Skip to content

Plot: one woman dares stand up against an evil industrialist empire.

The second Babes with Blades feature came three years after the entertaining but ultimately misguided Warrioress (2015). The Flower Of Sarnia was conceived and conceptualized during post-production on Warrioress (2015), and it was to be even more ambitious than the first. Once again everybody from the Babes with Blades stunt team was involved but this time Cecily Fay would not only write, produce, direct, edit, act, and score – she would also double as costume designer and action choreographer. Seeing it as an opportunity to showcase her team it’s a vehicle by, with, and for stunt people. A labor of love for everyone involved. The Flower Of Sarnia became Babes with Blades: The Flower Of Sarnia before being rebranded to just Babes with Blades. And that’s what it ultimately is all about. Call it truth in advertising. Babes With Blades delivers exactly what it promises. It’s about babes… with blades.

Whoever thought that Cecily Fay would give up after the protracted release of Warrioress (2015) might as well looks elsewhere because Cecily isn’t going anywhere. No, it seems all the troubles she was beset with during production of her debut feature only added more to her resolve to get a second out. And that perseverance and determination is at least to be admired, even in light of how Babes with Blades presents no real progress (from a technical – or writing standpoint) from Warrioress (2015). We’d love nothing more for Cecily than that she’s able to produce that one feature that would finally break her through to an audience beyond martial arts enthusiasts. To its credit Babes with Blades is in every way to superior to things like Geisha Assassin (2008), a glorified martial arts demo reel that didn’t so much pretend as to have a story. No. Babes with Blades suffers from exactly the opposite, the action scenes sometimes get in the way of the story. Where character scenes would’ve sufficed there are seemingly never-ending action scenes. Sometimes it just is better to have a character forward the story arch with words instead of punches, kicks, and blades.

The galaxy trembles under the tyrannical rule of the Visray empire. The planet Sarnia is “under seige” (no, really). Azura (Trudie Tume) is taken captive by the invading forces. Twelve years pass, and Azura (Cecily Fay) has escaped the clutches of her captors and now hides on the mining planet of Draiga 5. There she survives by staying out of sight. One day Azura is discovered and imprisoned by Visray patrols. She’s sold to slavetrader Sef (John Robb, as Jon Robb) and is forced into gladiatorial combat for the amusement of Section Commander Sorrentine (Joelle Simpson). Sorrentine is grooming her son Peltarion (Daniel Everitt-Lock) as a successor. The catacombs are overflowing with rebellion and the headforce – the brave Viridian (Cheryl Burniston), the feisty Amber (Yennis Cheung), and pricefighter Dahlia (Lauren Okadigbo) – have managed to plant a deep undercover operative in the court with Kewan (Michael Collin). Before long Azura is deemed recuperated enough for gladiatorial combat. It’s at this juncture that Kewan hands her an arcane tome from which she learns ancient martial arts.

Empowered by the knowledge from the tome Azura comes face to face with the fearsome and feared Andromeda (Jo Marriott) and later Freya (Heather McLean). Much to the chagrin of both Sef and Section Commander Sorrentine both end up defeated in the arena, and Azura soon becomes the people’s favorite combatant. With Azura’s popularity ever increasing the freedom fighters realize that the hour draws near. In Azura they not only have a formidable champion, but also their new messiah, linchpin, and figurehead for their plebeian revolution, an insurgence strong enough that it may topple the cruel Visray regime that has long oppressed them. When it’s time for Dahlia to combat Azura in the ring the various rebel factions must come together. Azura’s motives are of a more personal nature. Exacting revenge for the slaying of her people, and Section Commander Sorrentine is the most directly responsible. The only question is: can Azura put her vendetta aside and rise to lead the revolution?

