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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is my favorite Angela Mao movie. Some of her other movies offer
her better costumes and characterization but this movie just flows so
There is rarely a pause as the resistance fights Japanese invaders. The set fights, such as the church, the tavern and the final fantastic conflict in the bad guy's home are tight and fast. The outdoors fights are great too featuring the staple "bad guys chase the hero till they catch him and then get their butts kicked." That's one of my favorite kung fu movie staples. Particularly when it's a running fight where the hero will just demolish one of the gang every time they catch him, then take off running again... and the gang continues to pursue! There's not only fighting but brutal torture with hooks and chains, espionage and family love.
Another bonus in this, with a large cast of four heroes and at least three main villains, is that the fighters are scripted consistently in their prowess. Mao and Rhee are presented as clearly superior fighters to Wong and Winton, and the fights are carefully choreographed to reflect this.
I guess the movie is not technically "kung fu" as the main styles depicted seem to be Tae Kwon Do, Hap Ki Do and some type of generic Karate. But it is a Hong Kong production with true kung fu superstars such as Mao, Wong, and Sammo Hung.
The Japanese as villain in Hong Kong kung-fu flicks is so common and so cardboard that it is difficult to find offensive. The Japanese villains in these movies are such caricatures that they simply become a different entity. I don't look at movies with mobster bad guys and begin pondering Italian stereotypes and I don't do it here in the kung fu genre. It simply can't be taken that seriously.
STING OF THE DRAGON MASTERS (1973, aka WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES) is an
unusual kung fu film set largely in Korea during the Japanese
occupation in the 1930s and involves an ethnically mixed cast of
Chinese, Korean, Japanese and American martial artists. Korean
Taekwondo expert Jhoon Rhee plays the leader of the Korean resistance
movement and his group includes a Chinese hapkido expert played by
Angela Mao, a Korean Taekwondo expert played by Carter Wong, and an
American student of the art played by Anne Winton, who has seen her
uncle, a Catholic priest, abducted, tortured and finally killed by the
Japanese occupying forces. ('The Japs have no respect for religion,' we
are told.) A long-haired Samo Hung appears as one of the Japanese
karate experts who takes on the heroes in several fights. (He also
played a Japanese villain in King Hu's THE VALIANT ONES, 1974.)
The plot centers around the efforts of Rhee to keep his resistance movement alive after being exposed to the Japanese and get a list of his rebel group's members to their contacts in China. This involves lots of fights in the first half of the movie, including at least three in a Catholic church and one in a restaurant. The final battle, pitting the four heroes against the top Japanese villains at the Japanese headquarters in Manchuria, is particularly exciting and filled with great martial arts action.
The film moves quickly and is well shot (on studio sets mixed with actual locations), but suffers from unusually poor English voice dubbing. Worse, the constant stream of inappropriate music cues lifted from other sources is lathered on in the most heavy-handed manner, often drowning out the dialogue. Also, the VHS edition is full frame and severely cropped meaning that much of the fighting action disappears off the sides of the frame.
Even so, the film is worth seeing for the sheer number of superb fights, most of which feature Rhee and Mao taking on the Japanese. Mao is at her peak here and shows off the genuine skills that made her the queen of the kung fu movie for a spell back in the 1970s. The director is Mao's frequent collaborator, Huang Feng, and the movie was produced by Golden Harvest.
ADDENDUM (FEB. 10, 2008): Since writing the above review, this film has come out on DVD, under its original title, WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES, from Joy Sales as part of the Fortune Star/Legendary Collection line. The new edition is letter-boxed and in its original language, Mandarin, with English subtitles. The music track is very different and doesn't have the same problems that the soundtrack on the English dub had. Also, the subtitles make it clear that the Catholic priest and his martial artist niece described above are meant to be French, not American. The DVD contains the film's original trailer, which identifies the numerous martial artists cast in the film and their particular specialties. Watching the DVD was like seeing the film for the first time. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
WHEN TAE KWON DO STRIKES/STING OF THE DRAGON MASTERS was one of those must-see martial arts movies from The Golden Age of Martial Arts Movies (the 1970s). Jhoon Rhee comports himself well enough as the rebel leader, and his kicking is outstanding (of course), but it's the angelic Angela Mao Ying who steals the show: she does most of the heavy lifting in this one (which was a surprise to those of us who'd read about Rhee and knew that HE was the ostensible star of this movie). Rhee, in fact, engages the Japanese (led by Sammo Hung) only twice in the movie- and very briefly both times. (An interesting aside: Rhee's HANDS are shackled during his climactic battle with the Japanese, thereby "forcing" him to rely on his vaunted kicking.) Carter Wong (one of the "Three Storms" in John Carpenter's BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) has a minor part, but he doesn't have a lot to do.
