After graduating from UCLA Film School in the late Sixties, director James Bryan launched his career at indie cinema’s lowest end – a strange, psychotronic zone where exploitation reigns, sleaze flows and cult emerges – his trajectory and tastes typified by films like the pro-marijuana political satire The Dirtiest Game (1970), the video nasty Don’t Go In The Woods (1981) and the adult sci-fi Sex Aliens (1986). Operating in the same paracinematic universe, German-born actress Renee Harmon debuted on screen in 1975, in Frank Roach’s zombie sh(l)ocker Frozen Scream which she also produced and helped write (and on which Bryan served as uncredited sound supervisor).
That same year, Harmon would star in Bryan’s Deadly Games – although the film would not be released until 1981, when it would go straight to video as Lady Street Fighter. The film has no actual connection either to Sonny Chiba‘s The Street Fighter or to Kazuhiko Yamaguchi’s spinoff Sister Street Fighter (both 1974), but its new title was designed to cash in on the martial arts movie craze sweeping America at the time. Harmon also produced the film (as Renate Harmon), and wrote the screenplay, for which she received no credit. Likewise no director’s credit appears for Bryan either, whether in his own name or even under one of his regular pseudonyms (Morris Deal, Emil Hightower). Anyone watching the title sequence might imagine that this film had no writer or director at all. Uncharitable viewers of the entire feature might reach the same conclusion.
Opening “somewhere in East Los Angeles” with scenes of Billie being tortured to death by men who keep asking her, “Where is the dog?”, Lady Street Fighter is a tale of revenge (set to an upbeat synth remix of themes from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly). The dead woman’s identical twin sister Linda Allen (Harmon) flies in from Europe to find Billie’s murderers, and gets caught between a league of killers – the hilariously named ‘Assassins Incorporated’ – desperate not to have their cover blown, and FBI agents keen to close the cutthroat operation down. She will join forces with the similarly conflicted double agent Rick Pollard (Jody McCrea) in taking out the trash.
Trying to seduce Rick over the phone, Linda will literally lick the receiver, in a visual gesture that makes no sense and is for the benefit of the viewer more than of her interlocutor (who cannot see her). Then again, in keeping with its exploitation credentials, Lady Street Fighter is full of gratuitous nudity and erotic suggestion (none of it remotely sexy). As she is beaten and brutalised in the opening sequence, Billie is topless throughout, while later scenes are set (for no good reason beyond fleshy exhibition) in a titty bar and at a BDSM party, and tough-as-nails Linda keeps having showers, and is shown (twice!) grotesquely licking and fellating a celery stalk. Along the way there are also car chases, shootouts, rooftop dashes and karate fights, all crammed into one hour and 13 minutes of non-stop, not always coherent sub-Bond spy action. The acting and dialogue are truly terrible – and much of the latter is rendered impenetrable anyway by Harmon’s heavily accented delivery. The real star here is the (similarly uncredited) editor Eric Jenkins – also an assisting cameraman – who chops up the action, constantly cutting within and between scenes to a wildly delirious effect that might be described as artful, and that always keeps the viewer engaged even when the players do not.
Harmon would work again as writer/actress with director Bryan on the never-released sequel Revenge of Lady Street Fighter (1990) – now included in this Blu-ray set – as well as on the metacinematic comedy Boogievision (1977), slasher sequel-in-title-only The Executioner, Part II (1984), biker siege pic Hell Riders (1984), supernatural action film Run Coyote Run (1987) and hotel ghost story Jungle Trap (1990/2016). It was a peculiar collaboration that yielded some true outsider oddities, perfectly illustrated by the adherence of Lady Street Fighter to the rhymes more than to the reasons of genre cinema. Now unleashed from the American Genre Film Archive, this eccentric UFO is available for the first time in the UK. You will not quite believe – let alone understand – what you are watching.
strap: James Bryan’s outsider oddity offers non-stop, not always coherent sub-Bond spy action and vengeful martial arts