For such a strong presence on-screen, it’s a shame that Angela Mao is not well known. Most probably know her from her role as Bruce Lee’s doomed sister in Enter the Dragon, but at the same time he was hitting the big time, she was carving out her own success. Thankfully, Eureka Entertainment are following up with great previous martial arts releases with a set of two of her early pictures, Hapkido and Lady Whirlwind.
Named after the Korean martial art, Hapkido is about a trio of fighters in Japan-occupied Korea – Yu (Mao), Kao (Carter Wong), and Fan Wei (Sammo Hung) – who decide to open a school in China to teach the art. However, this does not go down well with the local Japanese school, who see it as an inferior art because it’s Korean. Hotheaded Fan Wei is baited into a rumble with them, and from there it’s a constant battle to keep the dojo open for business, and everybody alive.
Hapkido is fabulous, helped greatly by the sheer magnetism of Mao, who is just so entertaining to watch. Wong and Hung are also fantastic, and the three work well together, with a sense of camaraderie as well as a good fighting understanding between each other. This helps embed the theme of defending equality and the idea that Korea is an inferior state to Japan.
Lady Whirlwind is somewhat of a misleading title. You’d perhaps expect to see something approaching Lady Snowblood with Meiko Kaji taking on the whole of Japan on her own, but the film is about another trio of characters. Mao is Miss Tien, a fighter who is searching for the man who was responsible for her sister killing herself. This happens to be Ling (Chan Yu), who was beaten by Japanese criminals who believed he was dead, but he was nursed back to health by Hsuang (Oh Kyung-Ah). He wants revenge on the gang and Tien wants revenge for her sister, so she agrees to wait until he gets his own back, and of course things go awry.
Compared to Hapkido, Lady Whirlwind is a more serious and thoughtful film, concentrating on the themes of revenge and redemption. Both Mao and Yu are excellent, and it’s really the latter that gets the lion’s share of the action. Despite this, Mao shines whenever she gets a fight in, and it’s surprisingly violent at times.
Both Hapkido and Lady Whirlwind are fantastic pictures and examples of great kung fu movies. I had a friend recently espouse on social media about these films and their reputation, and how it’s okay that they be seen as low-quality because they’re about hitting a certain spot, but I think that’s doing many of them a disservice. I mean, it’s hard to compare kung fu flicks with, say, Fassbinder movies, and everyone is doing their own thing in their own way.
Eureka has brought Hapkido and Lady Whirlwind in lovely and vibrant 2K transfers that illustrate how beautiful these films can be, even when they’re not trying to be. The transfers are mostly crisp, although there are some scenes that are less than stellar due to the source – there are shots in Lady Whirlwind that you would think may require the usual disclaimer beforehand that often comes when films are restored using materials from different sources.
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Nevertheless, they look great and the audio is excellent too, with Mandarin and English dub options for each film. The bonus features are superb, with multiple commentaries, featurettes, and vintage trailers. There are also fascinating interviews with Mao herself, recorded this year, and there is a lot of interesting material to dig through.
This set is an excellent introduction to the wonder of Angela Mao, with two great movies that look fantastic and a good supply of supplemental features. More please.
Angela Mao: Hapkido and Lady Whirlwind is out now on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment.