Monday, August 14, 2017

Old School Kung Fu ’17: Hapkido

Genuine trained martial artists always use diplomacy first, falling back on their fighting skills only as a last resort. Discipline and humility are always essential to the warrior’s code—and it is also better not to reveal your best moves too soon. Unfortunately, the Japanese occupiers of this provincial Chinese city are spoiling for a fight, so Yu Ying and her brothers will eventually have to give it to them in Feng Huang’s Hapkido, which screens during this year’s Old School Kung Fu Fest at the Metrograph.

Yu Ying, Kao Chang, and Fan Wei are Chinese, but they have been faithfully studying hapkido in occupied Korea with their master. However, they will have to make a hasty return to China, after laying a beating on a group of Japanese thugs. They hope to open a Hapkido school in a provincial town that ought to be off the Imperial authorities’ radar, but the local Black Bear karate school is not exactly welcoming.

Members of the Black Bear School use their Japanese lineage to bully the rest of the town. Their master, Toyoda, refuses to allow the Hapkido School to open, out of malicious anti-Korean prejudice. Of course, every time his followers goad the Hapkido teachers into a fight, they get publicly humiliated. Usually, Yu Ying and her older brother make a valiant effort to practice the forbearance advised by their master, but not so much the hot-headed Fan Wei. Eventually, his fighting will get him killed, but at least he also catches the eye of the pretty Miss Sau before that.

Essentially, Hapkido argues forbearance is all very good up to a point, but eventually bad guys need to be put down. In terms of narrative, it is your basic, pan-Asian (Chinese and Korean) anti-Japanese score-settling. However, the fight scenes are some of the best of the era. Hapkido was one of Master Sammo Hung’s earliest films as both the fight choreographer and a featured player, charismatically portraying the rashly heroic Fan Wei.

He also had some of the best movie martial artists to work with, starting first and foremost with the legendary Angela Mao Ying. Yu Ying is definitely the sort of role that was in her power zone and she duly knocks it out of the park. Reliable Carter Wong Ka-Tat is also totally solid as the dependable Kao Chang. Real life hapkido masters Hwang In-shik and Ji Han-jae add authenticity and spectacular chops as the siblings’ elder classmate and Hapkido master, respectively. If you look closely, you might see early appearances from Jackie Chan and Corey Yuen as Black Bear and Hapkido students. Plus, Nancy Sit adds further star power as the sweet but plucky Miss Sau.

You could uncharitable label Hapkido “formulaic,” but it is the sort of film that will totally quench your craving for martial arts action. Obviously, it would make a terrific double-feature with Feng Huang’s similarly Korean-themed When Taekwondo Strikes. Both films are great showcases for Mao that just deliver the good stuff over and over again. However, Sammo Hung fans will find Hapkido even more satisfying. Recommended with fannish affection, Hapkido kicks off Old School Kung Fu this Friday (8/18) at Metrograph. Mao fans should also check her out in King Hu’s The Fate of Lee Khan, which screens the next day.