While by no means original Babes with Blades manages to pack just about everything in what is not really a whole lot of story to begin with. The general template is that of Bloodsport (1988) with a central character archetype straight out of Spartacus (1960) and a non-ambiguous good-evil out of Star Wars (1977). All of that is overlain with a negligible dystopian science-fiction component and steampunk cosplay aesthetic. Sadly, it takes the route of Lithuanian shlockfest Amazons and Gladiators (2001) rather than that of Mortal Kombat (1995) (a masterclass in storytelling/worldbuilding through economic exposition and succint character introductions) or Gladiator (2000). At one point Azura is even put in a weaponized necklace, sort of like the kids in Battle Royale (2000). When Azura comes to face to face with Andromeda and Freya both get an introductory line in their respective fight, but the screenplay never introduces them properly, nor what milestone they represent in Azura’s ascent to legendary hero. Pacing is problematic at best and once past the 55 minute mark (when Azura’s gladiatorial combat wraps up) Babes with Blades sort of collapses in on itself.

All of this could have been easily resolved had each contestant represented an actual obstacle and a milestone in Azura’s growth as a character. This would have made her eventual duel with Dahlia that much more powerful, especially if we weren’t privy to the fact that Dahlia was actually a rebel – and even moreso if the reveal of Dahlia’s true loyalties coincided with the coup d'état staged by the uprising rebellion (that now anticlimactically transpires post the arena fights) crushing the Visray empire in one swift blow, simultaneously putting Azura in gladiatorial combat with her arch nemesis. Andromeda and Freya now appear as regular contestants and not imposing figures they were probably were meant as. Script problems aren’t the only thing that grind Babes with Blades down. There’s the expected shaky camerawork that either is hyper-active or positioned in such a way that the action is occasionally hard to follow, or that completely irrelevant things clog up the frame. The lighting in the Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham, South Yorkshire is mostly put to good use. Some of the more vibrant hues give it that artsy Mario Bava feel. The exteriors of the Crossness Pumping Station in London are good for what they are, but that’s about it. Given that this is the work of one woman makes it impressive in a technical sense. At least Cecily Fay is not Neil Breen. No, Fay’s modest catalogue is perhaps closest to pre-2013 Rene Perez.

And it’s not as if Cecily Fay, Lauren Okadigbo, and Yennis Cheung are novices either. No, that’s about as the furthest from the truth as you could get. Cecily Fay was a stunt performer in Prometheus (2012), and Skyfall (2012). Lauren Okadigbo was a stunt performer in Wonder Woman (2017), Justice League (2017), Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) and most recently doubled for Zendaya in Dune (2021) and Nathalie Emmanuel in F9 (2021). Yennis Cheung was in a handful of Hong Kong and South Korean martial arts movies in late 90s before relocating to the UK. That about makes Lauren Okadigbo the Helen Steinway Bailey of the piece. Music commentator and punk rock monument John Robb (of The Membranes and Goldblade, as well as editor-in-chief of Louder Than War magazine) is surprisingly solid as a poor man’s Vinnie Jones or Jason Statham. The focal point, of course, is Cecily herself. Don’t be fooled by her diminutive stature and petite frame, Fay is Britain’s own Angela Mao Ying, JeeJa Yanin, or Veronica Ngo and it’s nigh on unbelievable that this woman is practically unknown.

To its credit Babes with Blades offers a veritable avalanche of high-octane Hong Kong-inspired action routines but is marred by non-existent cinematography, choppy editing, a hokey score, and amateur actors with more enthusiasm than talent. The near-constant barrage of death-defying action sequences, both with weaponry and without, work exactly the way you want them to; but it are the character – and exposition scenes where Babes with Blades fails most glaringly. As Warrioress (2015) before it Babes with Blades has the thinnest veneer of story as a preamble to have as many action sequences as humanly possible and like that one this too often looks like a Luis Royo, Boris Vallejo, or Frank Frazetta canvas brought to life. In other words, Babes with Blades is full of, well, babes in skimpy constumes and/or impractical armor. Fay’s Lollipop Chainsaw cheerleader costume pretty much is a futuristic make-over of the little number she wore in Warrioress (2015). Babes with Blades probably would do good in hiring Ukrainian bellydancer Diana Bastet as their resident costume designer. Whether Babes with Blades is actually an improvement over Warrioress (2015) depends entirely on your preference for no-budget, shot-on-video action demo reels with an absolute dearth of story. Since this one comes bearing The Flower Of Sarnia as chapter title that reasonably suggests there’s going to be sequels at some point. When, and if, it does hopefully it comes bearing Ken Kelly or Lorenzo Sperlonga poster art.

