Monday, 2 July 2007

Hapkido (1972)

Alternative English title: Lady Kung Fu.
Chinese title: Hap Ki Do

As in One-Armed Boxer, both of these 2 movies are made by GH, and being made right after The Chinese Connection, which is arguably the most important Bruce Lee's movie, it's little wonder this movie got made.

Hollywood had made quite a number of movies about the NAZIs since WW2, and yet HK didn't make any movie about the Japanese invasion of China in martial arts genre. None before Bruce Lee, that is. But after Bruce Lee, the floodgate has been flung open.

PRC had shut itself up for some 30 odd years since its founding, so there was no national resolution on the issue of Japanese invasion, and their atrocities in WW2. And HK has always been very shy in putting anything remotely political in their movies. HK entertainment industry avoid mixing business with politics. In general, this political aversion in the people's lives was the norm in HK, at least before 1980s. Even leaving the question of politics and diplomacy, Japanese culture and especially modern Japanese culture was, and is, very popular in Asia. HK film makers wouldn't want to alienate this market. So all in all, it's risky business move to knock or bag Japan.

And because the British was their colonial masters, and to give them face, and to simply avoid any political sensitivity, so no movies, not ONE was made before 1971 by SB with movies that were based on the period between 19th and middle of 20th century. This period marked by foreign invasions of China, and to avoid offending foreigners (especially British and Japanese), in other words, to give them face, SB decided to avoid any movie made that was based on invading history of that period.

Or maybe the SB film makers simply think the history of that period is to painful for the Chinese audience to handle ("You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!"). During that period, China was being kicked around, knocked about, bullied, and being decided how it should be carved up among the Colonisers. Even though China was only a victim, not the bad guy. No victim feels proud of being a victim, especially when you're a proud nation. So, SB was simply happy doing what they had been doing - wuxia, they saw little reason to dredge up those murky depth.

Lady Kung Fu (1972)All this shyness could well be traced to a particular incident in SB. King Hu directed a film titled Sons of the Good Earth (1965). This is a film about Japanese invasion of China during WW2. It run into censorship problem in Singapore and Malaysia because “the subject matter concerned the racial conflict between Chinese and Japanese.”

Malaysia and Singapore was SB's important markets in the 1950s and 1960s. (despite Singapore's independence from Malaysia, Singaporean constitution was still very similar to Malaysia, at least in the 1960s). After that movie, there wasn't a single movie of the similar theme was made in SB. It doesn't take a genius to work out that it must have been a SB policy since.

Times has changed. Singapore or Malaysia are no longer a significant markets for SB, or any HK studio in the 1970s. And I would imagine Sillypore and Malaysia would have kept up with the time and relaxed this restriction. Who cares if these 2 insignificant markets didn't? As Bruce Lee cast his eyes on American market, which also implied global market, these 2 markets were quite inconsequetial. SB was simply not ambitious enough. That's 1 of the reason why GH was on the rise while they were on the decline.

So there're many reasons to avoid making such movies. SB film makers - and Hollywood's counterparts for that matter - were very conservative. They needn't take risk for they PRACTICALLY monopolised the Chinese language film markets.

And then Bruce Lee arrived at the newly found GH. Everything has changed.

Well, Bruce had proved such move wasn't risky at all with his hugely successful The Chinese Connection (1972). Suddenly this pent-up demand that were being avoided like plague by the HK film industry - in fact, unknown to the audience themselves - were being satisfied like never before.

The era of nationalistic - a better term patriotic - kungfu flicks was born with The Chinese Connection. No, HK film producers weren't interested in indulging in xenophobia, or even patriotic sentiment (besides, they thought of themselves as a British colony than part of China. At least, in the period of 1950 to 1980s).

(Besides, the patriotic movies are bashing foreign INVADERS, not foreigners in general. In fact, many foreigners are good guys in these movies. Especially Western Christian missionaries, whom are ALWAYS portrayed as good guys. ALWAYS. At least I have NEVER seen a patriotic kungfu flick that shows them in a negative light).

I guess it took an outsider - Bruce Lee - to shake things up a little bit (ok, a lot), and jerked the slumbering SB out of their cushy bed. They had it too good. Here comes the competitor! Here comes Bruce Lee! He's from America! He sees thing very differently. Besides, Bruce Lee wouldn't have known about the censorship issue regarding Chinese and Japanese racial conflicts. He would probably say, "Are you pulling my legs?" I had such reaction too.

