Friday, June 20, 2014

The Angela Mao Ying Collection: When Taekwondo Strikes

Where could you find a heroic film treatment of a European Christian missionary? Hong Kong in 1973. Father Lewis (Lu Yi) is a true humanitarian who supports Korea’s aspirations for liberation. Unfortunately, the Japanese occupation does not cotton to his interference and act accordingly. However, his allies are not nearly so prone to turn the other cheek. Angela Mao will get some serious retribution in Feng Huang’s When Taekwondo Strikes (trailer here), which is included in The Angela Mao Ying Collection now available from Shout Factory.

Wan Ling-ching is Chinese, but she has always identified with her oppressed Korean comrades. She can also fight, but her hapkido is different from the taekwondo practiced by Li Jun-dong, the leader of the local resistance. Li has masqueraded as the good Father’s servant, but the jig is up. Initially, the Imperial enforcers are a bit circumspect dealing with Father Lewis for fear of antagonizing his embassy, but then they realize he is French and proceed to torture him with impunity. Things really look bad when Li is also captured, but Wan tries to keep his hot-headed apprentice and Mary, the Father’s kung fu kicking nun-niece, focused and together.

Taekwondo is a rather fascinating manifestation of Angela Mao’s international superstardom, obviously produced with an eye towards the Korean market. In addition to the setting, it is the only martial film starring taekwondo grandmaster Jhoon Goo Rhee (dubbed “the Father of American Taekwondo”), who is all kinds of steely awesome as Ji. Mao’s Wan is also terrifically cool, charismatic, and lethal. Unfortunately, throughout Strikes, they are surrounded by spectacularly bad decision-makers with insufficiently established motivations, especially the rather dazed looking Anne Winton as Mary. She’s got the moves, though, as we would expect from “Jhoon’s best student,” as the trailer tells us.

Indeed, what Strikes does well, it does tremendously well. That would be the fight scenes choreographed by Chan Chuen and Sammo Hung, who naturally appears as a Japanese enforcer. The climatic all-hands-on-deck throw-down is a massively satisfying genre pay-off that will have fans yelling and cheering at the screen.

Even though Mao shares the beat-down duties with Rhee quite equally, her star-power is clearly driving the bus. If you are looking for straight forward adrenaline-charged martial arts with a few awkward line-readings, it is tough to beat. It is also rather strangely in-line with the recent bumper crop of WWII-era anti-Japanese action films coming out of the Chinese language territories these days—aside from the sympathetic portrayal of western Christians. Recommended for fans of Mao and Hung, When Taekwondo Strikes is now available on DVD, as part of The Angela Mao Ying Collection.