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Angela Mao: Hapkido & Lady Whirlwind (Blu-ray Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000219765
Added by: Jitendar Canth
Added on: 5/10/2022 13:09
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    Review for Angela Mao: Hapkido & Lady Whirlwind

    6 / 10


    I had one of those disappointing epiphanies today. Sure it came as an unexpected realisation, but it was disappointing because it probably points to a blind-spot prejudice of mine. I just realised that of all of the martial arts movies I have seen, the massive majority of them have male protagonists leading the film. And that’s a proportion that far exceeds the ratio of male to female led martial arts movies produced in Hong Kong. I’ve always gravitated to names like Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen and so on. When it comes to female martial arts actors, I can only think of Michelle Yeoh off-hand, and I’ve only seen one film that she has led, Wing Chun. But Hong Kong was making female led martial arts movies long before Hollywood ever considered women leading action films. In 1972, Angela Mao led two veritable kung fu classics, Hapkido and Lady Whirlwind. Eureka are giving both films their HD debuts in the UK on two Blu-ray discs, although I did see Hapkido when Hong Kong Legends released the DVD.

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    Introduction: Hapkido

    It’s 1934, and the Imperial might of Japan is beginning to exert its influence across the Far East and beyond. Korea and Manchuria have already been annexed, and Japan now eyes the rest of China as a potential conquest. Yet there is already resistance to Japan, and in Korea where the practicing of Martial Arts has been banned, there is an underground movement teaching Hapkido for when the time comes for the oppressed to throw off their chains. Three students from China are studying under their Korean master, only to get into trouble when they use those abilities against the Japanese. They must leave Korea immediately, and their master urges them to open a school in China to pass on what they have learnt. When they get back home however, they find that the Japanese influence has preceded them, and opening their Eagle School of Hapkido is difficult when the Black Bear School, run by the Japanese, is destroying the harmony of the town. Despite their master’s insistence on forbearance, they’ll have to stand up to the insidious Japanese influence to prevail.

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    The Disc: Hapkido

    Hapkido gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, with the choice between two English dubs and the original Mandarin in DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono, and there is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English dub track as well. It’s another stellar transfer from Eureka, a proper filmic presentation of a classic kung-fu film, a pristine restoration, clear and sharp with no sign of print damage, age or compression. Colours are rich and consistent, and the action comes across without issue. You might notice some anamorphic distortion at the edge of the frame, which is normal for kung fu movies of the period. The Mandarin audio is present without distortion, the dialogue is clear and the subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos. The action is represented well through the audio.

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    Extras: Hapkido

    That Hong Kong Legends Hapkido DVD was a disappointment when it came to extra features, but this Eureka Blu-ray release remedies that, with new extras and some vintage featurettes as well. The disc boots quickly to a static menu. On the disc you’ll find the following extras.

    Commentary by Frank Djeng & Bobby Samuels
    Commentary by Frank Djeng & Michael Worth
    Lady Kung Fu Speaks with Angela Mao (18:01)

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    Archival Interviews
    -Angela Mao (16:59)
    -Carter Wong (17:01)
    -Sammo Hung & Yuen Biao (9:21)

    Original Vintage Featurette (6:40)
    Alternate Opening Credits x3
    Trailer Gallery x4
    Image Gallery

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    Conclusion: Hapkido

    Hapkido is strictly a by the book martial arts movie, typical of the era. Its straight-laced, serious demeanour, heralds a clichéd story of good versus evil, and battling schools. The villain even has a comedy Hitler moustache. As per usual, the good guys don’t want a fight; they only want to coexist peacefully. Yet as the film progresses, the utterly evil and self-serving villains, deliberately needle the good guys, and pile provocation upon provocation on them. And finally, when the body count is high enough, and carnage has been wrought through the innocent town, our (surviving) heroes unleash the full power of their Hapkido, scything through the ranks of henchmen, until only a one-on-one battle with the villainous mastermind remains. There are plenty of those foot-stomping chest-crushing moments too, although without the dainty little ankle twist and high-pitched whine that was the trademark of Bruce Lee.

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    But let’s face it, you don’t exactly watch these films for the delicate intricacies of plot, you watch them for the action, and the Hapkido that is unleashed in this film is more than enough to hold the attention for 90 or so minutes. As usual, we get a sequence where the master demonstrates the techniques to his students so we can see the full elegance of Hapkido, without the pesky revenge plot getting in the way. But the fight sequences are elegantly choreographed, with plenty of bone crunching action, punches, kicks and blocks. We also get to see the fights in impressive clarity, with a minimum of fast cuts and fancy edits to confuse the presentation.

