Lady Whirlwind & Hapkido [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (28th February 2023).
The Film

"When director Huang Feng (The Shaolin Plot) jumped ship from Shaw Brothers to their upstart rivals Golden Harvest, he swiftly launched the career of a Taiwanese ingenue barely out of Beijing opera school named Angela Mao, who despite her freshfaced femininity became one of Hong Kong’s toughest action icons of the 1970s."

Lady Whirlwind: When Ling Shih-Hao (The Victim's Chang Yi) has misgivings about smuggling for gangster Tiao Ta Niang (Liu Ah-Na), he is beaten by her Japanese partner/paramour Tung Ku (Hapkido's Pai Ying) and left for dead. Three years later, Tien Li Chun (Mao) shows up at one of Tiao's casinos and stirs up trouble, demanding that she turn over Ling. Rather than tell her of Ling's fate, Tiao's men take offense at a woman cheating them and are soundly-thrashed, including Tiao' foolhardy brother (Hung) who sister spares his life for dishonoring her but hands over his control of the casinos to Tung Ku's samurai friend Wen Tien (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin's Chin Yuet-Sang). Eventually, Tien learns the rumor of Ling's fate but is skeptical enough to follow its spreader Sheung-sheung (Oh Kyung-Ah) who nursed Ling back to health and has kept him hidden outside of town while he regained his strength and trained in kung fu to defeat Tung Ku and destroy Tiao's empire. When Tien reveals herself as the mourning sister of the woman Ling dishonored, Ling requests one more day in order to complete his personal mission before accepting Tien's retribution. Tien is not about to let anyone else rob her of the satisfaction, so she must watch out for both Ling and ever-loyal Sheung-sheung as they walk into ambush after ambush until Ling discovers a fighting style that may yet allow him to beat Tung Ku, after which he must face Lady Whirlwind.

Technically the first of Mao's star vehicles – or at least one where she was prominently credited and featured – Lady Whirlwind, as it is known in English, really is not Tien's story but that of Ling (the American International moniker for the film "Deep Thrust" is cheeky but it at least it references Ling's secret weapon even if it appears to sexualize Mao who is up front and center in the advertising). Whereas the subsequent Hapkido boasted kinetic fight choreography, polished photography, and good pacing, Lady Whrilwind feels more monotonous in its similar structure of moving back and forth between a few locations for fight after fight that moves the plot along incrementally. The fight choreography is as exciting as expected – with one disarming use of a flower vase going against expectations – but the photography feels more static, the color scheme (more so than the film materials) looks bland – and further washed out in the sunny exteriors – and the lack of any comic relief (even from Hung) or even a glimmer of humor makes this one feel as stolid as some of the lesser martial arts films. The foley effects are also noticeably poorer with every punch and kick sounding like the same pieces of wood being slapped together. Director Huang Feng makes a brief appearance onscreen as one of Tung Ku's thugs.

Hapkido: Following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, siblings Kao Chung (Big Trouble in Little China's Carter Wong), Yu Ying (The Invincible Eight's Angela Mao), and Fan Wei (Hand of Death's Sammo Hung) traveled to Japanese-occupied Korea to study Hapkido (or just "kung fu" in the English dub). Although their master (Ji Han-Jae) hopes to be able to fight the tyrannical Japanese, he stresses to his students the importance of forbearance and to lead with their minds rather than their fists. Upon returning to China, the siblings found a school for training and medical treatments. The siblings split up to make courtesy calls to the neighboring schools, with Kao Chung visiting the Japanese Black Bear school of Sensei Toyoda (Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance's Goro Kumon) not knowing that his hotheaded younger brother Fan Wei and drinking buddy who has accidentally killed one of their students (The Prodigal Boxer's Sun Lan) who tried to molest young Miss Xiu (Flatfoot in Hong Kong's Nancy Sit) and subsequently terrorized and brutalized villagers at the local marketplace. Kao Chung is ambushed and badly beaten by the Black Bear students lead by the chief instructor (Dynasty's Pai Ying). Fan Wei wants revenge, but Yu Ying holds to their master's urging of forbearance even as Sensei Toyoda demands they hand over Fan Wei and close their school. When Yu Ying tries to ease tensions by going to the Black Bear school and apologizing, she refuses to fight the chief instructor, even as Toyoda mocks Hapkido by having a Chinese student of the style intentionally lose to him and kowtow; however, she is more than willing to kill a traitor. Yu Ying remains stoic in the face of continued harassment – even dismissing the locals who have started studying Hapkido to stand up to the Japanese rather than see them massacred – but there is a limit to what she can bear with Black Bear determined to break her.