Plot: philandering private eye must diffuse hostage situation. Hilarity ensues!

We’re not a fan of Jackie Chan. While arguably one of the enduring and popular martial artists in the western hemisphere, we find his shtick tiring and annoying in equal measure. As a general rule we take great pains to avoid his work, but for every rule there are exceptions. City Hunter is that one exception. Why? His female co-stars for the most part. Not only is City Hunter blessed with two of the biggest stars of that decade and the one before: Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching (邱淑貞) and Joey Wong Cho-Yin (王祖賢), and it makes ample use of their considerable talents, comedic and otherwise. City Hunter was adapted from the Tsukasa Hôjô manga of the same name and is remembered for its brief detour into videogame adaptation territory. It never was a full-blown Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991) adaptation the way the lamentable American Street Fighter (1994) (with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kylie Minogue, and Ming-Na Wen) supposedly was. For better or worse the world got two Jing Wong productions of wildly divergent quality as a direct result. City Hunter is probably the most 90s movie Chan and director Wong ever lend their name to.

The story, as documented by chroniclers of the day, is that director/producer Jing Wong was aware of the success of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991) in arcades worldwide. City Hunter, at least during the earliest days of production, was going to be a manga adaptation exclusively. A fierce bidding war for the Street Fighter copyrights ensued wherein Chan would emerge as victorious. Wong had long expressed his desire to adapt the game for the big screen and Chan refused to grant him the license. It was 1993 (a marquee year for arcade beat ‘em ups) and Wong obviously wanted to capitalize on that with a Street Figher movie. Chan not wanting the relinquish the licensing, understandably, led to friction and the two frequently engaged in on-set shouting matches midway through production. In a bitter dispute Jackie Chan would denounce City Hunter and personally attack Jing Wong in the specialized press. Wong for his part used whatever pre-production material he had on hand for the improvised sci-fi comedy Future Cops (1993) and took a very thinly-veiled sweep at his former associate and star in the form of High Risk (1995), a Die Hard (1988) imitation very much like City Hunter. As these things go, City Hunter itself was plagiarized for the amiable Madam City Hunter (1993) (with little miss dynamite, Cynthia Khan) as it was a clear derivate of both that and Yes, Madam! (1985) (with Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock) and Super Lady Cop (1993) that came replete with a Taiwan-exclusive “Khan as Chun-Li” in a comedic Street Fighter setpiece. Those hoping to see Joey Wong Cho-Yin or Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching donning Chun-Li's famous blue qipao will leave sorely disappointed. Chingmy won’t even be shaking her cute little rump.

When his partner Hideyuki Makimura (Michael Wong Man-Tak) is shot and killed in the line of duty hard-drinking womanizing private eye Ryu Saeba (Jackie Chan) vows to look after (and not seduce) his niece. Years pass and Kaori Makimura (Joey Wong Cho-Yin) now works as his secretary and assistant. Kaori is deeply infatuated with the carefree, funloving Ryu who, of course, is completely oblivious to the fact. One day Ryu is hired by publishing tycoon Koji Imamura (Hagiwara Kenzo) to locate his runaway daughter (and heiress to the business empire) Shizuko (Gotoh Kumiko). Saeba has no interest in the case and politely declines because he hasn’t had breakfast. When he’s handed her picture he’s immediately smitten and readily accepts the job offer. By sheer dumb luck Ryu runs into Shizuko in Hong Kong and after a brief skateboard chase through the city Ryu and Kaori see her board the Fuji Mara luxury cruise liner. Once onboard Kaori is endlessly frustrated that Ryu shows far more interest in romantically pursuing Shizuko instead of safely returning her to her father. Also on board are Hong Kong Police Force officer Saeko Nogami (Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching) who together with her man-crazy bosomy friend (Carol Wan Chui-Pan) is on an undercover operation. When Shizuko accidently overhears that a cadre of terrorists led by Col. Donald "Big Mac" MacDonald (Richard Norton) and his dragon Kim (Gary Daniels) plan to overtake the cruise and rob its wealthy passengers there’s suddenly a price on her head. Ryu, Kaori, and Saeko must spring into action and work together to save the young heiress from harm and diffuse a most dangerous and explosive situation.

