Welcome to week three of the Mao March Marathon and I'm going to looking at another of Angela Mao's Golden Harvest films. This week it's Lady Whirlwind!
Mao plays Tien, a martial arts expert who is looking to avenge the death of her sister after she was abandoned by Ling (Chang Yi). Ling himself was thought to have been killed at the hands of a group of criminals but he was nursed back to health by a young woman named Wang (June Wu). Tien discovers him and wants to fight to the death but not before agreeing to go after the criminals who went after him in the first place.
Lady Whirlwind marks the film debut of Angela Mao and straight away you could see why she become extremely popular with local audiences and fans overseas. That cold stare which she would use to great effect in her other movies was something that started right here in this very film. Also her formidable skills in martial arts get to be an excellent showcase of just how talented Angela was and how it's a shame she never really got to be part of the Shaw Brothers stable of actors (Rumor has it that this was something she was considering before she retired) as she would have probably made some absolutely classic films that would have been added the studio's legendary catalogue of film titles.
Still, regardless of what could have happened, we as fans have to make do with the films Angela did make and for a female star of this era the number of them which are considered the best by fans are quite surprising. Especially when you begin to realize just how many of them were made under Golden Harvest and also how many of them featured action direction by Sammo Hung. I would definitely say that Angela never looked better when she worked along side Sammo. These were two individuals who really did harmonize well with each other and Lady Whirlwind is yet another example of their really good chemistry.
The interest thing I found most about this film was there seemed to be a real effort to actually tell a story as opposed to the norm which was create a slim premise that will carry itself from one fight scene to the next but here that doesn't seem to be the case. Chang Yi's character Ling in particular seems to have been fleshed out to a degree more then other films (Except those being made at Shaws where the story had just as much priority as the action scenes) that his character goes from being completely one dimensional to a man who feels guilt for what he's done in the past but knows he must face his demons in order to exorcise them. Golden Harvest made the right move by giving the role to Chang Yi. A familiar face to fans of Kung Fu Cinema, Chang Yi is a Taiwanese actor who appeared in dozens upon dozens of films throughout his career, making ten films in 1979 alone. That's what always impressed me about actors working in Hong Kong during this era, they hardly ever went without work.
Ling's conflict goes up well against the single minded determination of Angela's character Tien. Here is a woman who will stop at nothing to avenge her sister, even if it means pissing off a bunch of shady criminals in the process. This was a great way to debut her and she jumps right into the role and handles it with such enthusiasm. The same can't be said for another of the other actors however. While all competent in terms of the acting, none of them have a strong connection like the two leads.
What would a Angela Mao movie be without a copious amount of Kung Fu action? Lady Whirlwind is fit to burst with action much like the other films I have previously reviewed. Like those other two films, Sammo Hung was also the action director. Here he takes a different approach. Instead of using traditional martial arts techniques, he seems to go for a more realistic brawling vibe. These aren't martial arts duels, these are down and dirty street fights. The moves themselves may not look pretty but they look painful but at the same time have a pace, rhythm and energy that accentuates the skills of the actors involved. Watching some of the fights, you can't help but feel that Sammo was perhaps taking a few ideas from King Boxer. In particular Chang Yi's use of the Iron Hand technique which was used by Lo Lieh. Sammo doesn't rip the whole thing off move for move but it's evident that perhaps he was trying to understand what audiences liked and what was successful and this is him trying to experiment with that.
Angela also gets to really cut loose with an outstanding opening brawl inside a gambling den. Much like the brawls in which she cleans out the Dojos in When Taekwondo Strikes and Hapkido. Here Angela takes out a group of bad guys where she displays some great fist and leg techniques and gets to clash once more with Sammo. This fight goes all over the place, even spilling out into the street. The fact they choose this to be Angela's very first fight in her film career shows that Golden Harvest were confident they would have a star on their hands. Chang Yi also gets a few good fights under his belt, his fight against some bad guys in the very reliable Tea House setting sees him taking on all comers, including Yueng Wai. It's a terrific fight and features some really solid stunt falls and some nice bright red fake blood. Angela also goes one on one with Chin Yuet-Sang who appears as a Japanese Karate expert. You have too keep your eyes on Angela as it shows she could memorize long takes of moves, especially those featuring lots of kicks.
Toward the end we get to the see the fight that the film has been building towards. The clash between Tien and Ling. The fight didn't go on as long as I would have liked but here we have two martial artists really getting to show their stuff. Angela and Chang give us what is a hell of a good throw down and further cements Sammo as a fight choreographer who was really trying to trying new things with each film he would make.
There's plenty fighting throughout that makes Lady Whirlwind an extremely good film for this era. Fans of the classic Shaw's bashers such as Chinese Boxer, King Boxer and Boxer From Shantung will be doing themselves a great service by seeing this. Lady Whirlwind is an important film as it features the debut of Angela Mao as well as shows us a young Sammo showing us that he would be a force to be reckoned with in later years.
Join me next week when I'll taking one last look at another from Angela's filmography at the conclusion of Mao March Marathon.