Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Angela Mao Ying Collection: The Tournament

Who knew kung fu was so bureaucratic? Not surprisingly, the Chinese Kung Fu Association is all about keeping up appearances and closing ranks. Unfortunately, Master Lau finds himself effectively black-balled when his son and a fellow student are humiliated in Thailand by Muay Thai fighters. However, he also has a daughter. There will be some avenging to do in Feng Huang’s The Tournament, which is included in The Angela Mao Ying Collection now available from Shout Factory.

Fighters are not legally responsible for deaths in the ring during Thailand’s mixed martial arts matches. Nevertheless, Pepsi evidently signed on as a sponsor. Eager to showcase Muay Thai’s dominance, agents regularly try to recruit Chinese Kung Fu practitioners, offering them large sums just to participate. When loan sharks kidnap the sister of one of Master Lau’s students, he and Lau’s son Hong reluctantly accept. Hong loses badly, but at least he survives. His friend is not so lucky. The shame wrought by the scandalized Kung Fu Association effectively kills Master Lau as well.

Despite their denigration of Lau’s Kung Fu, nobody can best his daughter, Siu Fung. Yet, she only outrages the provincial fools further when she vows to study Muay Thai, in order to develop tactics to beat it. The Association’s decent but ineffectual director has a colleague in Thailand who can help. Under his tutelage, Hong and Siu Fung (with a new boyish coif) will win some redemption in the ring, but this earns them further enemies amongst their mobbed-up opponents.

Arguably, Tournament is a sort of MMA movie-forerunner, in which Kung Fu, Muay Thai, and karate all face each other at some point. It also offers a rare look at Mao without her trademark braids. However, Sammo Hung’s presence as co-action director and one of Lau’s pig-headed colleagues is a welcome guarantee of quality control. He deals with the gloves and pads well enough, but the action in the ring pales in comparison to Mao’s three major throw-downs, including an Odysseus-like coda in which the returning Siu Fu and Hong must eject an interloping Japanese karate dojo from their father’s studio.

Of course, Mao is in her element as the disciplined, outside-the-box Siu Fu. Her frequent co-star Carter Huang is reasonably serviceable (again) as Hong. Hung also gets a chance to show some of the charisma that would be apparent in later films. However, the villains are a rather interchangeable lot of moustache-twisting types.

The Tournament might be a bit programmatic (in a Golden Harvest sort of way), but it is a fine example of Mao and Hung doing their thing, which is also worth seeing. Frankly, it would be nice to have a few more like this. Easily recommended for Mao fans and martial arts connoisseurs, The Tournament is now available on DVD as part of Shout Factory’s Angela Mao Ying Collection.