With a career in action movies which started while she was in her early 20s, Taiwan-born Angela Mao (born Mao Ying) made a name for herself in the Hong Kong martial arts genre, with a number of her efforts getting prominent distribution in the U.S. (especially at drive-in theaters) during the Kung Fu craze of the early 1970s. From the celebrated Golden Harvest film company, Shout! Factory now releases two of Mao’s best known films as a “Martial Arts Double Feature” DVD, the first time both films have been available legitimately here in the format.
LADY WHIRLWIND starts off with Ling Shih-hua (Chang Yi, EXIT THE DRAGON, ENTER THE TIGER) being beaten by the gang of Japanese gangsters who he once worked for, and left for dead on the beach. Helped by a caring young woman who constantly vouches for his good nature, Ling lives, and vows revenge on the thugs. Arriving in the town full of casinos, brothels and opium dens, Tien Li-Chun (Angela Mao, STING OF THE DRAGON MASTERS) wants a bit a revenge of her own against Ling; though he’s a changed man now, earlier he abandoned her sister in events which lead up to her suicide. Although Tien and Ling confront each other, she reluctantly gives him an extra day to seek out revenge on his enemies, which is has no like for either, and though she’s determined to do him in, she rescues him when the bad guys bury him up to the neck in the ground. Ling, who like female counterpart Tien is skilled at martial arts, does get his chance for revenge, but when Tien comes into contact with the exhausted fighter one final time, will she enact her vengeance or have sympathy and forgive his past sins?
After Bruce Lee put martial arts on the map in the U.S. (especially with his last completed film, ENTER THE DRAGON, which Mao had a brief part in) other American companies started releasing dubbed chop socky films here, the best example being Warner Brothers’ release of THE FIVE FINGERS TO DEATH. By 1973, everybody was in on the act, and American International Pictures (under its Hallmark subsidiary) released LADY WHIRLWIND, cleverly in typical exploitation fashion as DEEP THRUST to cash in on the groundbreaking adult hit with Linda Lovelace (AIP’s posters promised a female fighter who looked more like a well-endowed Asian Wonder Woman). Martial arts movie experts will likely not have LADY WHIRLWIND on their “best of” lists, but there’s no doubt that the film is loaded with well orchestrated fights (many which take place within the film’s period gambling hall), with blood spurting everywhere on the screen to justify its American R rating (not to mention a number of swear words resulting in unintentional laughter in the English-dubbed version). With her petite-figure and absolute lady-like appearance, Mao’s youthful fight skills are impressively on display here (she can easily convince an audience that she can take on ten or so tough fellows at a time), even though her screen time can be limited (Chang Yi is definitely the star and plays the main character). Like a lot of Hong Kong martial arts films of the period, the plot is centered around the usual revenge motif, and a number of different characters come and go (including a Japanese cigarette-in-a-holder-smoking dragon lady, a samurai-looking dude who gets excited when he’s told he’s going to be pleasured by two women at once, and an old wise master who instructs our hero in the t'ai chi style of fighting), but it’s basically fast-paced fun and a must for fans of old school kung fu. A young Sammo Hung is somewhere in the cast, and viewers with keen hearing will recognize melodic cues from John Barry’s score for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971).
HAPKIDO takes place in 1934 Korea at a time when it was occupied by Japan. Three young students from a Chinese martial arts school -- Yu Ying (Angela Mao), Kao Chang (Carter Wong, RETURN OF THE 18 BRONZEMEN) and Fan Wei (Sammo Hung, WINNERS AND SINNERS) are newly graduated and have learned the art of Hapkido with hopes of returning to their home of China and starting their own school. The trio, who believe in a peaceful way of life and are not looking for a fight, finds great opposition from the local Japanese school, who are not only bullyish but find their methods of Chinese kung fu vastly inferior. Wei defeats two drunk and rowdy members of the Japanese Black Bear Gang at a local teahouse and soon becomes a wanted man, and when when Chang goes to the opposition’s headquarters to try and try and reason with them, he is nearly beaten to death by a small army. Things get so bad that female fighter Ying recruits her old teacher (Ing-Sik Whang, THE GAME OF DEATH) to help her combat the cruel Japanese teacher, who fights dirty with a samurai sword.
HAPKIDO was released in the U.S. in 1973 as LADY KUNG FU by National General Pictures with posters that boasted, “Here Comes the Unbreakable China Doll Who Gives You the Licking of Your Life!” Though the plot is somewhat reminiscent of the Bruce Lee vehicle FIST OF FURY, the film is well directed, has a great period look to it, and the fight scenes are well choreographed. It’s fun to watch Mao taking on a number of guys double her size (she even uses the end of her braided pigtail as a swinging weapon) and Sammo Hung is also a pleasure to watch fight, and it’s no surprise he became a big star in action movies despite his short and stout physique. Hung is great as he takes on two obnoxious drunks (one who hallucinates a pair of bare breasts while gawking at a fully clothed woman), defeats a mischievous bunch at an open market, and even pulls out a clump of hair from a complaining smart ass. Further proof that many of these Hong Kong martial arts films lifted music from other films or popular music artists, HAPKIDO lifts Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Eruption” (from their popular 1971 LP “Tarkus”) as its main theme!
Both LADY WHIRLWIND and HAPKIDO arrive on DVD in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios with anamorphic enhancement. Both transfers show that the original elements are in decent shape, as both films look quite good for standard def releases, especially for fans who have suffered through bad bootlegs of both over the years. HAPKIDO is definitely the stronger of the two transfers, with better color and detail, as LADY WHIRLWIND is occasionally soft with less vivid colors, and exhibits more in the way of print debris. English and Chinese tracks are on hand for both films (English 5.1 and Mandarin 5.1 for HAPKIDO and English 2.0 and Mandarin 2.0 for LADY WHIRLWIND) and are both in good shape, with the expected minor hiss and scratchiness in spots (in the case of HAPKIDO’s English track, it appears as though some of the dialog was taken from a different source or possibly re-dubbed altogether, but these instances are brief). Optional English subtitles are provided for both films.
Extras on LADY WHIRLWIND include two trailers (one is the American one as DEEP THRUST), the alternate English opening titles (which still holds the title LADY WHIRLWIND and not DEEP THRUST) and trailers for other martial arts titles available from Shout! Factory (THE BIG BOSS, FIST OF FURY, WAY OF THE DRAGON, GAME OF DEATH, POLICE STORY, POLICE STORY 2, CRIME STORY and THE PROTECTOR). Extras for HAPKIDO include a LADY KUNG FU TV spot and two trailers, and the original Chinese trailer. There is a video interview with Angela Mao (16:56) where she discusses her martial arts training, her association with Bruce Lee, leaving Golden Harvest, working with Jackie Chan, Taiwan movies VS Hong Kong movies and more (Mao talks in Chinese with accompanying English subtitles). An interview with Carter Wong (16:59) has the actor discussing his career in martial arts films, how he became instructor to the police, his work for director Joseph Kuo, working with Sylvester Stallone (as a trainer on RAMBO III) and HAPKIDO is touched upon as well. The the jointly-edited interview with Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, who played a young student in HAPKIDO, (9:19) has them relaying their camaraderie with Jackie Chan, various films that they’ve worked on, and Hung is asked about when he broke it big in Hollywood (like Mao, Biao speaks in Chinese with English subtitles, but the other two actors speak in English. Judging from the videotape quality, the interviews were conducted a number of years ago). The English opening credits (under the LADY KUNG FU title) round out the extras. (George R. Reis)
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