Five years ago, there was an unexpected outcome at a Hong Kong kumite, or martial arts tournament, put on for some of the richest people in the region, with a big money prize for the winner. After Shu (Muriel Hofman) and Wai (Kathy Wu) had been hard at it for a while, the result was declared a draw and the cash ordered split between them, a decision Wai found insulting since she believed she had her opponent in the potentially losing position. As a consequence, she was told to return when she had trained a fighter herself for a rematch, and Shu was told the same, but now, in the present, it seems as though both women have had trouble finding anyone up to the task...
Lady Bloodfight began life under the title Lady Bloodsport and was intended to be the distaff version of the Jean-Claude Van Damme cult favourite, only this time with female combatants as a twist. Thanks to various behind the scenes issues, the stars the producers wanted proved unavailable and they had to settle on a decidedly lower ranked cast, led by Amy Johnston, the American stuntwoman whose biggest claim to fame up to that point was as the double Scarlett Johansson constantly gave way to in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, though she had credits in a number of big movies out of Hollywood. Funnily enough, the premise of the original movie had an outsider making waves in a Far Eastern tournament, so this worked out aptly.
Even if it was the old story of the Westerner teaching the Easterners how to do what they were best at, which not everyone was going to get along with, yet Johnston, who resembled a tougher Carol Lynley in looks, if not attitude, was appealing enough to pave the way for more opportunities in action flicks, maybe with her playing a proper character into the bargain. As the lead here, she was not called upon to do any more acting than JCVD had, it was her skills in the arena that mattered, and while director Chris Nahon overemployed the fast editing mannerisms that blighted twenty-first century martial arts cinema, he was able to conjure up a kinetic sense of physicality necessary to render this far from a complete embarrassment to the source.
It was not as if Bloodsport didn't have a huge helping of cheese to go with that knuckle sandwich, and that was present in this as well, especially the mystical elements as Johnston's Jane Jones travels to Hong Kong to follow in the footsteps of her father who disappeared there a while ago, leaving her alcohol-damaged mother behind as a lost cause unless Jane can win the kumite. After an unfortunate encounter with some thugs, she is rescued by Shu who settles on her as that candidate she has been looking for these past five years, and so the training sessions began, paralleled by Wai training her protégé Ling (Jenny Wu). As this was scripted by Bey Logan, Hong Kong movie expert and voice on a billion DVD commentaries, you would correctly anticipate the tenets of the format to be adhered to.
Or to put it another way, Logan stuck to the clichés, not wishing to rock the boat, though he did introduce a wacky fantasy aspect when Shu demonstrated the power to bring little birdies back to life, a talent that would come in handy at a crucial moment in one of Jane's bouts. Those antagonists were sadly few and far between, the budget not amounting to hiring an array of fighting femmes so we largely concentrated on our occidental heroine, the punkette Ling (who grows more conservative in her appearance the further the plot progresses), the Russian bruiser who really was called Svietta Chekov (Ng Mayling), and the Chatty Cathy who Jane notes is really friendly, Cassidy (Jet Tranter), just so her fate when in the ring with Svietta is well-telegraphed. If Lady Bloodfight was as compromised as its title in places, put that down to the lack of funds; that first concept was one of the great what ifs of its day, but what we had instead was entertaining enough and the performers were charismatic and convincing in action. Music by Mark Kilian.