Director: Mang Hoi, Corey Yuen (uncredited)
Screenplay: Tommy Sham Sai-Sang
Starring: Cynthia Rothrock, Elizabeth Lee Mei-Fung, Chin Siu-ho, Mang Hoi, Ronny Yu, Melvin Wong Gam-Sam, Wu Ma, Tai Bo, Roy Chiao
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 88 min (theatrical) 90 min (international export)
Year: 1989
BBFC Certificate: 18

After the success Cynthia Rothrock had with films like Yes, Madam! and Righting Wrongs, Golden Harvest decided it was time to give her a solo lead role. So, they hired one of their regular stunt coordinators and actors Mang Hoi (who was reportedly romantically involved with Rothrock) to direct the young martial artist turned actress in what was initially known as Female Reporter.

Unfortunately, possibly due to the low budget or Hoi’s inexperience as a director, the resulting film disappointed Golden Harvest and they decided to shelve it.

A few months later, however, Sylvester Stallone approached Rothrock to be in a Hollywood movie. Due to this, Golden Harvest figured they should capitalise on her presumed fast track to fame, so went back to Female Reporter and reshot a good chunk of it, bringing in the more experienced director Corey Yuen to do the honours (possibly due to Rothrock no longer being romantically attached to Hoi).

The Sylvester Stallone collaboration sadly never happened, so Golden Harvest’s extra investment didn’t quite pay off. However, their film, now dubbed Lady Reporter (or still Female Reporter in some territories, Shi jie da shai in Hong Kong and China, and The Blonde Fury elsewhere) did fairly well at the box office, even though it failed to reach the heights of Rothrock’s previous hits.

Whilst it wasn’t one of the more popular films of its era, Lady Reporter can be seen as groundbreaking though, in it being the first ‘proper’ Hong Kong kung-fu movie that features a Western lead, and a female one at that.

Obviously seeing value in the film, Eureka have set their sights on Lady Reporter for the latest addition to their rapidly developing collection of Hong Kong kung-fu & action classics. I can’t get enough of them, so requested a screener and my thoughts on the release follow.

The film begins with an American FBI agent, Cindy (Rothrock), being sent to Hong Kong to investigate a newspaper editor named Ronny Dak (Ronny Yu). Dak is believed to be printing counterfeit money using the newspaper’s presses and Cindy must stop him before he can flood the market with fake bills.

While investigating Dak, Cindy teams up with her old friend Judy Yu (Elizabeth Lee Mei-Fung), an undercover cop (Chin Siu-ho), and an intrepid journalist named Shorty (Mang Hoi himself). Together, they must battle Dak’s kung-fu henchmen and expose his counterfeiting operation.

I enjoyed Lady Reporter, but it didn’t really grab my attention as a lot of Eureka’s kung-fu movie releases have in the past. I was very tired when I watched it, which didn’t help, but this didn’t feel quite at the same level as the In the Line of Duty films, for instance.

My main complaint would be that the comedy, of which there’s quite a lot, is rather weak. A lot of the jokes are dialogue-driven, meaning many of them are lost in translation (in the Cantonese version I watched, at least). The subtitles do their best to remedy the problem but they can’t translate the vital timing or delivery for a gag to effectively hit home. Some of the physical humour works though. I particularly enjoyed the skit with the rat, even though it would give animal rights activists a heart attack.

Whether or not it was due to Hoi’s relationship with Rothrock at the time is questionable, but there are also an awful lot of unnecessary bathing and ‘frolicking’ scenes at home with Rothrock and her friend Elizabeth Lee. I enjoy scantily-clad women as much as the next heterosexual male but the scenes here were laughably gratuitous.

The writing, in general, leaves a lot to be desired. Yuen didn’t just reshoot scenes when he took over the production, he also rejigged the story somewhat, turning the film into a bit of a muddle. The Frankenstein nature of the production shows a little in the structure too (not to mention Rothrock’s wildly differing hairstyles), with what was supposed to be the grand finale happening half an hour before the end. The finale we get is still suitably exciting, but the nature of the earlier sequence makes it feel like an early peak.

Criticisms aside, I still enjoyed Lady Reporter though. The main reason I watch films like this is for the action scenes and, in this area, the film does not disappoint. Mang Hoi and Corey Yuen devise fast, fluid choreography and throw in some fun, creative touches to spice things up. Most notably, there’s a wince-inducing fight with Rothrock wearing steel-heeled and toe-capped high heels, as well as an acrobatic standoff on a large cargo net. It could have done with more fights in the first half, but this is a standard tactic in the genre, keeping you waiting for a spectacular climax.

