Angela Mao in Lady Whirlwind & Hapkido Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: January 17, 2023
Audio: Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio Mono (both films); English Fortune Star DVD dub in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (Lady Whirlwind only); Alternate Hapkido and Lady Kung Fu English dubs, also DTS-HD Master Audio Mono (Hapkido only)
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 88:57 (Lady Whirlwind), 97:28 (Hapkido)
Director: Huang Feng
The success of King Hu’s Come Drink with Me (1966) facilitated a popular subgenre of female-led martial arts movies in Hong Kong and Taiwan. These grew from Hu’s period-set, knight errant tradition in the ‘60s into the modern, polish-fisted ladies of the ‘90s and the era of post-Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon epics. An important figure in the early transitional period of kung fu heroines was actress Angela Mao. Mao was raised in the Peking Opera, trained in hapkido martial arts, and, like Come Drink with Me star Cheng Pei-pei, attended ballet classes. She signed with upstart Shaw Bros. competitor Golden Harvest in its earliest days and quickly blossomed into one of the studio’s biggest stars, including international recognition from playing Bruce Lee’s sister in Robert Clouse’s Enter the Dragon (1973). She was even positioned as the female alternative to Lee and took over acting duties on The Shrine of Ultimate Bliss (aka: Stoner, 1974, co-starring former Bond George Lazenby) when the actor unexpectedly and tragically died. Other performers matched either Mao’s acting charisma or her technical martial arts talents, but few were her equal in terms of the whole package.
Mao was ‘discovered’ by director Huang Feng, another important figure to the development of Golden Harvest, who started his career at Shaw Bros. Huang first paired with Mao on The Angry River (1971), which was also her first pairing with another Peking Opera-trained future superstar, Hung Kam-bo, aka: Sammo Hung, who Huang is also credited with discovering (Hung’s ‘younger brother,’ Jackie Chan, also appeared in The Angry River). The trio then reteamed for two more Mao star vehicles, Lady Whirlwind (aka: Lady Hurricane and Deep Thrust), released in June of 1972, and again for their most popular collaboration, Hapkido (aka: Lady Kung Fu), in October of the same year.
Martial artist Tien Li-Chun (Angela Mao) comes to town seeking revenge on Ling Shih-hua (Chang Yi) – the man who broke her sister’s heart, leading her to suicide. Upon learning that Ling has also sworn vengeance on the mafia thugs that left him for dead three years prior, she agrees to delay retribution and join his fight.
Lady Whirlwind is a relentless vehicle for Mao and co-star Chang Yi that is designed to facilitate as many massive brawls as possible. What’s interesting here is that Mao’s character isn’t saddled with the narrative and cultural traditions of femininity – she isn’t a love interest, she participates in ‘traditional male’ activities, like gambling, and she’s driven exclusively by retribution, at least until she witnesses how bad things are, at which point she becomes a hero. The bad guys even react to her as they might react to a standard Bruce Lee character (or even a Lee Van Cleef character, given how similar Lady Whirlwind is to a spaghetti western). All of the feminine traits are foisted on Oh Kyung-Ah, who plays Chang Li’s love interest, is bullied by the villains, and acts as damsel in distress (Mao rescues her and nurses her back to health, by the way, not Chang). The kung fu choreography contrasts Shaw’s weapons-based fighting, but is no less brutal. In fact, despite no show-stopping gore effects, Lady Whirlwind might be wall-to-wall bloodier than the average Shaw Bros. movie from the same period. The stunt team, led by Hung, does a particularly good job staging group fights and even throw a little wire and trampoline work in for good measure, offering a sneak peak into Golden Harvest’s future.
After learning the art of Hapkido in Japanese-occupied Korea, Yu Ying (Angela Mao), Kao Chang (Carter Wong), and Fan Wei (Sammo Kam-Bo Hung) return to China in hopes of founding their own martial arts school. Soon after, they find themselves locked in a territorial battle with the local Japanese school.