Tthe second of Mao's star vehicles, Hapkido shows not only the influence of Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury with the Chinese nationalism versus Japanese imperialism added to the other martial arts plot staple of determining which style of fighting is superior. While the film also shows fight choreographer Hung and actor Hung developing behind and in front of the camera, the former in the form of much more dynamic framing and camera coverage of the fight scenes and the latter in some much-needed comic relief that was totally lacking in Lady Whirlwind, and it also places Mao front and center in a genre that often sexualized even the lady warriors and within the Hung filmography where misogyny often reared its head. The Japanese villains are characterized as mafia-like – Toyoda is introduced in a swivel chair (which Downton Abbey tells me was invented by Thomas Jefferson) with his back to his slouching underlings – running up tabs in the local restaurants, and beating up any merchant (male or female, young or elderly) who has the nerve to ask for payment. Even their intimidation tactics while visiting the siblings' school seem more American gangster than yakuza. While the Japanese sadism suitably stirs up hatred in the general audiences – and Chinese nationalism in the local audience for whom Japanese occupation was a not-so-distant memory, and already stirred up by the aforementioned Bruce Lee film – it is perhaps appropriate that the Japanese villains are cartoonish and blustery since Yu Ying states that the Chinese traitors are worse, including the particularly weasely Secretary Zhang (Way of the Dragon's Wei Ping-Ao) who is only tough when surrounded by Black Bear thugs but craven when alone with Yu Ying. Whang In-Shik (The Young Master) – barely introduced early on as the Hapkido master's elder student – turns up in the last twenty minutes to help Yu Ying seek vengeance while Hung's "little brothers" Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao – along with Corey Yuen (Righting Wrongs), Ching-Ying Lam (The Prodigal Son), Billy Chan (The Big Boss), and Mo Yuen (The Legend of Drunken Master) – make brief appearances that seem not so much "cameos" as extra bodies onscreen (presumably in several more stunt roles than the ones where one can actually make out their faces).


Hapkido was released theatrically in the United States by National General Pictures as "Lady Kung Fu" while American International put out Lady Whirlwind as "Deep Thrust". While both seemed to elude American audiences on authorized VHS, Lady Whirlwind did receive a pre-cert release in the UK. While Fortune Star remastered both films circa 2005, only Hapkido received a UK DVD release from Hong Kong Legends that year while stateside we did not get a Martial Arts Double Feature DVD from Shout! Factory until 2014. Hapkido made its Blu-ray debut in 2019 in a Scandinavian set with English-dubbed audio only. Last year, both films turned up in the UK in Angela Mao: Hapkido and Lady Whirlwind from brand new 2K restorations.

We have no idea if the Scandinavian edition of Hapkido came from the same restoration, but Arrow's US Blu-ray edition is indeed idential; indeed, Region A players will open the Eureka disc with the Arrow logo and menus while Region B players will open the Arrow with the Eureka logo and extras. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen presentations of Hapkido looks great throughout thanks to proficient photography and a considered color scheme where saturated colors pop right away from the opening early Golden Harvest and Dyaliscope logos to the wardrobe accents and bloodshed. Some darker scenes still look grainier with some flatness in the deepest blacks (it is possible that some shots might have been brightened slightly in post-production rather than the newer digital grading). The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen presentations of Lady Whirlwind looks a tad poorer due to the original photography (including some focus issues during some of the few pans and the many handheld shots), and the opticals of course look coarser, with the final freeze frame optical looking like a dupe element with higher contrast and lesser detail.


Lady Whirlwind only includes the original Mandarin and English dubs in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 – I don't believe there were any remixes/redubs for the DVD editions – and they sound clean, highlighting the foley effects which sound downright primitive next to the co-feature. Optional English subtitles are also included for the Mandarin track along with English SDH subtitles for the English dub (which are not available from the Eureka menus). Hapkido comes with a multitude of audio options, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. The Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track is fine, but fans of the English dub get three imperfect options. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track labeled in the menu as the "Lady Kung Fu" dub is the classic dub track and it sounds like it was taken from a VHS source rendered hollow-sounding by digital cleanup. The 1.0 track labeled as the "Hapkido dub" is the classic dub track sounding much cleaner and more vibrant but every instance where "kung fu" is spoken on the track has "hapkido" dropped in with a digital splice and mismatching voices. Since neither Eureka or Arrow were able to avail themselves of this cleaner track for the "Lady Kung Fu" dub, I assume that this is not a cheeky touch by them but the work of Fortune Star themselves. The other English option is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 dub that accompanied the DVD releases and replaces the entertainingly uneven original voice performances with blander, almost bored deliveries. Optional English subtitles are also included for the Mandarin track along with English SDH subtitles for the English dub (which are not available from the Eureka menus).


