AKA: Lady Bloodsport
Director: Chris Nahon
Writer: Bey Logan, Judd Bloch
Cast: Amy Johnston, Muriel Hofmann, Jenny Wu, Kathy Wu, Jet Tranter, Mayling Ng, Sunny Coelst, Rosemary Vandebrouck, Lisa Cheng
Running Time: 100 min.
By Z Ravas
Ever wonder what happened to Chris Nahon? After helming Kiss of the Dragon – what many fans consider to be one of Jet Li’s best English-language films, if not the best – way back in 2001, the filmmaker chose to keep a relatively low profile rather than capitalize on his potential as a martial arts director. He reemerged a full eight years later with the dubious anime adaptation Blood: The Last Vampire, but that endeavor didn’t seem to live up to the potential of the Blood license nor Nahon’s abilities as an action stylist. That’s precisely why I was so curious to sit down and watch last year’s Lady Bloodfight once it made its way to Netflix. Had time weakened Nahon’s talent behind the camera – or was I about to witness the French filmmaker’s triumphant return to the world of bone-crunching kung fu action?
There was another reason to be excited about Lady Bloodfight: the film represents the headlining debut of Amy Johnston, a stunt professional who has more than paid her dues over the years. In addition to her stunt work on movies like Captain America: Winter Soldier (in which she doubled for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow), Suicide Squad, and Deadpool, Johnston is a trained martial artist whose passion for the pursuit no doubt dates back to her childhood (her father was a kickboxing champion). I had high hopes that Johnston might shine in her first turn as a female lead. Even the presence of Bey Logan on writing and producing duties wasn’t enough to damper my enthusiasm.
(Okay, hey, I don’t mean to knock Logan, as the man has been closely associated with Hong Kong cinema for almost as long as I’ve been alive, but I think we all heard the horror stories that came out of his 2010 effort Blood Bond: Shadowguard.)
So, after all that fanfare, how is Lady Bloodfight? In a word, I found it perfectly entertaining. The plot is simple enough, in fact it’s more or less borrowed wholesale from the 1988 Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Bloodsport – actually, the film’s original title was Lady Bloodsport, until someone in the production likely wised up and realized they were headed for legal trouble. Amy Johnston stars as a young woman named Jane who travels to Hong Kong in order to take place in an ancient martial arts tournament known as The Kumite (sing it with me: KUMITE! KUMITE! KUMITE!). Jane wants to test her mettle in the ring, naturally, but she also longs to find out what happened to her father, who mysteriously disappeared after nearly winning the Kumite many years ago.
It’s a little puzzling that Lady Bloodfight never actually addresses why all of the fighters in this particular Kumite are women – the viewer is left to wonder, is there a separate Kumite for men and women each year? Regardless, it doesn’t really matter, as the classic ‘fighting tournament’ story structure is deployed in effortless fashion. Jane goes on a personal journey as she is taken under the wing of a wise instructor (Mariel Huffman), befriends a sassy Australian gal (the charming Jet Tranter), and squares off against a fierce Russian fighter (Wonder Woman’s Mayling Ng in quite a bit of makeup) so terrifying she could make Bolo Yeung cry ‘uncle’ in the ring… seriously.
I’m sure most by now most readers are asking: how are the fights? They’re serviceable. Nothing here matches the classic, Hong Kong-style grace and fluidity of Kiss of the Dragon, making me wonder if Corey Yuen wasn’t behind the camera for the action scenes in that movie, but nor are they a choppy, rapidly edited Bourne-esque jumble either. Instead, Chris Nahon splits the difference, landing somewhere between the clear cut style you’d hope for in a martial arts movie of this ilk and a more flashy, Hollywood-esque mode. The action scenes make it quite clear that Amy Johnston knows her stuff, but I suspect we won’t really see her full onscreen capabilities until we see her in stuntman-turned-director Jesse V. Johnson’s Accident Man later this year.
Surprisingly, it might be the storyline that held my attention the most in Lady Bloodfight. The movie is actually invested in Jane’s character and her journey to discover just what happened to her father, and Johnston delivers a commendable performance. Her teacher, Shu, has her own path to take as she seeks to reconcile – or defeat – her rival (Jenny Wu) and her rival’s pupil (Kathy Wu). Refreshingly, few of the characters in the movie are out-and-out right villains, except for the aforementioned Russian Svietta (whose baddie looks like she was raised by Ivan Drago and Bond villain Jaws), and each has their own particular motivation. Lady Bloodfight likely won’t transform Amy Johnston into a martial arts icon overnight the same way Bloodsport did for Van Damme, but this certainly seems the beginning of a promising career in front of the camera.
Z Ravas’ Rating: 6.5/10