Hapkido’s deadly China doll
‘Here comes the unbreakable China doll to give you the kicking of your life!‘ That is a fair description of the film Hapkido (viewable in its entirety on YouTube), an early Hong Kong/South Korean co-production made by Golden Harvest.
Three Chinese students (Angela Mao as Yu Ying, Carter Wong as Kao Chang and Sammo Hung as Fan Wei)have practised hapkido in colonial Korea for five years, but have to flee the country under increasing Japanese pressure. Urged by their master (real life Hapkido legend Ji Han Jae 지한재!) to be patient and bear misfortune and mistreatment with equanimity, they return to China and set up their own Hapkido school.
And then the fun starts! Despite their good intentions, they antagonize the deliciously evil Japanese Black Bear School (the Black Bear master’s evil laugh deserves an Oscar!) and no amount of forbearance can keep the increasing violence at bay.
As a fan of hapkido myself, I was more than happy to watch this wonderful movie, although I did feel there wasn’t much hapkido in it. Okay, there was some grappling and some throwing, but overall the movie looked like a karate and wushu flick.
But that’s it for the complaints. Angela Mao truly is a ‘deadly China doll’, while Sammo Hung and Carter Wong kick ass admirably. Korean martial arts legend Whang In-shik (Hwang Inshik 황인식 who also was Angela Mao’s real life teacher!) makes a prolonged appearance at the end of the movie and looks fantastically believable as he takes on and defeats a dojo full of Japanese Black Bear School students.
Gritty and dark
The story is predictable and fresh at the same time. Predictable in the sense that Hapkido is a straightforward old school kung fu flick in which the evil Japanese fighters give no respite to the good Chinese/Korean fighters and fresh in the sense that despite the occasional comic relief, it is a gritty and dark story with unexpected casualties and little mercy.
The action sequences are very, very good (and very old school) and Angela Mao is a revelation. She gained faim as the sister of Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon, but she really deserves her own movies, like this one.
The production values are quite high (bearing in mind the probably lowish budget) and miraculously, the Koreans look like Koreans! The glory days of South Korean/Hong Kong cooperation when Korean stars stood shoulder to shoulder with Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Angela Mao have certainly left us with some very, very nice products.
For the lovers of trivia, I seem to remember that Angela Mao was awarded a honorary second degree black belt for her performance in Hapkido ‘in recognition of her work in promoting hapkido technique to the world and for being the art’s most honorable, heroic and beautiful female representative.’
More trivia: Hwang Inshik was negotiating with Bruce Lee to star in his new film, when Lee passed away; Hwang came out of retirement to play Jackie Chan’s opponent in The Drunken Master and delight fans all over the world with their fabulous 15 minute fight; Hwang now teaches in Canada.
The hapkido talents present in this movie are awesome. I liked the movie immensely and have no hesitations whatsoever in awarding this movie with the much desired but rarely granted epithet ‘masterly pulp’.
P.S. My congratulations to everyone who recognizes Jackie Chan in this movie.
Remco Breuker is a historian and a professor Korea studies at Leiden University Leiden. He is also a connoisseur of pulp fiction. This review was originally published on his own web page. Lap up his vast knowledge on Twitter.