And talk of an ensemble cast! The sheer amount of star-power is a wee bit overwhelming here. Headlining is, of course, Jackie Chan, one of the few martial artists since Bruce Lee to cross over into the Western hemisphere, and the less said about his English-language oeuvre the better. The tagline, "he's out of town, out of time, and out of his depth!" rings especially true for Chan. Chow Yun-Fat, Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Anthony Wong, Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin, and Jet Li all can pull off the womanizing, sleazy private eye. Not so with the dopey Chan whose entire public persona is built around his signature jovial, amiable doofus shtick. The second biggest name is probably perennial LWO favorite Joey Wong Cho-Yin (王祖賢), the classic beauty with the puppy eyes and our original HK crush. By that point Joey had appeared in God of Gamblers (1989) and had finished her A Chinese Ghost Story (1987-1991) trilogy with Tsui Hark. Miss Wong had been branching out into HK action and comedy after being typecast as a spectral maiden for far too long. City Hunter gave her the chance to showcase her range. Then there’s Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching (邱淑貞); Wong’s fabled mistress, his muse, and our second crush. Chingmy had starred in Wong's The Crazy Companies (1988), Lee Rock (1991), Casino Tycoon (1992), and Royal Tramp (1992) flagship series as well as his Naked Killer (1992). She had played everything from the silky seductress and the comedic ditz to the gun-wielding action babe. In the years that followed she would star in the Raped by an Angel (1993-1999) sub-series, Future Cops (1993), the wuxia spoof Legend of the Liquid Sword (1993), the failed franchise launcher Kung Fu Cult Master (1993), as well as God of Gamblers Return (1994), the action-comedy High Risk (1995), the dopey rom-com I'm Your Birthday Cake (1995) and on a more in serious note in Stanley Kwan’s Teddy Award-winning drama Hold You Tight (1997).

Carol Wan Chui-Pan (溫翠蘋) and Gotoh Kumiko (後藤久美子) were the prerequisite beauty queens, the former losing her title due to an alleged breast enlargement and the latter retiring in 1995 after just 10 movies. Richard Norton was/is a legend and he starred in everything from Force: Five (1981), Gymkata (1985), American Ninja (1985) and Future Hunters (1988) to China O'Brien (1990) and Lady Dragon (1992). He had worked with Wong before on the amiable Magic Crystal (1986) and had starred in a bunch of Michael Dudikoff action romps, one of which co-stars the always enjoyable Catherine Bell, as well as the Lithuanian Gladiator (2000) knock-off Amazons and Gladiators (2001). Gary Daniels was another Westerner who somehow ended up in Hong Kong. There he shared the screen with Moon Lee in Mission of Justice (1992) and worked with Albert Pyun for his exhausted and exhausting Heatseeker (1995). Rounding out the all-star line-up is Cantopop superstar Leon Lai Ming, who was one of part of the Four Heavenly Kings (along with Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau, Andy Lau Tak-Wah, and Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing). Unfortunately Jing Wong never came around to making his own Cynthia Khan (楊麗青), Sibelle Hu Hui-Chung (胡慧中), or Moon Lee Choi-Fung (李賽鳳) Girls with Guns actioner. That probably would’ve been grand.