Lady Whirlwind has its charms, but Hapkido is a better introduction to both Mao’s appeal as a performer and Huang’s skill as a director. Following the previous film’s rather generic portrayal of Chinese martial arts, Golden Harvest leaned into the exotic qualities of the Korean hybrid style known as hapkido, specifically Mao’s proficiency with the form. They also shot part of the film in South Korea and surrounded their star with recognized martial arts masters from the area; again, for the exotic appeal, but also in an effort to connect China and Korea’s shared antagonism with Japan, following the Japanese occupation of Korea, the Second Sino-Japanese War, and WWII. Hapkido is, in large part, the female-led, Korean style equivalent to other anti-Japanese kung fu movies, like Jimmy Wang Yu’s The Chinese Boxer (aka: The Hammer of God, 1970) and Chia Hsiang’s The Big Boss (aka: Fists of Fury, 1971), which made a star of Bruce Lee.
Mao’s femininity is acknowledged this time around and she has more character, acting as leader and the voice of reason, not as an invincible figure of vengeance, haunting the edges of the frame like some kind of Lady Jason Voorhees. Still, she’s never strictly stereotyped by her gender and, for the most part, she continues to dominate every fight. Part of what makes Hapkido the better film is that it always feels like it was made with her in mind, rather than slotting her into a script designed for one of the studio’s male stars. She’s paired with Hung, who gets to play a major protagonist, instead of the hero's punching bag, and Carter Wong, who John Carpenter fans might recognize as the iron-jawed villain Thunder from Big Trouble in Little China (1986). The action scenes (once again choreographed by Hung) are every bit as energetic as Lady Whirlwind’s, but formally tighter and on par with the best hand-to-hand combat of the ‘70s period. Kung fu/wuxia fans need to keep their eyes peeled during crowd scenes for cameos from future Golden Harvest stars and directors Jackie Chan, Corey Yuen, Yuen Biao, Ching Siu-tung, Yuen Wah, and Lam Ching-ying, among others. Feng, Hung, and Mao teamed up yet again for When Taekwondo Strikes a year later – another film themed around a specifically Korean martial art.
The Female Kung Fu Chop in Golden Harvest’s Films of the 1970s by Stephen Teo (collected in Golden Harvest: Leading Change in Changing Times from Hong Kong Film Archive, 2013)
Like Brother, Like Sister: Angela Mao, the ‘Female Dragon’ in the Eyes of Japanese Fans by Udagawa Koyo, including Mao interview (collected in Golden Harvest: Leading Change in Changing Times from Hong Kong Film Archive, 2013)
Lady Whirlwind was released in stateside theaters by AIP under the title Deep Thrust (I know, it sounds like porn) and, while there are plenty of bootleg/grey market tapes and DVDs available, the only official North American home video release was a very OOP double-feature with Hapkido from Shout Factory in 2014. Hapkido was distributed by National General Pictures as Lady Kung Fu (see audio section). It was available on DVD from Shout Factory (the aforementioned double-feature). IMDb.com claims Dragon Dynasty had DVD rights, but I cannot find any evidence of such a thing ever existing. A UK exclusive Lady Whirlwind and Hapkido double-feature Blu-ray made its debut in 2022 from Eureka, apparently leaving the US rights to the folks at Arrow Video. According to specs, both films were restored in 2K resolution from original film elements by Fortune Star, who supplied master files directly to Arrow (Arrow also borrowed some extras for this release).
The two transfers are presented in 1080p, 2.35:1 and are comparable in terms of image quality, which makes sense, since both films were shot by cinematographer Li Yu-Tang (aka: Danny Lee) and the restorations were done at basically the same time. Each transfer has its issues with soft grain texture and minor edge blocking, but the overall detail is tight, shapes are neatly separated, and stuff like clothing patterns are clean. Lady Whirlwind has advantages in terms of the depth of its black levels, though this higher contrast also washes out some of the lightest neutral hues. Otherwise, colors are consistent and rich throughout both transfers. I suppose it's also a little smoother, too, though I don’t know if this is because it had DNR applied or if Hapkido was slightly oversharpened. Be aware that there are a lot of anamorphic lens artifacts throughout each movie, similar to what you’d see from Chang Cheh and other Shaw Bros. directors, though maybe with a bit more blurriness. These are not the effect of warped film or some kind of digital errors.
