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Shock-O-Rama: Double Dose of a Lady-Fu
Totally not a dirty Euphemism
By Chuck Francisco
April 25, 2014
Angela Mao Ying fans rejoice!
© Shout! Factory
Some films simply aren't strong enough to whirl on their own roundhouse kicking feet as standalone home releases. This isn't a scifi techno handicapper beam kick to the ribs of a downed Arena, nor the smashing of a comically large cognac snifter over the head of Night of 1,000 Cats, both of which are available as sets with other such flicks. I adore such films, but not every movie deserves the collector's edition treatment from a Scream Factory. I say this only because we don't live in an ideal world. If we did, and cult/horror was the food of love, then "play on" would say I. We shouldn't lament the state of releases, not when distributors are doubling down on dried 70's popcorn fare such as Hapkido and Lady Whirlwind (available this week as a "Martial Arts Double Feature" from Shout Factory).
That's right Angela Mao Ying fans, your double feature day staring the First Lady of Kung-Fu has finally kicked its way into your cinema solar plexus. She's at the absolute top of her game in both films, even if one them stagnates around her. The sad truth is that one of these films vastly outclasses the other in both plot and ass kicking choreography. But which one? Lady Whirlwind has the vastly superior sounding title, but falls via one on one combat in pretty much all other forms to Hapkido. Like the battle between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris from The Way of the Dragon, the mismatch is apparent right from the opening sequences.
Hapkido tells the tale of three Chinese martial arts students who return to their Japanese occupied native country to open a fighting school. In rapid fashion they find themselves under attack by the local Japanese school and their overwhelming force. It doesn't help that the kind hearted martial artist Fan Wei (Sammo Hung in my favorite role of his) continually steps in to take on the Japanese students menacing the villagers, exacerbating the situation at every turn. In short order Angela Mao's Kao Yu Ying is left to enter a series of amazingly choreographed fight sequences to exact bloody vengeance. Hapkido shines because it present sympathetic characters, who use their abilities responsibly, even to their own detriment. It's the classic western motif of the hero taking the high road, though she suffers so. The ending fight will really suck you in. Keep a sharp eye peeled and you may just glimpse a super young Jackie Chan (equipped with wispy facial hair though he may be) during one of the Japanese school fight sequences. Yes, one of.
Lady Whirlwind suffers right off the mark from a much more convoluted plot. Angela Mao plays Tien, who seeks to avenger the suicide of her pregnant sister on the man who left her, Ling. Ling is on his own mission to dismantle the local gambling/opium syndicate with a flurry of fists and feet. After seeking Ling for several years, Tien inexplicable agrees to allow him several days to enact his own vengeance before she wreaks hers. Even more confusingly, she saves him and then assists in his quest once he's had his ass handed to him. The fights here are far less memorable, with the exception of the gambling hall scene where Tien works the tables with James Bond level charisma, before busting it up like Jason Bourne. Sammo Hung rides the bench for the other team in this flick, as the bumbling lackey in charge of the gaming hall, and in the process gains a plethora of gnarly facial scars. Chicks dig scars, sure, but I doubt to this degree.
The film transfer for both of these movies is far from pristine, in fact during Hapkido the picture and sound track continually switch between what is probably two different beat up film sources. The result is a soundtrack that noticeably goes from low and clear to loud and over trebled. Accompanying that is a picture which shifts in degrees from normal to highly contrasted. This doesn't happen nearly as much in Lady Whirlwind (or perhaps, since I watched Hapkido first, I'd merely become accustomed to it). Shout and Scream Factory fans are probably scratching your heads at this point, since they're the company which delivers into your curst cult hands amazingly beautiful new transfers of lesser known gems. It appears that these transfers were done by Chinese distributor Fortune Star Media Limited, and merely being marketed stateside by Shout! Factory.
I would speculate though that the folks who have been clamoring for more Angela Mao in their fragile classic kung-fu lives are likely the same people who will get a gleeful kick out of the visible source imperfections. These are not bone fide classics which richly deserve half a million dollar restorations; we're lucky to get releases of them at all. Personally, I dig these kind of releases. That pop of a slightly frazzled frame sends an explosive impulse up my brainstem, unleashing a hadouken of nostalgic delight. It's the crane style to my weaker tiger style (seriously, does tiger style ever win in these films?). This martial arts double feature will appeal to a very specific set of fans out there. Those of you whose Kung-fu is a match for mine. You know who you are.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.