Angela Mao with the Rod of Death

The similarity between the story in this movie and the Bruce Lee's movie is therefore hardly coincidental. This 'coincidence' is right down to the Japanese 'running dog' secretary Zhang who played by the same actor (as translator in The Chinese Connection) and comes into the Hapkido academy with the sign they removed at the door, and another smashes it. This is an almost carbon copy of the famous 'Sick Man of East Asia' scene from The Chinese Connection.

The only difference is that Korea is also part of the story. Both Korea and China were victims of Japanese invasion, and so such a hook up between the 2 cultures in their martial arts to resist against their common enemy seems to make sense.

These 2 movies tap into the Chinese sense of historical humiliation and the outrage of injustice caused by foreign invasions of China between late 19th and 1st half of 20th century. This shameful period in Chinese history provides a very fertile ground for movies that kick foreign invaders' butts, and Japanese tops the platinum chart. The Chinese audience could finally find a sense of justice from this pages of painful histories with some imaginative paybacks - historical justice by historical license.

Justice - a dish best served with kungfu kicks. Ahchoo..woo!!!

Bruce Lee had opened a delicious and nutritious can of worms for the Chinese audience to munch on. Worms may not look appetising, but it's a very rich in protein. Yummy!!! His precedence inspired such long pedigree of patriotic movies from this one, to  Heroes of the East (1978) to Ip Man (2008).

I understand this movie sought to give the Chinese audience an artistic licensed poetic justice to the Japanese occupation, but the way it goes about is quite shortsighted. For example, the Japanese were being stereotyped (but I would regard Chinese racism towards Japanese is more realistic. This is a natural reaction towards invaders). It was made with HK local audience in the 1970s in mind, rather than an international audience in decades ahead. The 1st 2 instalments of Ip Man, for example, are executed in a better way with similar themes. Well, they were made in the 21st century with international audience in mind. The Hapkido production team was shortsighted because they weren't ambitious in thinking that their movie would be watched by global audience.

Having said that, let's not confuse the majority of nice, polite, civilised, caring, pacifist Japanese of today (excluding ultra right-wing Japanese Nationalists) with the Imperial Japanese soldiers whom were brainwashed by war propaganda and viewed Chinese as inferior to Japanese, and therefore could justifiably mistreat Chinese without remorse (the way Jews were treated in WW2 by NAZIs whom were also brainwashed by similar propaganda). Let's not forget about the blind devotion to the Emperor (and the militarists who made full use of his name).

So the portrayals of the imperial Japanese soldiers in HK movies, I suspect, are generous. When one country is unjustly invading another country, they need to demonise the country they're going to invade in order to convince their own people to support their cause. Especially in WW2 where education level and information flows were low. Minds were more easily indoctrinated with false beliefs.

Lady Kung Fu (1972)
I wouldn't want to make her mad
Cheng Pei-pei may be the 1st nuxia in wuxia genre, but Angela Mao (or Mao Ying) was the 1st nuxia in kungfu genre. This makes perfect sense, SB invented the swordplay, while GH created the kungfu genre.
In the West, she's better known as 'The First Lady of Kung Fu' (I suspect the movie title was changed to accommodate this new fame). She also being called the Queen of Kung Fu.

I wouldn't want to be her husband, she could really kick - straight and high. This should be helped by her childhood ballet training. Don't blink your eye at 00:59:22 for her fancy spinning kicks in 4 rapid successions with the alleged hapkido practitioner. She shows off her quadruple spinning kicks again later in the final fight scene with Bai Ying. I wasn't sure if I was watching a kungfu flick or The Nutcracker performances by a Chinese ballerina.

Sammo Hung also has his fair share of pugilistic performance too. Actually he has the most fight scenes because he couldn't FORBEAR (a term you come to appreciate better after this movie). Since Sammo Hung co-starred with Angela Mao more than anyone else - 11 films in total - if you're fans of Angela, you would see a lot of Sammo as well.

Jackie Chan also did some stunt actions in this movie. See if you can spot it.

Although she was shot to fame to the Chinese audience, Angela remained little known in the international market until she appeared in Enter the Dragon playing Lee's sister.

This movie made Angela Mao's kungfu film career. Not to mention the promotion it did for hapkido martial art.

This film is included in my IMDB movie list.

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