The cast do a decent job too. Whilst, like Yes, Madam!, there are a handful of male protagonists added to the mix, this does feel more female-centred than that trend-setting ‘girls with guns’ film. Rothrock is badass but likeable as the star, proving she could handle lead duties on her own, paving the way to her becoming the queen of straight-to-video action movies in the 90s.

Ronny Yu, who’s best known as the director of films such as The Bride With White Hair, Fearless and Bride of Chucky, has fun playing the villain in a rare acting performance. There are plenty of decent fighters playing his goons too, including another pair of talented Westerners, Jeff Falcon and Vincent Lyn, as well as a Muay Thai fighter that nobody seems to be able to name on the disc’s extras (presumably he’s not listed in the credits for whatever reason).

Lady Reporter then, is perhaps a little middle-of-the-road, marred by a clunky plot and too much humour that falls flat. However, it impresses in its action scenes, which is what counts for most genre aficionados.

Film:

Lady Reporter is out on 26th June on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Eureka Classics series. The film looks incredible, with pin-sharp details, light, natural grain and wonderfully rich colours. You get two audio options, but both are only attached to specific cuts, so you have Cantonese mono on the theatrical cut and the English dub on the longer international export version. I watched the former and had no issues with the audio, other than the usual limitations of Hong Kong sound recording at the time.

SPECIAL FEATURES
– Limited Edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling [2000 copies]
– Limited Edition set of Facsimile Lobby Cards [2000 copies]
– 1080p HD presentation on Blu-ray of the original theatrical cut from a brand new 2K restoration
– 1080p HD presentation on Blu-ray of the international export cut from a brand new 2K restoration
– Original Cantonese mono audio and optional “classic” English dubbed audio
– Optional English Subtitles, newly translated for this release
– Brand new feature length audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) & actor and martial artist Vincent Lyn
– Brand new feature-length audio commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema
– Brand new select-scene commentary with actress and martial-arts movie icon Cynthia Rothrock
– Brand new interview with Cynthia Rothrock
– Brand new interview with Mang Hoi
– Trailers
– Reversible sleeve design
– A Limited Edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver [2000 copies]

Leeder and Venema always deliver enjoyable commentary tracks but this one is particularly good, due to the illuminating discussion of the film’s complicated history. As usual, it’s delivered with plenty of fun banter and Leeder tells of his personal experiences with some of the cast and crew.

Frank Djeng is joined by actor Vincent Lyn on his track. As usual, Djeng delivers an incredibly well-researched description of the lives and careers of those involved in making the film. Lyn supplements this by adding his own personal stories of his time on the production and his relationships with some of the cast and crew. He also talks about his amazing humanitarian work towards the end of the track.

Rothrock has some hair-raising tales to tell of her experiences making the film in her interview. She always seems friendly and honest, so is a pleasure to listen to. She also supplies a select scene commentary, where she talks over her fights, discussing their difficulties with Djeng. It’s another enjoyable yet informative listen.

It’s nice to have an interview with Mang Hoi included too, providing his side of the story on the fractured production. He initially describes how Corey Yuen shot some of the action scenes when he was busy on an acting job, but later opens up about how the initially low-budget production ran out of money and Golden Harvest felt it wasn’t strong enough to release as it was. So they pumped more money into it and got Yuen to shoot some extra material, making it suitable for theatres.

The on-disc extras also all describe an intriguing mystery behind the film in that nobody can remember the name of the Thai kickboxing bad guy! Hopefully, after the disc has been released, someone might come forward and illuminate us all. Even the director, Mang Hoi, didn’t know!

The booklet sees James Oliver providing his usual comprehensive overview of the film and its history, alongside production and marketing stills.

One minor issue I had with all the extras though, is that nobody makes any notable discussion of the two cuts included on the disc. This bothered me, as I didn’t have time to watch both of them, so I don’t know what I missed by watching the shorter Hong Kong theatrical cut (I chose that because it had Cantonese audio and I can’t bear watching dubbed films). I did listen to the commentaries on headphones whilst doing something else, so perhaps I missed something, but I don’t think so.

Overall though, whilst I felt the set was missing info on the two cuts, it’s another fine release from Eureka. The film may not be one of the best Hong Kong kung-fu movies of its era but it’s definitely worth a watch, particularly if you’re a fan of the genre, and the extra features add considerable value. So it still gets a thumbs up from me.

Disc/Package:

Lady Reporter (a.k.a. The Blonde Fury) - Eureka
Film
Disc/package
3.5Overall:
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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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