Kathleen Wheeler reviews Kung Fu Lesbian by Dan Curry

I have to admit that I was a bit reticent to read this book at first- I mean it’s a lesbian book written by a man- what could he possibly know?  And then there are the other examples of lesbianism created by men that were floating around in my head, mostly in film: ‘Chasing Amy’ being one of the worst…’Bound’ being the best (in my experience).   But the title had me intrigued so I thought ‘What the hell, why not?’  I’m glad I did.

If you enjoy film as much as I do, perhaps you’ll appreciate this; this book read much like a movie for me.  If you’re a fan of Tarantino and Rodriguez and all the other modern day throw back filmmakers who create celluloid homages to the grindhouse, kung fu and spaghetti westerns of the 60’s and 70’s then this book is definitely for you- gay straight or otherwise.   It was as if ‘Jackie Brown (’97), ’ ‘Pulp Fiction (’94) ’ and ‘Kill Bill (‘03/’04)’ all teamed up and got it on with ‘The Human Tornado (‘76)’ and made a little lesbo book baby- with a little ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico (’03)’ tossed in for added spice and ‘It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (’63) for fun.   It was fast paced, smart, sexy, hilarious, and thrilling.  Curry’s use of language and history made the time come alive again and the constant barrage of colorful characters kept it from going stale as it progressed- and not in a way that made it hard to follow, just in a way that made it exciting.  I never knew what the hell was going to happen next, and something was always happening.

It starts off with a woman Holly, a badass Pam Grier lookalike with a sordid past and mad karate skills, watching her father’s dojo go up in smoke; all part of the half baked plot to get the ‘master plan’ safely out of the city where presumably Holly and her father (a.k.a. the karate man from Fillmore Street) could pull a Houdini and vanish.  But the die had been cast, the dominoes had already been set in motion and a motley crew of rogues and renegades, bandits, assassins, CIA agents and double-crossers all want the master plan for themselves- and they’re willing to do anything to get it.

Enter Heidi, Holly’s onetime-let’s-make-up-and-start-over-again lover and brainiac roller derby queen turned badass revenge exactor.   While on the run from the big bad mofos of San Francisco, Holly decides to take a swing over to Bakersfield where Heidi lives with her uber-conservative white power parents.  I don’t want to give anything away, but trouble seems to follow Holly like stink follows the trash truck and soon Heidi is on the run as much as Holly is, but for different reasons.  Thrown together now in this they team up and head on out to the wild blue yonder; this would be fine if not for the gaggle of deadly lapdogs hot on Holly’s trail and the human and situational potholes they encounter along the way.

Enter Ms. Smith, A.K.A ‘The Mormon’.  She’s a sexy good ol’ girl next door Farrah Fawcett-Majors doppelganger with a thirst for blood and violence and the skills to back it up.  Excommunicated from her super over the top and insane splinter cult (read ‘Big Love’ on steroids) she goes mercenary and is hired by the karate man’s nemesis to retrieve the master plan- whatever it takes.  Leaving a trail of death in her wake, she is bound and determined to succeed in her task, eliminating all who would stand in her way and try to take her prize.

Add to this all the other entities after our girls and the briefcase they are trying desperately to protect and you have yourself one hell of a powder keg of action.  Who to trust?  Who to kill? Everyone’s got their eye on the prize and given the chance even a ‘friend’ could turn foe.   There are drugs, sex, fast cars, dudes with guns, kick ass bitches who take no shit, The Nation [of Islam, Black Panthers], a Zionist cult, matchstick men, the feds, Satanists, bikini bandits, the cops – every seedy faction you can think of and then some- all beautifully fleshed out and playing their roles to perfection, painting the picture vividly, provoking thought and sheer enjoyment as this story unfolds (at least, for me). There are twists and turns right up to the end and nothing is finished until the final page is turned.

But this isn’t just a shoot-‘em-up, kick ‘em in the balls story about a couple of hot lezzies on the run.  No, it’s also a story about finding your true self and accepting the responsibility that comes with finally recognizing who you are and the power that comes with that.  It’s about love and strength and family- even it’s all kinds of fucked up.   It’s about the ‘70’s and the craziness that was reality at that time.  It’s about finding the perfect conditioner to keep your bangin’ ‘fro from going wooly caveman on your head.  It’s about more than all that and after reading several hundred run-of-the-mill (although totally awesome in their own right) novels this one is a refreshing standout in my mind.

It’s not a romance.  It’s not a drama or some cathartic heart string tuggin’ life lesson vehicle meant to teach you some universal truth about being a woman or a lesbian.  It’s not even what I would consider to be a lesbian book; in truth, the fact that there are lesbians at all seems tertiary to the point- just a simple fact of life and only one small part of who our main protagonists are and an even smaller plot point (although it’s treated with the utmost respect).  So if that’s what you’re looking for you’ll be disappointed.  This IS an exciting action novel with really smart and thought provoking things of its own to say, and overall a worthwhile read even if for the sake of reading something different for a change.

One Reply to “Kathleen Wheeler reviews Kung Fu Lesbian by Dan Curry”

  1. Cara

    “’Bound’ being the best (in my experience).”

    I suspect this is because “Bound” wasn’t really made exclusively by men: Lana Wachowski transitioned after “The Matrix” and sequels came out. Now that “Cloud Atlas” is coming out, she’s making public appearances and being more open about her experiences as a trans woman. (She got an award from the HRC last weekend and gave a speech.) Last I heard, she was still romantically involved with a woman. Anyway, I enjoyed “Bound” quite a bit, but as a collaboration between a queer woman and her brother, it’s not on the list of depictions of lesbianism created by men. What’s the next-best example? “Fucking Amal” comes to mind as one of the very few depictions of lesbianism by men that I sort of liked, but that’s not a very strong recommendation.


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