For those who don’t know – Hapkido is a Korean martial art that makes use of joint locks, strikes and many different aspects of fighting in a quite well rounded approach to combat. The movie Hapkido is something of a tribute to the art!
This film takes place in 1934 when Korea is occupied by the Japanese. Living in Korea, and studying the art of Hapkido are 3 students – Yu Ying (Angela Mao), Kao Chang (Carter Wong) and Fan Wei (Sammo Hung) – all 3 of the Chinese. After being awarded a seventh degree by their instructor (after 5 years, WTF to that!), the 3 return back to China to start a school, with the advice of their master. The advice is – learn forbearance.
He gives them an envelope to open when times get tough and tells Yu Ying to watch over her brothers saying that Fan Wei is brash and will rush into any conflict, whilst Kao Change is a softy and needs to learn to be more aggressive when the time is needed. Of course, Yu Ying is the balance between the two.
When they arrive back in China, they get caught up in some trouble thanks to Fan Wei’s ‘brashness’ and before long the Japanese men occupying their land start to provoke them. Before long Fan Wei is in trouble and eventually killed while Kao Chang, in the pricess of apologising, is almost killed and loses the use of his right arm.
Yu Ying then asks for the help of her elder brother (played by Hwang In-Shik) and decides to face the Japanese school and fight for the right to teach and relieve the people around her from the oppression they are suffering.
This is something you don’t see a lot of in old Kung Fu films. Usually the bad guy pushes someone around and “that’s it!!” the hero steps in and get mighty violent very quickly. I love these movies. But in this film something that is an important aspect of martial arts, patience and control in the face of provokation, is an ideal the three main characters must apply in order to get ahead.
Naturally the brash Fan Wei gets killed for his lack of forbearance, and the soft Kao Chang is disabled for not being stepping forward early enough. The message is reasonably clear, even with (spoiler alert!) the envelope they open, given to them by their master, simply having the world ‘forbearance’ written on it.
The difficulty and strain felt by the characters in being as patient as possible in the face of their more powerful enemy is expressed very well in this film, and is placed against a racial oppression similar to that of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury – except with forbearance as opposed to Chen Zhen’s vengeance and fury. You’ll even notcie a lot of familiar faces in this film from Bruce’s films (being made by Golden Harvest).
The story flows well and is easy to follow, all while presenting a certain degree of character development as they all try to better themselves, before inevitably getting into a crazy battle finale.
The Action and Martial Arts
The Fight Choreography and Performance? Fantastic and ahead of it’s time!
You’ve got a solid line up with Angela Mao, Carter Wong and Sammo Hung – being one of Sammo’s earlier perfomances as a main character. But also the Hapkido legends themselves – Ji Han Jae (who appeared in the lost Game of Death footage) and is credited as being one of Hapkido’s earliest exponents, and Hwang In-Shik, who was also an accomplished Hapkido practitioner and is now a 10th degree in the art.
Seeing both Hwang In-Shik and Ji Han Jae perform was fantastic. The movements are as authentic martial arts as you can get and they blend well with the action of the film. I was most impressed though with Hwang In-Shik’s performance at the end of the film. His movements were crisp, well balanced and above all – authentic. The movements he offered looked far more impressive than most offered by martial arts movies made at the time, with his kicks and punches being delivered directly with focus, as opposed to the trend of being waved around somewhat loosely.
But Angela Mao, Sammo Hung and Carter Wong also offered good performances. The fighting style was different with the elements of Hapkido mixed into it. The joint lock throws combined with the strikes made it an excellent movie to watch for me personally – having studied Aikido for a handful of years, which utilizes similar throws.
Overall a great movie for real martial arts action, and not loosely performed movments. The pace is fast and well motivated by the built up anger of the main characters. An absolute classic.
On DVD –
Region 1 (US & Canada)
Region 2 (UK, Europe, etc)
Region 4 (Australia, New Zealand, etc)