"Sting of the Dragon Masters" features Jhoon Rhee in his only martial arts film role. Rhee, who is known as the 'Father of American Tae Kwon Do' and counts Muhammad Ali among his students, plays a humble, unassuming man living in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early twentieth century. He makes every effort to conceal his martial skill, but is eventually forced to lash out against the Japanese oppressors. (In this regard, and also because it is a Golden Harvest production, "...Dragon Masters" bears more than a passing resemblance to Bruce Lee's "The Chinese Connection".) Fighting alongside Rhee are chop-socky stalwarts Angela Mao Ying and Carter Wong, while the seemingly endless array of villains includes Whang Ing-Sik (dressed in a very loud kimono) and Sammo Hung. As is the case with many martial arts films, the storyline is simple and exists primarily to link the fight scenes together. But, good god, what fight scenes they are! "Sting of the Dragon Masters" offers spectacular, jaw-dropping action, with a special focus on kicks (as you might expect from a film whose alternate title is "When Tae Kwon Do Strikes"), and you'll certainly feel that you've gotten your money's worth by the time the closing credits roll.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Lee Chung-Dong (Rhee) is a Tae Kwon Do expert and leader of the
"Resurrection Movement of Koreans", a resistance group focusing on
fighting back against the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 30's. It
seems the Japanese are constantly harassing Lee, and he teams up with
some other fighters, such as Miss Wai (as she's known in the English
dub) (Mao), and the American (or French, depending on the version
you're seeing) Mary (Winton). Mary's uncle, Father Lewis (Morgan) is a
Catholic Priest who is kidnapped and tortured by the Japanese. Even
though he disapproves of her Martial Arts, she trains at Lee's school.
After his abduction, she becomes a nun, but then continues on with
Lee's group to get revenge on the people who wronged her. The final
fight features Lee forced to become the "Kickmaster" (one of this
movie's alternate titles) we know he is, because his hands are in
chains. Will Lee and his motley band get justice? Thunder Fist is just
one of many titles this movie goes by, and the VHS under review today
was released by New Pacific, a label not known for quality. The movie
is transferred amazingly poorly, with horrendous picture and sound
quality, and even jagged, unprofessional reel changes. It even repeats
part of a reel to further drive home how badly done it was. Plus the
movie is dubbed, and the music is louder than the dialogue in many
cases. Most of the time the "music" is just pounding drums, which gets
annoying after awhile. But there is one funky tune that should be
singled out. ALL that being said, it's very tough to judge this movie
on its true merits. The awful presentation hurts the movie, and makes
it seem like your standard "chop-socky" outing. But we've been informed
that a foreign DVD release fixes most of these problems, and some fans
consider this movie, mainly known as When Taekwondo Strikes, as a minor
classic. It may seem hard to believe if you suffer through the New
Pacific VHS, but we can tell there's something here that's buried by
the uncaring treatment of this particular release.
There are plenty of lengthy Martial Arts sequences, including some swordfighting. The movie is also somewhat hurt by its minimal locations, but fan favorites Angela Mao and Sammo Hung are strong, as is Rhee in his only film credit to date. It's also Anne Winton's only movie. Interesting legacy. It's fairly unusual at this time to see White people in a hard-core Martial Arts film like this, and Andre Morgan, who plays the Priest, was a frequent collaborator with Sammo, even appearing with him in Comeuppance Reviews favorite The Man From Hong Kong (1975). Adding to the flavor of this Golden Harvest production is some classic racism, featuring such dialogue as, and we quote, "these Japs can't be trusted!" We're guessing this movie wasn't widely distributed in Japan.
One of the more "memorable" aspects of this particular VHS release is the box art. These adonises are not in the movie and are clearly models. Just why these dudes were chosen as models remains unclear. Were they meant to draw in crowds of video store patrons? And the insanity/stupidity isn't only visual. Just read that "description". Whoever wrote that never saw the movie. It doesn't even begin to address the racial tensions of the Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, and Americans/French that simmer and boil over. "high finance and international smuggling"? "priceless treasures and bloodthirsty killers"? "turn me on"? What's this guy talking about? I guess in the 80's you could get away with this stuff. It was before the internet. No one's going to look up this movie, much less check into the accuracy of boxcover copy.
Martial Arts aficionados should check this movie out, but AVOID the New Pacific release.
This movie made after the 1972 classic Hapkido also starring Angela
Mao, is almost like a sequel or part 2 of that movie. The premise is
almost identical in that in Japanese occupied Korea, Japanese martial
arts school causes trouble with the missionaries, and also the locals.
