Lady Bloodfight: This Female Fight Film Only Works When Fists Are Flying
This piece was originally published by Film Inquiry on May 9, 2017.
t only took until the twenty-first century, but Hollywood seems to finally be waking up to the fact that women go to the movies. Not only that: film executives are realizing that women actually enjoy seeing themselves reflected in a wide range of stories, not just the same old stereotypical romantic comedies and period melodramas. Women watch science-fiction, horror, thrillers and action-adventure movies — and we like seeing other women take center stage and kick butt in them (and, even occasionally talk — to other women! Imagine that).
But, because Hollywood has only so many original ideas floating around in the ether, their go-to response to our request for more female-fronted films is to simply remake old male-driven movies with gender-swapped characters. While this is better than no female-fronted films at all, one wishes that we were deemed important enough of audience members for time to be spent on truly unique stories — a unique all-women heist film as opposed to Ocean’s Eight, or a horror-comedy with original concepts instead of another take on Ghostbusters.
One film that recently rolled out on this assembly line of remakes is Lady Bloodfight. Directed by Chris Nahon, a French filmmaker likely best known for the Jet Li-starring Kiss of the Dragon, this female fightfest is a remake of Bloodsport, a 1988 action film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. In the original, Van Damme plays a U.S. army captain and martial artist who enters a days-long illegal fight tournament in Hong Kong known as the kumite. In Lady Bloodfight, Van Damme is replaced by seasoned stunt performer Amy Johnston, whose lengthy list of credits includes stuntwork in Deadpool, Suicide Squad and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The film is full of frenetic, full-blooded fight scenes between a diverse array of badass women that will not disappoint. The rest of the film? Unfortunately, that’s a bit less impressive.
This is Jane. See Jane Fight.
Johnston plays Jane Jones, a tough but troubled American girl who leaves her small-town life behind to go backpacking in Hong Kong, where her father disappeared so many years ago. When three thugs try to mug her on the street, Jane unleashes fury the likes of which they’ve never seen before.
Jane might look like your average pretty blonde girl, but as it turns out, she’s a better than average streetfighter. Her fierceness impresses Shu (Muriel Hofmann), a wise woman and expert in the martial art Wudang. She recruits Jane as her student and trains her to fight in the kumite, here reinvented as an all-female underground fight tournament.
Jane is looking for answers about what happened to her father, who also entered a fight tournament in Hong Kong before he vanished, but Shu has her own reasons for deciding to tutor Jane in the art of Wudang: she needs a champion to take on the student of her friend-turned-nemesis, Wai (Kathy Wu). Wai has in turn recruited a scrappy street girl named Ling (Jenny Wu), who she is training in the art of Shaolin.
However, Jane and Ling will have to survive multiple rounds against opponents who are all experts at their respective arts before they can fight to resolve Shu and Wai’s feud. It isn’t uncommon for women to die during the kumite, and some seriously disturbing things happen that lead Jane to question her own strength — both physical and emotional.
Keep Calm and Kick Butt
By far the worst thing about Lady Bloodfight is the script, written by Bey Logan and Judd Bloch. It’s hard to entirely blame the actors for their stilted performances, which are mediocre to cringe-worthy across the board, when every line of dialogue they are forced to speak is riddled with clichés and awkward turns of phrase.
The storyline involving Jane’s father is excessively sentimental and culminates in some incredibly cheesy scenes in which a tearful Jane imagines a ghostly and transparent version of her father smiling down on her. Johnston is clearly a more talented stunt performer than she is an actress, but one wonders if she’d have come off as less stiff if she’d been given better material to work with and a more capable director to guide her. That being said, she is a thrill to watch fight.
And fight she does! The kumite is brutal and bloody, with the women literally holding no punches. These scenes are absolutely awesome and elevate Lady Bloodfight from unnecessary remake to B-movie delight. One particular standout is a fight that occurs pre-kumite, when Wai challenges Ling to pick a fight with a random man at an outdoor cafe to prove her worth. Ling gleefully antagonizes both the man and his girlfriend before proceeding to wreak havoc on the entire street — with Wai’s help.
Watching Ling and Wai defy all misogynistic expectations regarding their gender and size to prove how powerful and dangerous women can be is empowering in the most entertaining way. It becomes much easier to sit through the tedious scenes involving Jane’s daddy issues and Shu and Wai’s troubled relationship when one knows that before long, fists will be flying.
Watching Lady Bloodfight is the cinematic equivalent of eating a giant plate of nachos washed down with a cheap beer. You’re aware the entire time that what you’re consuming isn’t of the highest quality — not to mention, incredibly cheesy — but you enjoy the experience regardless.