Lady Whirlwind’s audio options are simple: Mandarin or English dubs, both in DTS-HD Master Audio mono sound. The Mandarin track has slightly more even sound and pretty much spot-on performance quality/lip sync, but it is a bit muffled as well. The English dub is harsher and tinnier with reverb on the dialogue, but arguably has the better dynamic range. The first film’s score is credited to Joseph Koo, though I’m not sure how much of the music he actually wrote, since the filmmakers shamelessly nabbed themes and motifs from Hollywood movies, including at least Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi’s That Man in Istanbul (1965), and Guy Hamilton’s Diamonds Are Forever (1971).
Hapkido comes loaded with a lot of audio options. If you’re sticking with the original Mandarin, there’s a nice, clean DTS-HD Master Audio mono track waiting for you, but, if you’re feeling adventurous, there are three different English dubs to choose from. The first is the basic, original mono dub made for the film’s original theatrical run in English-speaking countries under the alternate title Lady Kung Fu. It is slightly more muffled than the mono Mandarin track. The second is almost identical, but was made for release with the Hapkido title and all instances of the word “kung fu” have been haphazardly redubbed to “hapkido.” The final English option is a 2006 5.1 remix with different dub performances. It’s a nice effort, but has an off-putting, overly crisp digital quality. The score is credited to Tsao Hua Lai and includes Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Eruption as a title track. I’m sure Golden Harvest paid for the rights to use it.
Commentary with Frank Djeng and Robert “Bobby” Samuels – NY Asian Film Festival programmer Djeng and martial artist/actor Samuels start things off with a look at the making of the film, the careers of the cast & crew, the martial arts themselves, and technical aspects of the production.
Commentary with Frank Djeng & Michael Worth – Djeng returns to host a second track with critic Worth to fill in some gaps, discuss contemporary reviews, and further contextualize Lady Whirlwind in the greater Golden Harvest canon.
Commentary with Samm Deighan – The author and co-host of Daughters of Darkness podcast offers up a unique perspective, despite some overlap in information with the two Djeng-led tracks. Deighan delves more into Mao’s place in the fighting woman pantheon, the character’s strengths, and the anti-Japanese tropes seen in kung fu movies from this period.
Lady Whirlwind Speaks (13:19, HD) – In this 2022 interview, actress Angela Mao discusses being picked out of the Peking Opera by Huang, the differences between opera and film performance, working at Golden Harvest, her favorite collaborators, and the making of some of her films.
Kung Fu Cooking (31:49, HD) – Djeng also talked to Mao's son, Thomas King, who shares memories of learning that his mother was famous, fans coming into the family’s Queens restaurant (which he runs) to meet her, martial arts films’ recent resurgence on Blu-ray, the history of the now two restaurants he runs, and the next generation of Asian cuisine in the Americas.
Alternate English opening credits (1:34, HD)
Hong Kong and US theatrical trailers
US radio spot
Commentary with Frank Djeng and Robert “Bobby” Samuels – More of the same from Djeng and Samuels, who discuss the cast & crew’s greater careers, martial arts and filmmaking techniques, while also continuing to contextualize Golden Harvest’s rise.
Commentary with Frank Djeng and Michael Worth – Djeng’s final track with Worth leans a little more into the history of the hapkido form and Chinese, Korean, and Japanese relations.
Lady Kung Fu Speaks (18:01, HD) – This is a continuation of the interview with Mao on the first disc. Here, she recalls working with Bruce Lee, shooting Hapkido and When Taekwondo Strikes in Korea, combat training, similarities to Fists of Fury, and working with Carter Wong and Sammo Hung.
Archival interviews – I’m not sure of the source of these or the year they were filmed. Perhaps the Taiwan DVD?
Angela Mao (16:59, SD)
Carter Wong (17:01, SD)
Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao (9:21)
Vintage 1972 hapkido demonstration promo (6:40, HD) – This short features the cast alongside hapkido master Ji Han Jae and was made to promote the film.
Textless, English Hapkido, and English Lady Kung Fu alternate credits
Mandarin Hong Kong, English Hong Kong, and US trailers
US TV spot
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.