aka 合氣道 aka He qi dao aka Hap Ki Do aka Lady Kung Fu
Written by Yan Ho
Directed by Feng Huang
When you need villains for your martial arts movie, the Japanese are very handy. Not only did the Japanese actually do a bunch of bad stuff that seems only cartoon supervillains would do, but depicting them doing so helps stir up nationalistic feelings and potentially increases your box office bang. Thus martial arts schools are the setting for rebellion against Japanese occupiers in Hapkido, and Angela Mao Ying is more than capable of beating the snot out of all sorts of Japanese jerks.
Hapkido is one of Angela Mao’s earliest films for Golden Harvest. You can still see legacies of the Shaw Brothers influence, from the Golden Harvest logo having a strangely familiar shape to the film being advertised in “Dyaliscope”, whatever the heck that is!
We start out in 1934 Japanese-occupied Seoul, where three Chinese students are studying Hapkido before harassment by Japanese occupiers cause them need to return to China, but that also means they can open a Hapkido school in China. Just as Japan now controls Korea, Japanese influence in China is not something to be ignored, their impending invasion of the whole country means their people act arrogant and criminally. The watchword for Hapkido is “forbearance”, which works fine except when the Japanese are assaulting innocent people and Sammo Hung’s character has a wicked temper. Then it gets put on the wayside while people get punched.
The city of Chang Zhou has many martial schools, but the one everyone warns against is the Black Bear school, as it is run by the Japanese. Their leader, Master Toyoda, even sports a Tojo mustache, and members ring up huge bills at restaurants and demand “credit” instead of payments, and drunkenly harass women. The locals are fed up, but no one can do anything because the Japanese are too powerful and any attempt to stop them results in mass retribution.
As the new Hapkido school introduces itself to the local martial schools, conflict emerges with hotheaded Fan Wei (and his new friend from the Shaolin school), as they fight some Black Bear louts in a noodle house. Black Bear is insulted both by that and by the Hapiko school not making a proper introduction and begin a series of harassments against the school and the populace. Yu Ying and Kao Chung spend much of their time trying to make amends and clean up Fan Wei’s messes, but Fan Wei just has bad luck stumbling across Black Bear members hurting innocent people.
Eventually things come to a head, and Yu Ying is the only Hapkido school member capable of fighting left (their writing to their master for help results in the visit of a fellow school member, their Master captured along with most of the school in Korea by the Japanese for rebellion). All attempts to try to make things nice are rejected by Japanese arrogance, and Yu Ying just has to go all Angela Mao on those fools.
Hapkido has a nicely simple martial school plot that inserts itself into a historic place while still explaining martial courtesy traditions and the schools obligations to the community through protection and healthcare. The Japanese villains are the fun crazy type we love to hate, gleefully smacking around old ladies who dare talk back to them. These are the types of villains that everyone cheers when they are defeated, o feel free to pump your fist as each one is beat down in turn.
Fun background actor time as you can spot a really young Jackie Chan among the Black Bear students. Lam Ching-Ying, Yuen Biao, Corey Yuen, Yuen Wah, and Bruce Leung Siu-Lung also show up as members of Black Bear, Bruce Leung being a featured member while the others are more background actors. Nancy Sit Ka-Yin has a role as a local who Fan Wei aids.
It’s hard to tell which actor playing the villain is having more fun. Ngai Ping-Ngo as the seedy Black Bear Secretary who makes pronouncements against the Hapkido school, Pai Ying just oozing arrogance that he’s going to destroy the Hapkido rivals, or Suen Lam drunkenly making threats and lusting after women.
The choreography by Sammo Hung stands up to today’s standards of fast-paced action. The fights are near-constant and build towards bigger events. Actual Hap Ki Do masters help sell the realism of the martial scenes. Ji Han-Jae appears in the beginning as the main Hap Ki Do teacher, and his student Whang In-Shik also demonstrates as well as appearing at the end to help deliver justice to the Japanese school. The bringing in actual martial arts masters for demonstrations would also appear in Angela Mao’s When Taekwondo Strikes. This trends back to a time where martial arts films had fans that appreciated the different fighting styles and wanted (semi-)realistic action in their fight choreography. Now we have CGI and green screens, with actual martial arts more on the sidelines. Sure, things here are ramped up some for film, but there is a far purer core than almost any martial arts cinema out now.
Hapkido is filled to the brim with Chinese nationalism. There are many declarations of how China just wants to be friends with everyone and Chinese people are nice and levelheaded. You would think the most common topic of discussion in China in 1936 was how cool China is. This is a war movie and the Japanese are the enemy, set on the eve of further invasion while the Japanese hold unwavering power over the populace of even the unconquered areas. The Japanese react violently to any suggestion that they aren’t the top dogs of Asia, taking every opportunity to denigrate the Chinese and Koreans. This does make them cartoonishly evil and helps set the tone to cheer as the baddies go down one by one.
a great action flick, a great martial arts flick, and a great female lead martial arts film. Hapkido is worth tracking down, and thanks to a series of restorations and cool DVD releases it isn’t nearly as hard to find in a proper format as when I was young. So embrace how cool stuff is now easily available on a silver platter and watch Hapkido!
Rated 8/10 (logo, signage, reminder, jerk, one-eyebrowed priest!, anger, a guy who will have a rumble in the Bronx one day, villain)
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