'Top Fighter 2' video cover

Top Fighter 2: Deadly China Dolls


Director: Toby Russell


A look at some of the "fighting females" that make Hong Kong action movies so exciting to watch. On the surface, this would make an interesting movie. Certainly, Hong Kong's treatment of women (especially in the action genre) is a subject ripe for study, and Russell's documentary does deliver somewhat, with lots of clips from movies and interviews with many of the major female stars, such as Yukari Oshima, Michelle Yeoh and Moon Lee.

However, there are several areas where Top Fighter 2 falls flat. Like Russell's other documentaries such as Cinema of Vengeance, the movie just isn't technically produced very well. Some of the interviews were obviously shot with a home video camera and look cheap. The narration is sometimes hard to hear. Few of the film clips are actually labeled, so even if one wanted to check out more movies by these female artists, it would be a tough road to find them. The film's format -- basically showing a short interview segment and then clips from various performers -- leaves one with little "real" knowledge of the kind of work these women did on films. Sure, we get the idea that these ladies work very hard and are often hurt very badly, but then, most any HK film fan knows that actors (of both sexes) often literally put their bodies on the line when making action films. Also, while most of the women interviewed speak English, when they do speak Cantonese, the translation is given in the annoying TV news-style voiceover rather than subtitles. I wish Russell let the women speak in Cantonese; many times during the movie, some of the interviewees seem to struggle to find the right words. I'm no documentary maker, but I think a prime rule would be to let your subject be as comfortable as possible so they can add more to the movie.

My next gripe would be what I think would be the major flaw in Top Fighter 2. The film (despite the exploitative title) purports to be a serious look into the female side of the HK action movie industry. As a matter of fact, some of the women address this issue directly, saying how they want to be regarded as equal to their male peers or considered more than just "eye candy." So it seems a bit strange that Top Fighter 2 comes off at times as being quite exploitative. For instance, there is a sequence dedicated to buxom cheesecake starlet Amy Yip. While I have enjoyed some of Yip's work, I highly doubt most people would consider her an action star, unless your definition of "action" counts Miss Yip's breasts bouncing around, as the clips provided in the film show.

There is also a fair amount of nudity in the film. There is nothing wrong of nudity in and of itself, in fact there are movies such as Naked Killer which manage to combine both sex and action in a good way. But in Top Fighter 2, the clips featuring nudity just feel gratuitous. During Sophie Crawford's segment, there is a long clip showing her fighting some nameless gweilo while fully nude. Certainly she has done some better work than that. Some of the other clips feel that way as well. They're not presented in any context and as such, they feel like they're in there for cheap titillation instead of serious study. There are also other clips of the women working out and "play fighting" that would seem more appropriate for a soft-core porno rather than a serious documentary.

Despite its problems, I would still recommend Top Fighter 2 for a rental. It was interesting seeing the ladies interviewed and how much dedication they have to HK action movies. I would trade in a dozen Kelly Chans for one Moon Lee any day of the week. Certainly, these women showed that you could have beauty, intelligence and brawn -- and it's a spirit I (and I would suspect many other HK action fans) wish the industry would try to recapture.


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