Lady Reporter [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Vinegar Syndrome
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (6th May 2024).
The Film

When the FBI discovers that the major influx of trade flow capital into the country's major cities comes from counterfeit cash printed in Hong Kong, they believe that a newspaper called the Asian Post is a front for the operation (especially because its major staff have more martial arts than journalism credentials). Without the official support of the Hong Kong police, the FBI sends in San Francisco cop Cindy (Yes Madam's Cynthia Rothrock) nicknamed "Chinatown Moe Cheung" due to her specialty in Chinese crime to infiltrate the paper as a reporter. Arriving in Hong Kong, Cindy moves in with her old friend Judy (Long Arm of the Law: Part 3's Elizabeth Lee Mei-Fung) and easily lands a position at the paper paired with go-getter Chung (Vampire's Breakfast's Kwan Chiu-Chung).

Cindy cannot help but do her real job when they go to cover a fire at a brothel and she jumps from an upper floor to save a baby, and the act is photographed by Hai (Legacy of Rage's Mang Hoi) from a rival tabloid run by his uncle Ma (A Chinese Ghost Story's Wu Ma). Trailing Cindy, Hai discovers that her roommate is the daughter of Prosecutor Yu (Game of Death's Roy Chiao Hung) who is pursuing a case of tax evasion against the Asian Post's editor Huang Te (Ronny Yu, director of Bride of Chucky) and witnesses the man being abducted and dragged into another car. When Yu suddenly suffers a psychotic episode in court, Huang Te's case is dropped and the prosecutor is institutionalized. Although Cindy has been warned off the investigation by police superintendent Melvin Wong (Eastern Condors' Melvin Wong) after being caught snooping around the Asian Post offices, she believes that Huang Te has something to do with Yu's breakdown and tries to keep her investigation a secret not only from Judy but also from a shifty insurance investigator (Fist of Legend's Chin Siu-Ho); that is, until bumbling Hai is caught spying on them and provides them with evidence that Yu's breakdown may have been induced.

One of only two directorial efforts by actor Mang Hoi and the only one starring Rothrock with whom he was in a relationship at the time Lady Reporter was a notoriously troubled production that, depending on who you ask, paused production either because of a serious injury Rothrock suffered kneeing herself in the head during repeated takes of her building jump or because she was also contracted to do the back-to-back American Golden Harvest co-productions China O'Brien and its sequel. Whatever the case, when Rothrock returned Corey Yuen (My Father is a Hero) was in the director's chair and the film was radically-altered with the continuity errors involving Rothrock's changing hairstyles being the least confusing element. In some scenes, Rothrock is the "lady reporter" as originally intended while in others she is an FBI agent it makes more sense that Judy would be ignorant of her reporter friend secretly investigating counterfeiting than if she knew that Cindy was in law enforcement Hung is either a prosecutor or a judge, Ma is either Hoi's uncle/boss or his father, Siu-Ho never gets a proper name despite having a romantic subplot with Judy, and Hai mysteriously disappears from the new climax (presumably Police Story's Tai Bo who plays Hai's buddy had more to do in the original cut or at least the original script). While plots were generally glorified McGuffins to justify a lot of fight scenes or, in this case, fight scenes and Hoi working out his fetishes with bathtub-splashing exposition scenes between Cindy and Judy, Cindy having her dress and blouses torn before stunts and fights, and a number of stunt set-pieces involving Cindy's high heels kicking or impaling male opponents this one is so confusing as to be distracting.

The fight scenes, both those originally directed by Hoi and the newer ones directed by Yuen, are all quite exhilarating; particularly because here more so than others due to an emphasis on the pain of both those on the receiving and giving ends of certain blows as well as keeping in what are either extremely painful mistakes by the stunt people or at least intended to look painful like poor Fat Chung (Millionaires' Express) running around with alive rat in his mouth, Cindy repeated kicking the knee of an uncredited Thai boxer after she has pierced it with her heel, Taekwondo expert Billy Chow (High Risk) striking his head against a metal railing a shot that could have been faked but really looks like it should not have happened freestyle fighter Richard Brothers (Six-String Samurai's Jeffrey Falcon) bending his ankle and doing a near split while trying to kick Cindy in a narrow gap between shipping containers, and Vincent Manuel (Operation Condor's Vincent Lyn) getting a groin kick from Cindy in an image that was the highlight of some of the film's international advertisement imagery. The new climax involved a fight on a massive spider web-like cargo net and a final fight on a moving cargo truck that seems almost as though it is going into The Hitcher territory with Cindy hanging upside down in the path of kicked up gravel with cackling Ronny Yu behind the wheel with predictably explosive results. Little known outside of Hong Kong, Lady Reporter is significant as Rothrock's first solo lead role and the only Hong Kong film starring a white, female lead despite its troubled production, and is still immensely entertaining.
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Video

