“Forbearance. It’s vastly over-rated…”
1934 Korea is under the yoke of Japanese occupation. At the hapkido school of martial arts, Yu Ying (Mao), Kao Chang (Wong) and Fan Wei (Hung) are learning the form. On graduation, they return to China and open an establishment of their own, only to fall foul of the Japanese Black Bear group, who bully both local residents and other schools, and try to run the hapkido practitioners out of town. Despite their teacher’s mantra of “Forbearance,” of which Ying has frequently to remind her colleagues, hot-headed Wei is eventually baited into fighting and killing some of the Black Bear students, and has to go into hiding. Chang’s efforts at diplomacy fare no better, leaving him beaten within an inch of his life, and the Bears seize the opportunity to tell Ying they’ll be incorporating her school into theirs. She finally realizes that turning the other cheek can only go so far before you have stand up for what’s right. Which, in this case, is some kicking of asses belong to the Japanese and their minions.
The film certainly loses points for obviously cloning Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury, also released in 1972 and similarly based on a conflict between Japanese and Chinese martial arts schools. The strong anti-Japanese sentiment is no less shrill and strident here, and the style adopted for the fights is also largely similar, with one or other of our hero(in)es taking on a large group of rival students, before finally battling the big boss (or The Big Boss, if you prefer…). Still, this is remarkable for the future output of those involved in the film. As well as being an early entry in the careers of Mao, Wong and Hung, there are minor roles for Billy Chan, Lam Ching-Ying (Mr. Vampire), Yuen Biao, Corey Yuen (director of Yes, Madam, She Shoots Straight and DOA: Dead or Alive) and Jackie Chan, who plays one of the Black Bear students.
But it’s mainly a showcase for the leads, and the action demonstrates why they’d all go on, to varying extents, and become stars in their own right. Mao is, obviously, of most interest here. After an early demonstration in Korea, which shows her as the smartest and sharpest of the trio, she largely takes a back seat in the middle, trying to keep the peace and practice that whole “forbearance” thing, before exploding into action again at the end. Particularly cool is the use of her weighted braids as a weapon, to whip her opponent about the face – you never saw Bruce Lee do that! And this is probably what defines the film. When it’s trying to be no more than a Lee-mitator, it comes off as second best, for obvious reasons. However, when the creators go their own way, it’s inventive and much more entertaining as a result. Shame the ratio isn’t tilted more heavily towards the latter.
Dir: Huang Feng
Star: Angela Mao, Carter Wong, Sammo Hung, Bai Ying
a.k.a. Lady Kung Fu