Most of us know by heart the kung fu heroes of the big screen – the likes of Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Jet Lee – but not many are probably familiar with Kara Wai. Allow me the honor to introduce you to this badass woman.
If you’re familiar with the works of Shaw Brothers, you might recognize her. Kara is an action heroine whose starring roles date back to the golden days of Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers in the 1970s.
Kara can be considered as the first female lead in an action movie. Her most memorable film is My Young Auntie, in which she plays a young student who marries her dying teacher to protect his inheritance. The film brought home HK$ 8 million at the box office, but it almost didn’t get made. Kara said everyone was hesitant to make the film at first.
“Until that point in the movie business, there had never been any female leads in any movie,” Kara said. “It was a turning point in Hong Kong films.”
Since then, everyone realized that women could kick ass too. She has been cast in many action-packed films such as The Inspector Wears Skirts.
Kara wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She started her career after a hardship. She used to begged and peddled cigarettes, gums and other knick-knacks in the street of Hong Kong. Her first involvement in film started when she was 16. Despite having starred in many action films, Kara has never learned martial arts. She approached the moves in action scenes the way she would learn a dance move.
At the age of 55, Kara has decided to end her career in film. In an interview at the 21st annual Busan International Film Festival, Kara said she will retire and her final bow as an action heroine would be Mrs. K and 77 Heartbreaks. Both of the films will be screened in Osaka Asian Film Festival 2017.
She explained her decision in an interview: “This is my last action movie. Another chance might not come and physically I just can’t do it anymore. I’m too old and too scared I’ll get hurt.”
In Mrs. K, which is directed by Malaysian director Ho Yuhang, Kara plays the titular character Mrs. K, a housewife who lives in a quiet suburban neighborhood with her husband Mr. K and their daughter Lil’ K. One day, a stranger shows up to blackmail Mrs. K. He is an ex-cop who knows about her unseemly past. He doesn't seem to pose much of a threat and she punishes him, hoping that he will back off, but it's only a prelude to imminent terror. Soon, Lil' K is kidnapped and Mrs K is forced out of her sheltered life to face an old enemy. Expect some kick-ass action from Kara in this film.
Mrs. K also marks the return of the duet of Kara and Ho, who resurrected her career by casting her in his acclaimed drama At The End of Daybreak (2009). Kara took a decade of hiatus because it was difficult for her to find roles outside of the kung fu genre. While she enjoyed fighting bad guys, Kara believes she could be more than that. Her role in At The End of Daybreak earned her a record seven awards, including Best Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards, Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards, Changchun Film Festival, and Vladivostok International Film Festival.
“There is no reason I couldn’t do drama,” she declared.
For Mrs. K, Ho, who is only 4 years old when Kara got her big break, admitted he’d spent five years working on a screenplay that he hoped would be suitable for “an icon of martial arts.”
Kara’s moving portrayal and movement in action films has earned her so many awards. The latest was the Osaka Asia Star Award by Osaka Asian Film Festival 2017. During the festival, which ran from March 3 to 12, she was honored in a talk show for her important role in the Asian film world. In all, she has appeared in over 140 movies and television series, both in Hong Kong and China.
Kara will be very much missed. In an industry dominated by male, her versatile skills have made her stand out.
Tatu Hutami works as a journalist and consultant. She leaves her heart somewhere on earth and still trying to figure it out. While not busy working, she is tending her blog in jakartanistic.com