Lady Whirlwind's includes three! commentary options starting with the audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng & martial artist/actor Robert “Bobby” Samuels in which they note that Ching Yi usually played villains and is here cast in a rare hero role, Mao's lesser screen time – but also how her appearances give the film more of a spaghetti western feel – the likely origins of the "Deep Thrust" title, the use of Korea in martial arts films due to the architecture which resembled period Chinese architecture, and again how the subsequently-released Fist of Fury turned the Chinese/Japanese opposition scenario towards a more nationalist bent. Samuels also discusses meeting Mao and how she turned down a lifetime achievement award but eventually became more comfortable discussing her career.

The audio commentary by Asian film experts Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) & Michael Worth notes the western feel of the film and notes that the martial arts film of the time were the less-stylized companions to the wuxia genre, with Djeng noting the to-the-point plotting and dialogue as reminiscent of both westerns and martial arts pulp paperbacks of the period. The third track is an audio commentary by film journalist and author Samm Deighan who notes that Mao's character is not really the protagonist, and that as such, the film is less important in Mao's filmography than in the context of the early filmography of Golden Harvest as it sought to differentiate itself from Shaw Brothers, as well as how the timing was right for Mao who signed to Golden Harvest at age seventeen and soon became their first female action star. Deighan also makes note of the American "Deep Thrust" title while also noting that the film does not sexualize its "lady warrior" character.

"Lady Whirlwind Speaks" (13:18) is an interview with Mao from the same session as the Hapkido one, in which she discusses her Peking Opera schooling, and how the director of the company she joined allowed her to do her first films. She also discusses her martial arts training and how she discovered the difference between "theatrical" stage performing and more naturalistic film acting, how Raymond Chow took care of his actors, and her growing understanding of how audiences drove the sort of productions Golden Harvest chose to produce. Mao's son Thomas King appears in "Kung Fu Cooking" (31:49) in which he recalls knowing that his mother had been an actress but did not know she was a star until he and his friends saw her on a matinee showing of one of her movies. He also relates a later visit by a memorabilia collector and others who were excited to know she was in America, as well as speculating on the reasons she has become more comfortable talking about her movies.

The disc also includes the export alternate English opening credits (1:34) – unfortunately no sign of the "Deep Thrust" credits sequence – as well a trailer gallery including the Hong Kong theatrical trailer (3:28), the U.S. theatrical trailer (1:55), and the U.S. radio spot (1:02) as well as an image gallery.

Hapkido features a pair of commentary tracks with Djeng. The first is an audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng & martial artist/actor Robert “Bobby” Samuels in which they discuss the influence of Fist of Fury on the plot of the film and other films in the genre with Chinese versus Japanese scenarios, director Huang Feng who is credited with discovering Mao, Hung, and Wong (who made his feature debut here), and their Hapkido training by Ji-Han Jae who was Mao's sifu and with whom Samuels arranged a reunion with Mao at her restaurant in New York a few years ago. Djeng also reveals here that he managed in both commentary tracks for Lady Whirlwind to forget to discuss the soundtracks, pointing out the use of Bernard Herrmann tracks in that film while his co-commentator identifies Hapkido's title track as Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Eruption" in the audio commentary by Asian film experts Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) & Michael Worth in which Djeng provides more background on the Japanese occupations of Korea and China during the period of the film and Worth's discussion is of a more technical bent. On both tracks, Djeng discusses the use of the Mandarin language in Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest titles – including the billing of the actors whose names may not be recognizable in the credits to the unfamiliar – until 1973 when Cantonese became the main language used in their films, as well as some of the onscreen and offscreen talent that followed Raymond Chow from Shaw to Golden Harvest.

"Lady Kung Fu Speaks" (18:00, in Mandarin with English subtitles) is a brand new interview with actress Mao – in her restaurant with the occasional sound of a bell suggesting that the interview was conducted during open hours – in which she recalls being invited by Bruce Lee to appear in some of his films while she was working on Lady Whirlwind as well as working in Korea where she and the other Chinese actors communicated with the Korean crew in a mix of English, body language, and sign language, and the year-and-a-half she, Hung, and Chang Yi spent learning Hapkido.

The disc also includes archival interviews in 480i with actress Angela Mao (16:39), actor Carter Wong (17:01), and actors Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao (9:21), as well as a 1972 Vintage Hapkido Demonstration Promo (6:40) with Mao. A selection of alternate opening credits includes the textless (1:32) background, the export English "Hapkido" credits (1:43), and the American "Lady Kung Fu" credits (1:43), as well as a trailer gallery that includes the Mandarin Hong Kong theatrical trailer (4:21), the English Hong Kong theatrical trailer (4:03), the U.S. theatrical trailer (1:32), and a U.S. TV spot (0:58) as well an an image gallery.


Both discs comes in a case with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ilan Sheady and the first pressing copies includes an llustrated collectors' booklet featuring new writing on the films by critic James Oliver which was not supplied for review.


While Arrow's Angela Mao double feature includes her first lead role and one of her prominent feature roles, one hopes that we get a volume two to further (and better) commemorate Golden Harvest's first female action star.


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