Marital arts in movies have been around on the screen since the early days of film. But the massive international popularity of them wouldn’t really begin until the 1960s. In 1966 The Shaw Brothers Studio produced a movie called Come Drink with Me which would kick start a massive onslaught of martial art movies.
Come Drink with Me starred actress Cheng Pei-pei in the lead role as Golden Swallow a bad ass martial artist who is out to try and save her brother who has been kidnapped by a bandits have allied themselves with an evil monastery lead Abbot Liao Kung (Yeung Chi-hing). On her journeys she is helped by Drunken Cat aka Fan Da-pei (Yueh Hua), a former member of the same martial art master that trained Abbot Liao Kung.
Eventually Fan Da-pei fights the abbot and Golden Swallow leads her group of women warriors to fight the bandits to save her brother. The movie was huge and would push Shaw Brothers Studio into producing many martial art/kung fu movies over the rest of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Director King Hu would go on to direct such classic films as Dragon Inn and A Touch of Zen
A sequel in 1968 would follow called Golden Swallow but Cheng Pei-Pei is almost sidelined and the two male leads essential star in the film while she co-stars. Still many more martial art films would come with women in the lead roles.