Wonder Woman: Sword and Sandal Meets World War I


When I absorb the energy of an action film that features martial arts (MA) stylized fights, my mind sifts through the 11,000+ MA inspired films that I’ve watched since 1972 and ask myself, “Have I seen this before?” So if I share that I’ve seen the same thing hundreds of times in different films, it’s not an exaggeration. Yet if I see something new, emotions touched, my heart delights, I end up loving the film for life.

Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros Pictures

Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman (WW) is now on that loving film for life list. Though I enjoyed the fights and training sequences like when the Amazon warriors on their secret island are preparing for a war they hope doesn’t happen, the training sequences were all things I’ve seen from female warrior characters in Chinese films for decades. Yet my fondness for WW comes from one fight scene for reasons different than for most.

During the sequence, I hummed Bonnie Tyler‘s song I Need a Hero using a different gender. As I’m writing this, my eyes well up. “I need a hero…she’s gotta be strong, she’s gotta be fast, and she’s gotta be fresh for the fight.” Why the melancholy?

wonder woman
Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros Pictures

Though the comic book story of Princess Diana of Themyscira’s journey into becoming Wonder Woman is rooted in World War II, the film set her origin story during World War I (WWI; the war to end all wars). Why?

Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins is the first female to direct a DC or Marvel film. She shared with Entertainment Weekly,

“WWI is the first time civilization as we know it was finding its roots, but it’s not something we really know the history of. Even in the way that it was unclear who was in the right, which is a really interesting parallel to this time. Then you take a god with a moral compass, a moral belief system and drop her into this world, there are questions about women’s rights and a mechanized war where you don’t see who you’re killing.”

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Photo Credit: Clay Enos TM DC Comics

Gal Gadot the Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman (former Miss Israel and Israel Defense force combat trainer, Gal Gadot), who believes in fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves, leaves home to end WWI by killing the deposed malevolent god of war, Ares. She travels to the Western Front in France with the fighter pilot/spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) only to learn that stalemate troop movement of trench warfare, has lead to the death of millions.

The space between the opposing trenches is called No Man’s Land. As she peels away her disguise to reveal her true identity. She has sword in hand, shield in the other, she decides to help a defenseless village behind German lines. Climbing out of the trenches, she runs likes the wind into the heart of One Woman’s Land.

She first blocks bullets with her bracelets. But as she defies the German onslaught, she’s hit with machine gun frenzy. Overwhelmed, she takes a knee and hides behind her shield. Then, she deflects thousands of bullets that swarm around her like angry fluorescent bees. Trevor and the British forces find bravery and join her in One Woman’s Land. She’s become their leader.

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Screenshot of WONDER WOMAN - Official Trailer [HD]
Photo Source: Youtube Warner Bros. Pictures, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Q8fG0TtVAY

I began to cry, because several of my great Uncles fought in those trenches and died. I imagined that maybe they were thinking, “We need a hero.” For those minutes I found a moment of solace where all was not lost. It was a moving scene.

When she breaks through enemy lines, I’m back to reality. I then relish the sequence when she battles a group of Germans in an abandoned building. Though full of Hong Kong stylized fight choreography and wire gags, the fight’s biggest influence was 300 (2006). Where after Wonder Woman crashes out of a building, we see a slow motion, wide angle shot of her body’s profile flying through the air in a sword striking pose.

wonder woman
Photo Credit: Clay Enos TM DC Comics

Student coordinator – Damon Caro

Stunt coordinator Damon Caro was also 300‘s fight choreographer/stunt coordinator. I worked with Damon on two U.S. TV show in the 1990s and during breaks we’d talk about our favorite kung fu films. That influence is evident in Wonder Woman.

Though WW‘s fight scenes were highly fantastical and most engaging, Caro’s choreography followed a logical procession of one movement to the next, without relying on snap edits speed things up or to remove action beats where the brain wonders if the fights make sense. Variable camera speeds and stop action shots are used to emphasize wondrous skills. So the audience can clearly see the movement and appreciate how it fits into the action story.

Unlike many superheroes who are brooding characters wrestling with God complexes and inner demons, Wonder Woman has empathy and does good because she wants to. Jenkins told the New York Times,

“I wanted to tell a story about a hero who’s filled with love. And who believes in love and changing the betterment of mankind.”

wonder woman
Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros Pictures

Female Warriors

Though Western history does have a handful of fiery female warriors like the Lioness of Brittany, Jeanne de Clisson and the Amazon Queen Penthesilea, downtrodden women disgruntled with men. But most Western girls have never heard of them. However, female film critics are calling on the fictional character Wonder Woman to be a heroic role model for females of all ages. Chinese culture has multiple real-life female martial arts heroes that even today most Chinese men and women know about. The two most famous: the 14 Yang Women Warriors; and Hua Mulan.

Though the Yang women had issue with the Chinese emperor, they put their differences aside to defend the Song dynasty. They repel the Khitan aggressors by using wily strategies and superb spear skills. Mulan dressed up as a man to replace her father because he was too sick to fight. She became a general and ended up saving China from Mongol invaders. Mulan was a master swordswomen and an expert archer, where she’d leap skyward from her speeding horse and shoot three arrows at the same time. Wonder Woman’s auntie does something similar.

Wonder Woman and Mulan rock.

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Photo Credit: Alex Bailey TM DC Comics
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