Lady Bloodfight (2016)

Posted in Reviews by - May 25, 2017
Lady Bloodfight (2016)

Exciting starring-role debut from Scarlett Johansson’s stunt double, Amy Johnston, who is served well in an all-female fight tournament premise with thematic links to the 1988 cult Van Damme hit Bloodsport. Amy plays Jane Jones, a “blue eyed bullet from the west”, who gets sacked from her Pittsburgh waiter job after beating up the customers. She leaves her bereft single mother for a flight to Hong Kong to discover the truth about what happened to her dead karate dad who was killed at the Kumite; a fabled, underground, full-contact martial arts competition, here remodelled as an oestrogen-fuelled, women-only fight club, overseen by a mysterious consortium and some high-roller triads. She is talent-spotted and taught some kung fu skills by the meditative hippy hermit Shu (Muriel Hofmann). Jane’s physical talents are obvious, but she lacks the enlightened spirit of a true warrior. “I asked for a dragon and you sent me a Barbie,” says an exasperated Shu in one of scriptwriter and producer Bey Logan’s many memorable lines.

The story also focusses on another integral relationship; that of Shu and her old Kumite rival, Wai (Kathy Wu), who similarly trains another young student for the upcoming tournament. Wai is the yin to Shu’s yang; she’s a haunted Shaolin kung fu expert who values strength and rebellion in her students, something she spots immediately in spunky punk girl Ling (Jenny Wu). Ling breaks into Wai’s gym to steal a sword in shadows of Zhang Ziyi’s unruly princess from Crouching Tiger, and similarly to Michelle Yeoh‘s reaction, it is this act of dishonesty which secures Wai’s guidance and attention.

The Kumite scenes take up a large section of the final act, but the fight scenes remain involving, at times brutal, and – in one particular scene – carry a genuinely emotional sucker-punch. Much of the credit should go to some clever editing and the slick direction of Chris Nahon, who made probably Jet Li‘s best western action film, Kiss of the Dragon, in 2001. Amy Johnston excels in these scenes, displaying a convincing intensity and dramatic range which keeps the succession of fight scenes engaging. She is clearly doing all of her own stunts, too, which adds to the film’s impressive authenticity. Given that gender plays such a key role in the film, it is strangely absent from the narrative. It is never even addressed. It makes the film an intriguing and refreshing watch, not to mention passes the Bechdel test with flying colours.

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