Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Lady Bloodfight: The Women’s Kumite

It is a milestone or sports parity. It turns out there is also a Kumite for women and it might even be more popular with Hong Kong gangsters and gamblers than the men’s’ version. That is especially true when two evenly talented fighters like Shu and Wai face-off. When they fight to a draw they will have to recruit protégés to represent them in the next Kumite for all the marbles. Of course, there is more at stake than mere money for both the fighters and their trainers in Chris Nahon’s Lady Bloodfight (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Long haunted by the disappearance of her martial artist father, Jane has traveled to Hong Kong hoping to follow in his footsteps by competing in the Kumite. Fate and a gang of purse-snatchers bring her to the attention of Shu, a Wudang master who has yet to find her Kumite disciple. Over in her Shaolin dojo, Wai has just settled on Ling, a punky street thief to serve as her entrant. This will be a real grudge match, because Wai, perhaps unfairly, blames Shu for the death of their mutual lover. However, Jane and Ling do not exactly share their masters’ antipathy. Instead, Jane’s nemesis will be Svietta, the sadistic Russian amazon on wheels.

Jane has talent, but her head is not fully in the game. Most of the other fighters are cool, especially Cassidy from Australia, but she is distracted by her angst and insecurities. The aggressively sleazy attention of Mr. Sang, the Triads’ bet-placer does not help her either. Of course, everything will eventually be settled in the arena.

Okay, so this is not a sensitive coming of age story. It is all about fighting and payback, with a tiny dab of mysticism thrown in for flavor. The French Nahon has collaborated with Luc Besson and staged a few martial arts beatdowns before (including the underrated Blood: The Last Vampire), which should indeed inspire confidence. Somehow his execution manages to be both slick and gritty, in the best action oriented ways.

Amy Johnston (from Raze) is a functional but unremarkable lead, often upstaged by more flamboyant supporting players. Jet Tranter constantly gives the film a blast of energy as the fun-loving Cassidy, while Mayling Ng chews the scenery with maniacal glee as the psychotic Svietta. Jenny Wu is also great fun to watch as the eye-rolling rebel Ling, contrasting nicely with the seriously badass presence of Kathy Wu’s Wai. Kirt Kishita adds an additional element of cold-blooded villainy as Mr. Sang and as a further bonus, Cynthia Wo looks and carries herself like a spooky dead-ringer for a young Joan Chen as the leader of the tournament-sponsoring Black Dragon Society.

Lady Bloodfight has a b-movie heart, but one might make a case action coordinator Xin Xin Xiong’s fight choreography approaches high art. What it does, it does really well, thanks to the large supporting cast of real deal martial arts talents. This is the kind of film that will wear well with fans over time. Highly recommended for anyone in the mood for a good pummeling, Lady Bloodfight opens this Friday (5/5) in Los Angeles, at the Laemmle Royal.