Lady Whirlwind (Huang Feng, 1972) — July 8, 2017
Inferior in just about every way to the other Golden Harvest Angela Mao/Sammo Hung/Huang Feng movie paired on this new Shout Factory DVD release, Hapkido, but not without its charms. In particular it’s got a great opening fight between Mao, here playing a humorless badass, and Sammo, as one of the minor villains. Of all the great martial arts stars, Sammo Hung is the best partner: not only does he always make his opponent look good, he’s willing to share the wows with them in a way that Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan (to pick two names) almost never are. Angela Mao is terrific on her own, and her other fight scenes in this film are pretty cool, but Sammo, in so convincingly letting her beat the hell out of him, brings out her best.
When Taekwondo Strikes (Huang Feng, 1973) — July 8, 2017
Another Huang Feng/Angela Mao/Sammo Hung collaboration, this time with Mao helping out the Korean resistance against the evil Japanese secret service/karate school in Seoul. Sammo gets beat up a lot. Carter Wong does too, as the leading student of taekwondo teacher/resistance leader Jhoon Rhee (making his only film, Rhee is famous for having introduced taekwondo to the US). Wong keeps getting into fights with the Japanese, only to have Rhee and/or Mao bail him out. These Huang Feng films, made for Golden Harvest, have a grimy immediacy missing from the more stately Shaw Brothers productions of the time, while lacking all the virtues that money provide, like quality sets or screenplays.
The Fate of Lee Khan (King Hu, 1973) — August 7, 2014
If I ever run an inn on a medieval Chinese border-crossing, remind me to invest heavily in extra tables, chairs, dishes and whatnot. Also to hire pretty waitresses that know kung fu.
At one point a portly waiter does a backflip and I’m 99% certain it’s Sammo Hung doubling for him. It’s a Sammo backflip.
Almost the entire film takes place within an inn, and in the main common room of the inn (there are a couple short sequences in one of the guest rooms and a side room). But Hu so constantly varies his camera set-ups, and keeps the plot always hurtling forward, that it never feels stagey in the way something like Key Largo does.
Like Dragon Gate Inn, the first half of the film chronicles the gathering and unmasking of the various heroes while the second half unfolds their fight against the villain. Also like that film, it features a collective hero rather than the serial heroes of Come Drink with Me, A Touch of Zen, and Painted Skin.