Taekwondo experts stand up to fight the tyranny of the Japanese.
Angela Mao and Sammo Hung also stars in this classic as well as real life Tae Kwon Do master Jhoon Rhee.
When I first saw these movies, I felt that they were cheezy after seeing the Enter the Dragon which were made on a budget that was about 50X that these movies are made on. But when I look at it now, I can see how well these movies were made. On little resources, and and made on short shooting schedule, these actors did amazing feats with their action.
Angela Mao always had incredible screen presence with her school girlish good looks. She still looks amazing today at her age of 62. She almost looks the same as when she made this movie. Compared to Hollywood stars who age very rapidly, I always wonder what these Asian actors do to keep their youthful appearances.
If you want to see power packed kung fu action from the '70s, this movie won't disappoint. It's a beautiful movie that's aged well with time, and would satisfy any kung fu action fans.
I first saw "When Taekwondo Strikes" over twenty years ago via a panned and scanned (and dubbed) VHS copy, and at the time I didn't think too much of it. But recently I got the opportunity to see it again this time with an anamorphic widescreen DVD edition that had the original Mandarin track and English subtitles. This better edition may explain why my feelings about the movie improved. Certainly, the movie is not perfect. It has some of the clichés associated with old school kung fu movies (chortling villains, exaggerated sound effects, etc.) There's not a terrible amount of plot, which results in some lengthy slow spots. And the Japanese villains could have been made into stronger opponents instead of being shown to be (mostly) hopeless. On the other hand, despite the largely one-sided fights, the martial arts scenes aren't too bad, having excitement and coming across as fairly believable. Angela Mao makes for a charismatic protagonist, and there's fun seeing a pre- fame Sammo Hung as one of the villains. I'm generally not a fan of old school Hong Kong marital arts movies, but I have to admit that this one was, despite its flaws, definitely above average.
The DVD version released by Crash Cinema was very poorly done. The mastering engineer must have been either drunk, asleep or not even in the room while it was being done. It looks like it was mastered from about a tenth generation copy and about halfway through the film, the audio synchronization disappears. The dialog is about 10 or 15 seconds behind the audio. If you're thinking about purchasing this DVD, please save your money. I remember seeing this film at the theater back in 1973. Also, the VHS copy of this film under the title of "When Taekwondo Strikes" looks better than the DVD, but the remaining several minutes of the movie are "missing". Where is the original camera negative?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The leader of a small resistance movement attempts to get information to sympathizers in China during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930's. Writer/director Feng Huang relates the absorbing and exciting story at a snappy pace, maintains a serious tone throughout, and stages the wall-to-wall chopsocky fights with rousing rough'n'ready gusto. The top-rate cast of ace martial artists keeps this movie humming: The ever-awesome Angela Mao takes on a bunch of guys and displays her customary beautifully balletic grace, the lithe'n'lethal Jhoon Rhee totally tears it up, Carter Wong busts booty with his usual savage brio, Anne Winton likewise impresses as the feisty Mary, and Sammo Hung even pops up as a vicious lackey who gets trounced by Mao. The strong politically charged plot and an underlying theme on loyalty along with the exceptional fight choreography all ensure that this picture packs a considerable wallop. The villains are quite mean and hateful: They not only torture a priest, but also kill an old lady! Yu-tang Li's crisp widescreen cinematography makes exciting use of a frequently moving camera. Tsao Hua Li's robust score hits the stirring spot. Well worth a watch.
I won't waste your time by describing the plot for this, the other
already did this quite well. I will however give you my opinion of this
movie. This movie is basically anti japanese propoganda. The japanese
portrayed as incredably evil b**tards who have respect for nothing, as
as having very poor martial arts skills (groups of japanese men get there
asses kicked by single women on more than one occasion.) The fact that
japanese fighters lose almost every (if not every) fight in the movie kind
of takes away the suspense. The plot is actually quite solid and perfect
for a kung fu movie though. The problem lies in the fact that there's not
much fighting. When there are fights some of the fighting is quite good,
but other scenes are choreographed badly. One scene angela mao takes on
japanese in a church and kicks all their asses. The problem is they show
her fighting them one by one when they're all supposed to be attacking at
the same time. I gather this movie was incredably cheap considering how
cheap some of the sets are. They use the same village set for when they
in korea and when they are in china without changing it at all. Some
are filmed at real locations though, and they look good. Overall the only
real problem with the movie is it's slow moving and uninteresting plot.
Since there are few fight scenes we have to rely on the plot for
entertainment and, well, I wasn't entertained.
one and a half stars out of four
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