This being a Jing Wong romp there’s something for everybody. First and foremost this is a pretty straightforward adaptation of the manga. Then there’s a skateboard chase clearly inspired by the Hill Valley chase in Back to the Future (1985), at least two gambling scenes that could have been from either God of Gamblers (1989) or Casino Tycoon (1992), Colonel MacDonald wields the same gun as RoboCop (1987), there’s even a Bollywood song-and-dance interlude (it never quite reaches Bollywood heights of color and sound, but damn it tries), an extended homage to Bruce Lee and his Game Of Death (1978) involving Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and a aerial dolphin ride modeled after the mobile statues in Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983). More importantly, City Hunter is famous for four things: three major setpieces and Wong’s bovine tendency to showcase each and every female cast member near-constantly in either swimwear, lingerie, or very revealing high-fashion. Joey Wong Cho-Yin and Gotoh Kumiko suffer the least in that regard, but Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching and in particular Carol Wan Chui-Pan (especially her legendary bosom, which might or might not, have led to her termination from a HK beauty pageant) are on display prominently. As late as 2015 he did the same with former Miss Hong Kong 2009 contestant Candy Yuen Ka-Man in his somewhat controversial The Gigolo (2015). As for the setpieces, there’s the Street Fighter cosplay fight with Daniels turning into Ken and Chan dressing up as E. Honda, Guile, and Dhalsim before settling on Chun-Li and doing the signature move/pose of each. Second, there’s the circus act routine wherein Chan acrobatically swings Yau around as she shoots goons left, right, and center – and finally there’s the admittedly funny boss fight between Chan and Norton that sees him incorporating dance routines from Madonna and Michael Jackson into the choreography. It’s not nearly as crazy Rothrock v Norton in Magic Crystal (1986) – but, honestly, what is?

Then there are fast food-related gags were Chan, not having had breakfast and appropriately starving by that point, runs into Carol Wan Chui-Pan at the pool and stares at her lustingly. First at her breasts which he sees as hamburgers, her legs which he thinks are chickenlegs, and finally her arms as chicken wings. Is it puerile? Yeah. Is it bovine? No doubt. It’s disrespectful at best, objectifying at worst, and completely unnecessary to boot. Wong never was below milking his women for all they were worth. Naked Killer (1992) was a valentine to Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching and this one’s all about Carol Wan Chui-Pan and Gotoh Kumiko. If you’re wondering where this sudden obsession with junk food comes from a look at the history of American fast food in China and its place in wider Sino culture at large is necessary. Fast food, and hamburgers in particular, was a fairly new phenomenon in Sino culture. Kentucky Fried Chicken was a true pioneer in that regard and was able to penetrate China’s world-famous hermetic culture by opening a Sino franchise as early as 1987. McDonald’s was brand new only having landed in Beijing a year earlier, in 1992. It certainly speaks to its appeal when Super Lady Cop (1993) was able to get away with imitating both the junk food gag and the Street Fighter shtick wholesale. There was also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fast food joke in Naked Killer (1992) but it never landed.

City Hunter is a lot of things. For one, the pace is resolutely breakneck and no gag is dwelled upon more than a few seconds. The action setpieces are explosive and while there may not have been as much heroic bloodshed and bullet ballet shoot-outs as we would have liked, the ones involving Chingmy Yau compensate for a lot. Jackie Chan is his usual self, although here his hyper-kinetic slapstick routines and rubber-faced mugging antics are kept to a bare minimum. It raises the question of what Jing Wong’s Street Fighter would have looked like (Chingmy Yau certainly looked the part in Chun-Li’s blue qipao, as did Cynthia Khan in the expected imitation) or what Hong Kong or Japan would have done with the property. One thing remains undisputed, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Street Fighter (1994) was terrible by any metric – both as an action movie but especially as an adaptation. In City Hunter the Street Fighter imagery was but a random gag among many and Jing Wong would give Die Hard (1988) a Hong Kong make-over in the form of High Risk (1995) just two years later. Which is a real roundabout way of asking: would anybody still be talking about City Hunter today if it weren’t for the all-star Chinese-Japanese cast and the crass fast food jokes?