Plot: tough cop investigates the disappearance of her reporter sister.
Cirio H. Santiago was a visionary. He produced 82 movies in 50 years, and directed a good hundred himself up to his passing in 2008. Santiago was the man behind the first color horror feature in the Philippines with The Blood Drinkers (1964) (with Amalia Fuentes) and the inventor of the topless kickboxing movie. First he had Playboy Playmate of the Month (October, 1969) Jean Bell in the blaxploitation martial arts sub-classic TNT Jackson (1974). At the dawn of the eighties he reimagined his classic in the form of the self-proclaimed “erotic kung fu classic” Naked Fist (1981) with Jillian Kessner. Proving both that bigger isn't necessarily better and that third time isn't always the charm, the Roger Corman produced Angelfist has lousy dialog, stilted fights that make Albert Pyun look exciting, and one of the worst cases of miscasting that no amount of skin can possibly save...
The nominal star of Angelfist is Catya Sassoon, the daughter of shampoo magnate and hair stylist Vidal and sister of director Oley Sassoon and who bad movie connoisseur Joe Bob Briggs once poetically described as, “the fist of an angel and the face of a fist.” . Cat was a model that lived fast and died young, and somehow parlayed her '80s sass into an acting career, or what should pass for it. Angelfist was her big break and Cat threw herself into the role with zest. Allegedly Sassoon studied tae kwon do and arnis de mano in preparation, and if her acting was nothing to particularly write home about - her martial arts would make up for it. Santiago had a habit of fabricating titles and Sassoon supposedly was the "World Karate Association North American Champion" (never mind that neither of his two former stars had any formal martial arts training either). By 1991, at age 21, Cat was addicted to drugs and alcohol and a regular at detox clinics. A year later Cat attended the 1992 Cannes Film Festival to promote Angelfist. Less than ten years later Cat died of a drug-induced heart-attack in late 2001.
Kristie Lang (Sibel Birzag) is a photo journalist who clandestinely captures a political assassination on film in Manila. When she tries to hand over evidence to the official channels she's brick walled at American Embassy who not only are lost in never-ending bureaucracy but also have to deal with the more pressing matter of constant protests against more US military bases in the Philippines. Distraught she hands over the incriminating evidence to Sulu (Sheila Lintan), an exotic dancer at a gentlemen’s club. For this transgression Lang is murdered by the Black Brigades terrorist cell. Back in the good ol' US of A tough-as-nails cop Katara ‘Kat’ D. Lang (K.D. Lang? Really?) (Catya Sassoon) catches wind of the circumstances surrounding her sister’s passing books the next flight to Manila. Told by Bayani (Roland Dantes), Kirstie’s erstwhile trainer, that “vengeance is not an acceptable motive for entering the kumite!” she bests the man in arnis de mano impressing corrupt event promoter Mr. Carrion (Tony Carreon). Suddenly Kat is allowed to partake in the Kubate.
The only caveat is that Carrion insists that she proves her worth in a qualifying match. In the audience of said match is Nordic blonde Lorda (Melissa Moore) and the closest thing to an ally that Kat will have next to conman Alcatraz (Michael Shaner) who has all the underworld connections but whose alliances and motives are sketchy at best. The Black Brigade, a cell of revolutionary insurgents seeking to destabilize political relations between the Philippines and the US, see Kat as their latest threat. Their leader Cirio Quirino (Henry Strzalkowski) dispatches highly organized, disciplined and patient assassin with an affinity for classic arts Bontoc or Gold Tooth (Christina Portugal) to neutralize the problem. In an incredibly
groan-inducing explosive finale killer Kat thwarts an assassination attempt on ambassador Franklin (Ken Metcalfe), rescues her proxy girlfriend Lorda from the Black Brigades, and manages to bring her sister's murderer to justice.
For those who thought Bloodmatch (1991) and Heatseeker (1995) were as interesting as watching paint dry, old Cirio offers ample evidence that boobs alone not a good movie make. There's hardly any complaints on that end as neither Santiago nor Angelfist waste any time in getting to that what everybody's here for. And that's where the horrible case of miscasting comes in. Melissa Moore (sometime Playboy Playmate in 1991) was, by far, the better actress. In a just world this would have been a Moore starring vehicle with Sassoon in a supporting role. Moore was the star of the Jim Wynorski boobfest Hard to Die (1990), and the insane Samurai Cop (1991). The late Cat Sassoon was horribly, tragically miscast here and while Angelfist exceeds Naked Fist (1981) both in terms of violence and nudity it never becomes more than a sum of its parts. It's one of those instances where you actively wish the lead would keep her top on for once. It almost makes you wonder why Sassoon’s plastic pair didn't get their own credit.
This has more leotards than Nightmare City (1980) and just about looks what a martial arts movie by Zalman King or Andy Sidaris would look like. If Lorda's pick-up line (“you ever had a blonde?”) rings familiar that because Andy Sidaris used it earlier and better. Angelfist is Bloodsport (1988) or Kickboxer (1989) with boobs but without talent. No wonder that Heatseeker (1995) ended up stealing some of its best scenes from this. Angelfist etches dangerously close to late night cable soft erotica with its abundance of communal shower scenes. There's obvious chemistry and mutual attraction between the Kat and Lorda characters but it never results in extensive mutual groping nor is there an equivalent of the warehouse scene from Naked Fist (1981). In retrospect Cirio H. Santiago's Naked trilogy more or less is a parallel franchise to Wong's Naked series. While Santiago's is more transparently exploitative for all the obvious reasons the law of diminishing returns struck hard and swift in both.
And this really brings us to the crux of this review: why was the world forever denied a standalone spinoff with Melissa Moore's Lorda as the central character? Even Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching was given her own (albeit cheaper) sub-franchise with Raped By an Angel (1993-1999) after the runaway success of Naked Killer (1992). Santiago specialized in everything from exploding bamboo-hut Vietnam yarns, to post-nuke Mad Max (1979) rip-offs, and topless kickboxing features. Above all, though, Cirio was the master of the female-centric action romp. His shadow looms long over the Filipino movie industry, and in recent memory only Maria (2019) has come close to recapturing that what Santiago once made an industry out of. Like The Expendables (1988) at the end of the prior decade Angelfist might not have been old Cirio's finest hour but for every dud there's a Stryker (1983), Wheels of Fire (1985), Silk (1986), or The Sisterhood (1988). Santiago never bet on one horse, and with Angelfist he clearly missed the race...