Starring Amy Johnston, Muriel Hofmann, Jenny Wu, Kathy Wu
Fight Choreography by Xin Xin Xiong
Directed by Chris Nahon
For those of you who have followed my site for quite some time you know how close I follow the work of folks in the stunt community, particularly the shorts they make that in many regards are better than what cinema has been tossing at us. But something really cool is happening: those very same people are now beginning to take their place as actors on screen, directors, producers. No one exemplifies this more than the gentleman behind the John Wick movies, but there are many others, and Amy Johnston is a stuntwoman/actress I’ve been following for quite a while, through her work with the Thousand Pounds stunt team and her work with OG Vlad Rimburg. Amy’s worked her way up the ladder and finally gets her starting role in Lady Bloodfight. So how does she fare?
Lady Bloodfight begins in the past where we come upon a Kumite fought in the past between two women: Wai (Kathy Wu) and Shu (Hoffman). The fight comes to a draw, and both women agree to find other fighters to represent them in a rematch…
Fast forward 5 years or we find various Fighters being invited to the newest Kumite one of which turns out to be Jane Jones (Johnston) whose father disappeared after fighting in the Kumite many years earlier. She finds a mentor in Shu, while street urchin Ling (Jenny Wu) falls under the teachings of the vengeful Wai. Both women, ciphers for their masters, fight their way up the kumite, and eventually to each other…
The story here is pretty simple, but as we know, simple can also be difficult in film world. The film borrows a lot, and in some moments, a little too much from Bloodsport, still the definitive kumite movie. There are some similar character beats, and one particular moment that really irked me but I’ll get to that shortly. The bottom line in regards to the story and character beats is that this is nothing that hasn’t been done before and you’ll see the ending coming a mile away. Which leaves us with the performances, which I am happy to say are pretty good, particularly from the films’ star. I’ll say it a thousand times, Amy Johnston is working toward being the heir to Cynthia Rothrock’s throne, as both an actress and martial artist.
There are some dramatic moments in the film I was pleasantly surprised to see her pull off from an acting standpoint. Muriel Hoffman is good as Shu, Jane Jones’ teacher, but I wish the film had a little more of her as her character felt a bit underserved. Meanwhile, Kathy Wu is excellent as Wai, who seethes with anger in many scenes. The only weak link to me is Jenny Wu as Ling. I just couldn’t get into her character even though they tried to make her “deep”, but her acting just isn’t good enough to elevate her character beyond the limitations of the script.
Okay, there was one moment in the film that really bothered me, so let’s get into it a second. There is a moment where one of the fighters is African American, and a boxer. A boxer. She gets knocked out in one move, which irked me even more, and goes back to a lot of issues with how African-Americans are projected onscreen, and in this case the trope of “we need to show how powerful the fighter/monster/killer is by beating/killing a Black person in one moment” due to old stereotypes of Black virility and physical strength. I would’ve respected the scene had the fighter 1) lasted more than one move and 2) actually knew some other form of fighting outside of boxing. Like Karate, or kung fu, or virtually anything else.
The fights here range in quality all over the place, not so much due to quality, as Xin Xin Xiong (Clubfoot from Once Upon A Time in China) did the fight choreography, but the camerawork and edits don’t show the movements as well as could be done, which is a surprise as director Chris Nahon did an excellent job showcasing martial arts in Jet Li’s best English-language film Kiss of The Dragon. One of the best fights is when Jane Jones goes to get her backpack back from the thugs that stole it. I really can’t remember a fight in the actual kumite that truly stood out, as many of them involving Amy kind of did a wash-rinse-repeat to the cadence in each fight: Jane does ok at first, starts to get beaten up badly, bleeds more blood than I think a human body has, gets angry, remembers her training and proceeds to beat the tar out of the opponent.
Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 6
Lady Bloodfight isn’t a bad film, but it is filled with a few missed opportunities (poor fight editing, storyline) that could’ve made it a good to great martial arts film. But it does showcase Amy Johnston as a great talent deserving of a better film.