aka 鐵燕 aka Tie Yan aka Shaolin Iron Eagle 1978 Story by Chu Yu
Directed by Cheung Pooi-Shing (as Chang Pay-Cherng)
Revenge is a dish best served cold. That’s what some Klingon guy told me, anyway. Iron Swallow is basically a kung fu version of I Know What You Did Last Summer, except it’s a decade later and the children of the slain are the ones having revenge. Revenge is the topic of discussion, because it’s the topic everyone is talking about.
The elders did a horrible crime they refuse to talk about to anyone or even each other. It quickly becomes obvious that it involves rape, murder, and bribes to cover up their deeds. Many of them spent years worrying about the crimes, some throwing themselves into philanthropy out of guilt. None of the characters will call the authorities when attacked, because they don’t want to drag up their sordid histories. This leaves their younger relatives confused and frustrated, knowing something bad is happening and seeing their parents unwilling to do anything about it.
The revenge plot is so much the sole focus that there isn’t some of the usual kung fu tropes. No one seeks out a great master, there is no training montage. There isn’t a gallant knight hanging out in disguise to set things right. It is just pure revenge. The purity of the focus of Iron Swallow is welcome, sometimes films try to do too much and end up accomplishing nothing, while Iron Swallow does what it is supposed to do and does it well.
The problem with all these lovely dubbed kung fu features is it is impossible to get anyone’s name correct, so please excuse me if the character names I use don’t sound exactly like the ones you hear when you watch the film. There is rarely consensus on just how the characters’ names are said by the dubbers, changing depending on who is speaking or what accent the ex-pat in Hong Kong/Taiwan who is doing the part has. Occasionally, the dubbers pronounce the same name differently in two concurrent sentences. Thus, all references to Chia Ling’s character will just be Iron Swallow.
Iron Swallow (Chia Ling) – Iron Swallow is the daughter of a murdered man, out to avenge his death by maiming those responsible for his death and the subsequent coverup. She arrives in town with her Aunt, who is also a victim of the incident that started everything. Iron Swallow has focused her entire life on getting revenge. She leaves trademark iron swallow darts with red tassels, which the enemy later uses to frame her. Iron Swallow’s actual name might be Chin Yeh.
Ko Fang (Ting Wa-Chung) – A kung fu student being raised by his single father, who is marked as a target by Iron Swallow. Ko Fang soon learns that all he thought was true was a lie, and that he’s more involved in the revenge drama than he knows. He is best friends with Tu Lung, who is like a brother to him.
Tu Lung (Don Wong Tao) – Son of Chu Hsaio Tien and best friend of Ko Fang. Tu Lung is the idyllic youth who soon learns that things weren’t as clear cut as he thought they would be when he was learning about the world. He’s soon dragged into the confrontations due to familiar and friendly connections, torn between the two sides and his reluctance to join in the violence.
Wu (Wong Wing-Sang) – A Fortune Teller who is really a skilled kung fu assassin hired by Mr. Chu to kill everyone connected to the case before it comes back on him.
Chu Hsiao Tien (Yee Yuen) – Kung Fu Master and local bigwig responsible for a horrible crime and the resulting cover up, which dooms everyone a decade later when it comes time for revenge. Even then, he refuses to take responsibility and tries to kill his way out of it.
Mo Tu Ping (Hung Kin-Wing) – A Mystery Man who keeps popping up to aid Iron Swallow for reasons unknown. It is eventually revealed his father was Mo Shing Yee, Iron Swallow’s father’s best friend, and died alongside him in the original incident. Now the son continues his family’s legacy.
aka 跆拳震九州 aka Sting of the Dragon Masters aka Kickmaster aka Tai quan zhen jiu zhou
1973 Written by Gwak Il-ro and Chu Yu
Directed by Wong Fung
When martial arts movies are talked about, there is the practice by certain people of just labeling all martial arts films as kung fu films. Of course, fans of the genre know there are many different types of martial arts cinema, from kung fu to karate to taekwando to Pencak Silat to Muay Thai. And all of those have their own subgroups and subsubgroups, and films will mix styles, often as a selling point. For When Taekwondo Strikes, taekwondo is obviously the featured martial art, even Jhoon Rhee – “the father of American Taekwondo” – is one of the stars in his only film role. You can also spot Sammo Hung, Lam Ching-Ying, and Yuen Biao in the stunt teams, which is always a fun game with these older flicks.
When Taekwondo Strikes is one of hundreds of films that takes place during the Japanese Occupation, this time on the Korean peninsula. It also scores points for mention the use of Korean women as comfort women to the Japanese troops overseas, as the evil Bansan Karate School engages in this practice.
When Taekwondo Strikes features some great cinematography tricks that make it a far better film than just your random basher. The shots while the Japanese are threatening work great in establishing a mood. In the beginning, the Japanese men are shot from an upward angle, thus making them look more powerful and threatening. The Koreans who are victimized are shot at a downward angle, making them look weak. As the heroic Koreans get more brave and powerful, standing up to their oppressors, the shots become even. Eventually, the triumphant Koreans tower over their former oppressors as the camera angles reverse.
There is also a lot of religious imagery, especially crucifixion. Both the captured Father Louis and then the captured Li Jun Dong are both tied up in a crucifixion manner. In the beginning of the film, the Japanese chase a Korean who knows taekwondo (thus marking him as anti-Japanese) into a church run by Westerners. The priest will not talk, and when the Japanese slap one of his parishioners, he slowly turns his other cheek towards them.
Besides the cinematography, the fight choreography is well done, the battles being consistently entertaining and feeling furious and dangerous, even if Angela Mao is always in control. The Japanese villains are always presented as threatening, and even though they can be defeated they will not hesitate to harm the loved ones of anyone who dares resist them.
Huang Li Chen (Angela Mao Ying) – A Chinese who grew up in Seoul, works in her mom’s restaurant. But due to her sympathies with the Koreans who share the same fate of being invaded by the Japanese as her homeland, she gets caught up in the intrigue and fighting. Luckily, she’s more than skilled in the fighting department.
Li Jun Dong (Jhoon Rhee) – Gardener and secret resistance leader for Japanese occupied Korea. Jhoon Rhee was the father of American taekwondo, this looks like the only film he had a role in.
Mary (Ann Winton) – The niece of Father Louis and resistance fighter once the Japanese start hassling her uncle. Ann Winton was on of Jhoon Rhee’s followers who came with him to Hong Kong to make When Taekwondo Strikes. As far as I can tell, this was her sole movie role.
Jin Zheng Zhi (Carter Wong Ka-Tat) – Fellow resistance fighter who helps free Li Jun Dong. Is in a lot of the film but is surprisingly underdeveloped because he’s taking a backseat to Angela Mao and Jhoon Rhee.
Father Louis (Andre E. Morgan) – French missionary in Japanese-occupied Korea who stays to support his flock. Father Louis looks like George Lucas. In the subtitles, he’s called Father Lu Yi