Saturday, May 12, 2012

El Professore Movie Review: Hap Ki Do (aka Lady Kung Fu)

El Professore Movie is a good friend of mine named Jeff Goodhartz. A few years ago, Jeff and I (along with two others) hosted a weekly screening at The Loft Film Club. Jeff would feature films that I had never seen or heard of, and his choices have left a long lasting impression ever since. Films like Assault on Precinct 13, Dark Star, Used Cars, APE, Targets, and much more. I'm very happy to bring Jeff's tastes to Fruitless Pursuits. 
                                                                                                          -J. Tagmire
Hap Ki Do (aka Lady Kung Fu)
Director: Hwang Feng
Starring: Angela Mao, Carter Wong, Sammo Hung, Whang Ing Sik
* * 1/2

Hap Ki Do was an early entry from Hong Kong action superstarlet Angela Mao (aka Mao Ying) and under it's retitling Lady Kung Fu, was a big hit in U.S. theaters. 

Click through the jump for the full review.

The film begins in Korea in 1934. The country is occupied by the Japanese who are constantly harrassing the locals. When students of a Chinese Hap Ki Do school can no longer tolerate it, they attack and fend off the Japanese gang, but find themselves banished from the country as a result. Returning to China, they decide to set up their own school locally only to find the area also occupied by the brash, bullying and ultimately murderous Japanese (who have their own Dojo in place and don't appreciate the competition). It takes little time before tensions once again flair up.

Hap Ki Do looks to have been pretty heavily influenced by the Bruce Lee film Fist of Fury (released the same year). The main "evil Japanese school vs. good Chinese school" theme though hardly unique to either, have a strong visual connection that's impossible not to notice. Unfortunately there are two drawbacks that prevent this film from reaching the peaks of Lee's classic. The first is that it ultimately doesn't allow Angela Mao to take take sole center stage. In the end, she is assissted by Whang Ing Sik (who plays her teacher and superior). It is he that actually takes out the majority of the Japanese baddies in the finale (in a sequence nearly identical to Lee's initial Dojo battle in Fists...). That she has to take somewhat of a back seat in the end is a bit disappointing. The more damaging drawback however, is the incredibly flat direction by Hwang Feng. Hwang has directed Angela and co. in a dozen or so early 70s martial arts films and in most cases, his work behind the camera falls short of the action in front of it. Here sadly, he is at his most uninvolved. Despite the many exciting battles, nothing really builds. The action just happens without any proper tension to set it up. Characters talk and fight, but with little in the way of audience involvement. The "call and response" element that is so crucial to best of these films is almost non existent.

What this film does have going for it are some of the most amazing fight scenes I've ever seen in one of these Old Schoolers. Sammo Hung has always been a step ahead of the competition, but he outdoes himself here. It helps that the lead actors are all real life Hap Ki Do proponents, but Sammo's supreme choreography takes these duels to a higher level than I have ever seen from this very early time period. Of course, this makes it all the more of a shame that the rest of the film is so pedestrian.

All in all, Hap Ki Do is an alternately fun and somewhat frustrating viewing experience. It's worth seeing, but it could have been more, maybe much more.


  1. The voiceover lines in the trailer are all killer. You would never get that kind of kickass writing in a film trailer today!

  2. Somewhat unrelated, but I read Mao Ying as Yao Ming and got so confused as to why a basketballer was playing a lady in a movie.

    1. Sounds like it's time for a remake starring Yao Ming as Lady Kung Fu. It could be huge. Remember how well Shaq Fu went over?