Lady Reporter received a theatrical release in the U.K. in 1989, and the title "The Blonde Fury" and the eighty-seven minute running time suggests that it was the Hong Kong version (or a retitled and BBFC-trimmed variant of the eighty-nine minute export cut) while the subsequent VHS releases were titled "Above the Law II: The Blonde Fury" forging a false connection to the previous Rothrock vehicle Righting Wrongs which received the export title "Above the Law" and the running time of the VHS releases suggest it was the export version. According to the LaserDisc Database, the Hong Kong laserdisc went against the grain and used a print without burnt-in English and Chinese subtitles, so a fully English-friendly version of the film was unavailable stateside until Deltamac's Hong Kong DVD which was imported over here before it was ported over in 2003 for Tai Seng's DVD edition. Fortune Star's remaster did not make an appearance stateside and most of the European territory DVDs were not English-friendly apart from last year's German DVD from Phoenix Distribution replacing the earlier video-mastered German-only edition while retaining that territory's title "Born to Fight" on the cover and we presume since that edition was DVD-only that it was not HD-mastered.

The film made its Blu-ray debut in the U.K. last year from a new 2K restoration from Eureka, and Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfers of the Hong Kong theatrical cut with the onscreen subtitle "The Blonde Fury" (87:49) and the Lady Reporter-titled English export version (89:57) from said "existing 2k studio masters." Either Eureka or Vinegar Syndrome or both might have done additional work on the masters as Vinegar Syndrome's transfers of the same material seem a touch more saturated, possibly due to the removal of a subtle yellow cast on the U.K. disc that was most evident during some of the darker scenes (particularly the more moodily-lit sequences directed by Corey Yuen). Whereas the Hong Kong and export versions of titles like Yes Madam and In the Line of Duty 4 featured additional or alternate scenes, the two minutes of footage between the two cuts of this film are down to the tighter editing of all of the Hong Kong cut's fight scenes (so the Cindy/Judy bathtub scene was not too racy and just juvenile enough for local audiences). While the Hong Kong version is recommended particularly because poor Rothrock and Lee are dubbed to sound like bimbos on the export version it is nice to have both cuts to see what was offered up to the rest of the world.
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Audio

The Hong Kong cut features the original Cantonese mono track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 along with the addition of a Mandarin dub in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono while the export cut features the original English mono track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Both are post-dubbed with only a few of the supporting actors dubbing themselves (Mang Hoi is dubbed by the performer who was Sammo Hung's regular dubber until Hong Kong adopted sync sound in the nineties). While Eureka only offered optional English subtitles for the Hong Kong version, Vinegar Syndrome has also included SDH subtitles for the export cut.
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Extras

While Eureka included audio commentary tracks for both cuts, Vinegar Syndrome has only included an exclusive audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) Djeng shared a track with actor Lyn in which he offers some insight from Lyn along with Mang Hoi in the absence of any interview with the actor/director who passed away last October. Djeng notes that the film was not only Rothrock's first solo lead role but the first (and so far only) Hong Kong film starring a white actor (female or otherwise), as well as noting here that the some of the Chinese public unaware of her later work outside of Hong Kong believed her to be half-Asian. He tries to puzzle out the original scenario and the changes apart from the noted Yuen additions of the two big fight scenes and also reveals that Mang Hoi felt that the original five million Hong Kong dollar budget was limiting. In the time between the original commentary and this one, he has still not been able to determine the whereabouts of American martial artist Falcon who may or may not be living and raising a family in mainland China and has still not been able to identify the Thai kickboxing champion who figures into what was possibly intended to be the original climactic fight scene. Djeng also provides background on some of the noted supporting actors, including TV personality Chiu-Chung who was one of the first Hong Kong celebrities to die from AIDS during a time when Hong Kong was not the most politically correct regarding the disease, and Melvin Wong who tended to be typecast not only in police roles but also as characters with his own name!
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Rothrock appeared on the U.K. disc in a selected scene commentary as well as an interview, but Vinegar Syndrome has provided a new interview in "No Mediocre Action" (13:58) in which Rothrock reveals that the film was part of a three-picture deal with Golden Harvest, and is diplomatic about the Mang Hoi's replacement by Corey Yuen, noting that the studio "wanted more" hence the reshoots.

The British-born Lyn appears in "Playing the Villain" (20:46) in which he discusses notes that his father's Chinese half of the family had their own fighting style and he had studied martial arts from a young age before studying acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and did not go to Hong Kong until he was twenty in 1988. He had appeared in Yuen Wo-Ping's Tiger Cage but had not planned to do any more film work and move onto teaching before Corey Yuen contacted him about appearing in Lady Reporter's reshoots. He discusses his friendship with Rothrock and their fight scene in the film, noting that the production gave him a role of toilet paper to put in his pants when he expressed concern about a lack of protection for Rothrock's groin kicks.

The disc also includes an image gallery, the Hong Kong theatrical trailer (2:38), and the English export trailer (3:53).

Packaging

A limited run of 6,000 copies available directly from Vinegar Syndrome and select indie retailers includes special limited edition spot gloss and embossed slipcover designed by Robert Sammelin.
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Overall

Little known outside of Hong Kong, Lady Reporter is significant as Rothrock's first solo lead role and the only Hong Kong film starring a white, female lead despite its troubled production, and is still immensely entertaining.

 


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