Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Mao March Marathon #1: When Taekwondo Strikes (1973)

Welcome to the beginning of the Angela Mao March Marathon were each week I will be reviewing a film starring the Taiwanese female fury that is Angela Mao every week throughout March. To kick off the marathon I'll be taking a look at a true cult classic that is When Taekwondo Strikes!

During the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War II, martial arts master Li (Jhoon Rhee) leads a rebellion against the Bansan Karate House. A secret organization tasked with destroying anyone going against the Japanese government. Li enlists the help of a Chinese Hapkido expert Lady Heung (Angela Mao) to rescue a priest who has been imprisoned for hiding one of Li's students, Kim (Carter Wong). Things soon take a turn for the worse when Li is captured and Kim and Heung are forced to flee to China with the priest's niece, Mary (Anne Winton) in tow. The three then decide to mount a rescue plan and take down the Bansan Karate House.

I have to start by saying how much I thoroughly enjoyed this. When Taekwondo Strikes is a great example of early 70s traditional martial arts action. The interesting thing about this one is instead of using Chinese martial arts, the primary style here is the Korean kicking style of Taekwondo. This film along with another film by the same production team, Hapkido brought Korean martial arts to the masses. It also helps that both films are just damn good to watch. Storywise, it's pretty average. You'd struggle to find any film during this era in which the story wasn't the same as hundreds of other movies made during this time. That's fine with me though. Long as the action is good then any shortcomings in terms of the plot line are easily forgiven.

One of the film's greatest strengths comes from the cast. Angela Mao acts opposite a number of familiar faces. Carter Wong, Sammo Hung, Wang In-Sik, Kenji Kazuma, Gam Ke-Chu. All appear in the main cast. Also, making his one and only appearance in a motion picture is Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee. World famous Taekwondo practitioner and father of Philip and Simon Rhee. If ever there was a film about Taekwondo that required his skill, it was this one. Another unfamiliar face is Ann Winton, the trailer boasts she's a blackbelt but apart from that I can't seem to find any information about her. I'm guessing that maybe she was a student of Rhee's who somehow got involved with the film. Given that it was an early 70s Hong Kong picture as you expect the acting is extremely uneven for most part.

Angela does give a surprisingly good performance, it has to be said. It was obvious that Golden Harvest were trying to market her as a female version of Bruce Lee. Fortunately they don't have her try to imitate him in any way shape or form but the way she fights and ways she moves, you just know that was the type of image they were trying to invoke. She plays the righteous hero role to a tee but she does actually deliver her lines with a serious conviction that it was easy to see why audiences seemed to warm to her straight away. Carter Wong appears with all the youthful bluster he can manage. He was always a pretty average actor but a very competent screen fighter so he fills his role quite adequately. Sammo Hung plays a bad guy and has a few scraps through out. Wang and Kazuma play the bad guys but they don't act, they just give people shifty looks and bust a few moves.

However the worst actors in the entire movie have to be Master Rhee and Winton. As skilled as they both are in fighting, it's obvious that neither of them are actors. Rhee tries his damnedest in the many scenes he has but he's not all that entirely convincing but he more then makes up for it when he starts beating people up. Winton just looks uncomfortable and gives a rather dry delivery of her lines and tries to look sad but comes off as kind of awkward and clumsy. Still, this was to be expected given the era which this film was made.

Thankfully the film more then makes up for this in the action stakes. Choreographed by Chan Chuen and Sammo Hung (Although it's obvious from the choreography who was in charge here) we're treated to many slap bang martial arts throw downs and this where the cast gets to really shine. Angela was always a very impressive screen fighter. Audiences know her as the ill-fated sister of Bruce Lee's character in Enter the Dragon but it was in films like this and Hapkido where she really got to do her thing. Lashing out with some impressive kicking combinations she handles herself incredibly well. There's a particularly good scene in which she takes on Sammo in a noodle restaurant. It begins as a full out brawl with Angela knocking everyone on their arse (including a very young Yuen Biao) and moves onto a very quick but tightly choreographed sword fight between her and Sammo. You can see the two of them could work well together and were able to make each other look good in front of the camera.

Everyone else is also surprisingly good. Carter doesn't get to do much, he has a fight at the beginning and doesn't fight again until very near the end but he does get to throw some nice looking side kicks. Anne Winton comes off a bit stiff and misses her mark more then a few times but she has an excellent fight with Sammo and it's here that you can tell that he was the one in charge of the fighting. It was the fast fist exchanges and powerful mid-kicks, moves which tend to be his trademark, that made it quite obvious. When Taekwondo Strikes is proof that even at this point in his career Sammo really knew what he was doing when it came to action directing. Master Rhee also gets to really show what he can do, especially during the finally against Kazuma. It's a fast, brutal and hard hitting fight and is definitely worth checking out.

When Taekwondo Strikes is a classic martial arts film truly deserving of it's cult status. A solid leading performance from Angel coupled with brilliant fight choreography provided by Sammo raises it above the the many films released during this film and is strongly recommended by me if you haven't already seen it.


  1. Director Huang Feng showcased non-Chinese martial arts in many of his films and gave a big boost to both Angelo Mao and Sammo Hung in their careers.
    As a choreographer, Sammo was on fire in the early 1970s working regularly for Huang Feng and King Hu. In 1973 alone he worked on Enter The Dragon, The Fate Of Lee Khan and When Taekwondo Strikes!

  2. There's virtually nothing about Anne Winton online, but she was indeed one of Jhoon Rhee's students.