player of the legendary eighties team that won gold at the 1984 Olympics. As a coach, she led the Chinese team to gold at the 2016 Olympics.

Miss Hokusai
Miss Hokusai
Katsushika Oi was an ukiyo-e artist of early 19th century Japan. Her father: Katsushika Hokusai, the creator of the iconic The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Based on Sugiura Hinako's manga Sarusuberi, Hara Keiichi's visually enthralling 2015 animated film celebrates and reimagines Katsushika Oi (voiced by Anne), a strong-minded and free-spirited talent who assisted her father's work while walking to her own beat, both in art and in life.

Bae Suzy in The Sound of a Flower
The Sound of a Flower
Lee Jong Pil's poetically titled 2015 historical drama is based on the life of Jin Chae Seon, the first female master of pansori. Set in 19th century Joseon Korea, the period biopic stars Bae Suzy as the young Jin Chae Seon, who persists in learning the musical storytelling art that only men were allowed to perform at the time. Earning the notice of her teacher with her talent, she breaks into this male-only world, and even poses as a man to sing for the regent in order to prove her worth.

Maggie Cheung, Michelle Yeoh and Vivian Woo in The Soong Sisters
The Soong Sisters
"One loved money, one loved power, one loved her country." So goes the saying about the Soong Sisters, who married three of the most powerful men of modern Chinese history. In Mabel Cheung's award-winning 1997 historical drama, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Vivian Woo play Soong Ai Ling, Soong Ching Ling and Soong Mei Ling, respectively. Ai Ling married wealthy banker H.H. Kung, Ching Ling married Sun Yat-sen, and Mei Ling married Chiang Kai-shek. Highly educated and strong-minded, each sister chose her own path during turbulent times, and influenced the course of China.

Crystal Huang in The Woman Knight of Imperial Lake
The Woman Knight of Imperial Lake
One of the most celebrated female figures of modern Chinese history, Qiu Jin was a revolutionary, martial artist and women's rights activist during the late Qing era. She advocated for women's education and empowerment, and became a leader in the underground movement to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. Crystal Huang plays the pioneering revolutionary, known as the "Woman Knight of Mirror Lake," in Herman Yau's action-packed 2011 biopic.

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Published March 18, 2021

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