Dir: Chris Nahon
This was not on the initial list for this month’s martial arts marathon, but yesterday I saw a stuntmen react video on youtube, discussing some classic fight sequences and one of the guests was Amy Johnston. There were a few clips shown from this, the first movie she had a leading acting role in, so I decided to give it a look and add it to this series.
The story is basically Bloodsport, but with women (indeed it was originally titled Lady Bloodpsort). Johnston plays Jane Jones, who comes to Hong Kong to fight in the Kumite and avenge her father. She’s taken under the wing of Shu (Muriel Hofmann), who is also seeking revenge on a rival (Kathy Wu) who has trained her own champion (Jenny Wu) for the Kumite.
The story is clearly basic, and the screenplay (by Bey Logan, whose Hong Kong Legends commentaries got me and many others into the genre) makes few demands of anyone’s acting abilities as it knits together various threads of cliché with dialogue that makes most of the lines sound like ‘that’ll do’ placeholders that accidentally found their way to the shooting draft. The plot too, for all its simplicity, is badly told, with Jane’s character particularly poorly established, meaning it’s hard to see why she’s recruited by Shu.
Amy Johnston is the film’s standout element; an accomplished stunt performer, she steps up to the role and delivers what the film needs. It’s nobody’s idea of a deep characterisation, but she does what she can with the dialogue, and demonstrates the sort of presence a lead needs. Johnston is also clearly extremely good at her day job. Her fight sequences are excellent and there are many blows and falls that at least appear to connect painfully. The other performers, many of them also stuntwomen, match her well. If any of them are given any personality it’s a single note (for instance, Jet Tranter’s Cassidy is ‘the nice one’), but they deliver where it matters: in the ring.
The problem is that while all the actresses are showing their best moves, Chris Nahon, who is the editor as well as director here, often neglects to show them at their best. Of course there are players here who may need more doubling and cutting because they aren’t experienced martial artists, but even the Kumite fights are often overly quickly cut. This is especially acute with Johnston. The few times Nahon lets extended moments play out in her fights are easily the film’s most entertaining, so it’s disappointing when he returns to the hyperactive rhythm that is his default setting.
I’d like to see Amy Johnston do more, this role isn’t a challenge, but what little she gets to do with it shows there’s an actor as well as a stuntwoman there, it’s just unfortunate that the script and direction here appear to not quite let her show the best of either.