While I haven't completely forgotten every single bit of my life as an awkward teenager in the '90s, there aren't too terribly many memories from that point in time that I can safely chalk up on the board as being overly favorable. But, for each of the bad ones, there was always some way a bullied movie geek in high school could find some sort of release. One such memory involves a series of martial arts double features videocassettes the now-defunct Video Treasures label put out in the early '90s. The recording speed was always LP (four-hour) mode, the presentations of the movies were always the awful pan-and-scan English dubbed versions, the music often lifted from other (international hit) movies or albums, and the films themselves were usually far worse.
Naturally, it was therapeutic for a young lad who loved bad movies, and needed to see stories of underdogs triumphing over the baddies. Plus, had it not been for that series of VHS releases, I might not have ever discovered the sheer awful awesomeness that only a movie like Mafia vs. Ninja can deliver. And, while there have been approximately umpteen thousand kajillion kung-fu movies released to home video since the advent of DVD, it rarely seemed as if anyone was capturing that certain je nais se quoi those analog double features did (and the few companies that did show promise usually went belly-up).
But of course, new horizons can be seen with the recent announcement of several martial arts movie collections from the folks at Shout! Factory. In an attempt to spread the fever that is soon to exist within its intended audience early, a separate single-disc double feature release of the Angelo Mao vehicles Lady Whirlwind and Hapkido has been made available to the general public now.
Probably best known to American audiences as Bruce Lee's doomed sister in Enter the Dragon, Mao Ying (or Angela Mao, as she was known as internationally) starred in a number of chopsocky films in the '70s before all-but-disappearing from the screen altogether shortly thereafter. Both of these titles hail from the résumé of director Huang Feng, and are from the early days of Mao's short-lived-but-notable career in martial arts movies - when the artist was just barely over the U.S. drinking age - for Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho's Golden Harvest Productions, a company that also launched the international careers of both Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.
Though the DVD artwork suggests Lady Whirlwind (1972, released in the US by AIP as Deep Thrust a year later) is the second feature in this punch-aplenty pairing, it is actually the first film viewers can select from the disc's main menu. It is also the weakest film of the two, with a disjointed jumbling of mumbled words filling in for those few rare minutes that take place in-between the movie's near-infinite number of fight scenes. Here, Mao plays a lone wolf-like lass who is keen to put the pummel on the man (Chang Yi) she holds responsible for the suicide of her pregnant sister. Both parties parry various nefarious Japanese gangsters, before the story finally throws its arms up in the air and jump-cuts to a finale fight that might - just might - awaken you from your nap like it did me.
Fortunately, Hapkido (also from '72, which received a North American distribution in '73 from National General Pictures, who gave it the contradictory title of Lady Kung Fu!) is a much better film - and that's only because it's Fist of Fury all over again. Once more, the villains are Japanese - and one the film's supporting players played the exact same character in the earlier Bruce Lee film from the same damn year. Here we witness a more feasible (but still farfetched) tale of three kung-fu school graduates in the early '30s who try to setup a teaching facility of their own in a Japanese-controlled location. Co-starring in this title are the great Carter Wong and Sammo Hung, with tiny appearances by future film heroes Jackie Chan, Corey Yuen, and Yuen Biao.
Quality-wise, this single-sided disc presents the films uncut and in their proper widescreen aspect ratios, which are enhanced for 16:9 televisions. Fortunately for we exploitation purists, the movies contain alternate English dubbed audio tracks in addition to their original Dolby 2.0 Mandarin language tracks with removable English subtitles. The Mandarin audio is definitely the better of the two in both cases, while the outrageous English dubs are deliriously grand for the reasons people like me love them: bad audio, horrible voices, and heavy usage of overemphasized sound effects. (Did you know falling onto soft beach sand sounds exactly like dropping bricks on concrete? Now you do.)
Interestingly, it sounds like portions of Hapkido were never included in the original English-language release, and appear to have been recently dubbed for a composite home video issue. The introductory and closing bits on each film are indicatory that the video/audio masters used here were obtained from Fortune Star Entertainment, so I can only assume they were responsible. We can also assume they are to blame for the poor video transfer Lady Whirlwind possesses. Faded, inconsistent color and bad video issues might mar one's enjoyment of the film. That said, Hapkido is a much better-looking film - as well as being the better of the two all-around.
Special features include alternate English opening titles for both movies as well as an assortment of TV and theatrical trailers for Hapkido and several other Shout! Factory releases. (But who was the wise guy that reassembled the trailers using new video masters and computer-generated title cards? I do not approve.) The Hapkido portion of the disc also includes interviews with Ms. Mao, Carter Wong, and Sammo Hung & Yuen Biao - all of which were recorded sometime back (possibly the '90s, judging by the video quality).
All in all, Shout! Factory's Marital Arts Double Feature: Hapkido/Lady Whirlwind is a winner. In fact, I almost felt like I had popped in an ol' Video Treasures VHS again what with the bad dubbing and varying degrees of quality (in terms of the films and their presentations too). And as for the music? Listen closely, and you'll not only hear shamelessly stolen cues from a classic James Bond film, but the dubiously copied sounds of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, too. How can you go wrong with that?