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    It is an old school Hong Kong actioner, with the typical ropy acting and plenty of meaningful glances and overlong camera pauses while the actors try to emote. Yet seeing an early Sammo Hung appearance makes up for that. He’s very obviously playing it straight, but you can still see tinges of his trademark humour in his performance and in his fight sequences. You can see that they are choreographed in such a way as to work with the set design and the environment. In comparison, the other fights are more of your typical one-on-one battles.

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    If you are looking for 90 minutes of fun and entertainment, then Hapkido isn’t the film that first springs to mind. The story is far too hackneyed, and there is little if anything to the plot. But if you want to see some excellent action and a choice demonstration of Hapkido, then this film should be high up there on your to-watch list. Besides, any film where you get to see a girl kicking seven shades of crap out of the bad guys can’t be that bad.


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    Introduction: Lady Whirlwind

    Tien wants revenge. She’s hunting for Ling Shih-Hua, the man responsible for her sister’s death. But the man she finds isn’t quite as she expected. He’s got some honour for one thing, and he’s on a mission of vengeance himself, against a cruel gang of drug smugglers. If she yields to her rage and acts, then the gang gets away...

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    The Disc: Lady Whirlwind

    Lady Whirlwind gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, with the choice between DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono English and Mandarin, with optional English subtitles and a signs only track. It’s another 2k restoration, and in terms of colour and detail, the film looks wonderful. Although there are a few scenes with an odd distortion to them, as if the film was a camcorder bootleg from a cinema taken off axis, viewed from the side. It’s not the usual anamorphic distortion that you see in many kung fu films of the era. The audio is fine, clear and sharp without sounding tinny or thin, although the fight sequences do sound bizarre, as if they used actual slapsticks for foley during the impacts. This film is also from the era where Hong Kong movies were blatantly lifting from Hollywood movies for music, and I’m sure I heard a bit of John Barry’s score for Diamonds Are Forever in there. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos.

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    Extras: Lady Whirlwind

    The disc boots to a static menu and you’ll find the following extras on the disc.

    Audio commentary with Frank Djeng and Bobby Samuels
    Audio commentary with Frank Djeng and Michael Worth
    Audio commentary with Samm Deighan

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    Lady Whirlwind Speaks with Angela Mao (13:19)
    Kung Fu Cooking with Thomas King (31:49)
    Alternate English Credits (1:34)
    Trailer Gallery
    Image Gallery

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    Conclusion: Lady Whirlwind

    Lady Whirlwind comes from an era and genre of Kung Fu movies that I could never really get my head around. The historical action genre of the seventies, leading into the early eighties would invariably consist of rather po-faced and dry action dramas, with cut and dried heroes and villains, often rival schools of martial arts, some sage teaching a new form of kung fu, and a battle to the death or two. These movies all tend to blur into one for me, and it’s only when actors like Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung started injecting some comedy into proceeding, and with stunt performers elevating the action to a wholly different level, that I really started paying attention. Lady Whirlwind predates all of that, and very much sticks to dry narrative, and repetitive action that get tedious far too quickly, even for an 88 minute long film.

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    Having said all that, Lady Whirlwind does play with the genre tropes by having the villains facing a hero with a dark past, and that hero with a dark past being pursued by a woman obsessed with vengeance; the woman that happens to be the film’s protagonist. Just like Hapkido, Sammo Hung has a notable presence in this film, although as the villain’s minion, the character is rather nondescript, and doesn’t really bounce off the screen the way that Sammo managed in Hapkido.

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    For me, Lady Whirlwind had a rather somnolent progression, a fair bit of wandering from A to B to C, lots of encounters that resulted in action of increasing degrees of brutality as the film progressed, to the point of almost ‘Fist of the North Star’ levels of kung fu. They even throw in a random encounter with a mystic who teaches the hero with the dark past the FotNS style, and then sits cross legged, stroking his beard, as his newest disciple single-handedly battles a whole host of villainous minions.

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    Lady Whirlwind, despite its few twists away from the mainstream tropes, still failed to engage my interest, that’s despite it being the selling point of this two film collection. I actually preferred Hapkido, although that’s only a marginal preference. It feels a little too generic, and rather predictable for my tastes. I might have appreciated the film more had it developed its characters, and fleshed out its back-story. As it was, I couldn’t really buy into Tien’s obsessive vengeance, and that was rather the whole point of the film.


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    In Summary

    I’m not a fan of this particular era of kung fu movies, and while Hapkido just about held my interest, I can’t say the same for Lady Whirlwind. But if you do appreciate this rather more serious approach to martial arts action, then this collection is worth considering, and it has the distinction of showcasing a female action star, long before Western cinema audiences were comfortable with that particular idea. Eureka do their usual stand-up job of presenting these films for the HD age, and the collection comes with some notable extra features, not least a reversible poster and collector’s booklet for the first 2000 copies.

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