“The Father of American Taekwondo”, Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee, stars with the fighting diva Angela Mao in his only film in this underrated film that pits Chinese and Korean rebels against the Japanese.
In Japan-occupied Korea, a group of Japanese are looking for a man named Li Jun-Dong). They begin to harass the local missionaries and go as far as putting the priest, Father Lewis, through torture to find Li’s whereabouts. Li has been going undercover as a caretaker at the local church and has been teaching Taekwondo to two students, Jin Zheng-Zhi and Mary the priest’s niece.
When the Japanese arrive at the church to find Li, they make the mistake of running into a young woman, Huang Li-Chen. Huang has been in Korea for studying and has learned another Korean martial art, Hapkido. Li has a list of rebels who are willing to join forces with him in the resistance movement against the Japanese. However,the Japanese are willing to do to get their hands on the list. The action soon moves from Korea to China when Li, Huang, and Li’s students are forced to flee Korea.
An instant classic from director Huang Feng, the film’s opening credits, which show Jhoon Rhee and his students doing Taekwondo forms, along with Angela Mao, Carter Wong, and lead villain Hwang In-Shik demonstration their impeccable martial arts skills show that this will be a pretty good movie. For classic martial arts standards, the film truly delivers. In the vein of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury (1972), this one pits Chinese and Korean rebels against the Japanese. Chu Yu co-wrote the script with Korean screenwriter Kwak Il-Ro and for its time, it’s interesting to see the film set in Korea then to China for the finale.
For what would be his only film, Jhoon Rhee does quite well as Korean resistance leader and Taekwondo master Li Jun-Dong. Rhee may not the greatest actor in the world, but he handles himself quite well in both acting and action. Angela Mao hands down has some of her best fight scenes in the film, including taking on multiple Japanese thugs led by Chin Yuet-Sang in a rematch of sorts from Mao’s epic Lady Whirlwind (1972). She even gets to take on Sammo Hung and Korean actor Kim Ki-Joo, who play two Japanese thugs. In what is her only film credit as well, Anne Winton holds her own quite well as Mary, the young woman who trains in Taekwondo under Li. This is truly a scenario of life imitating art as Winton was a real-life student of Rhee and it shows. It is sad she never got to carry her own martial arts film, even back in America. One can only wonder at this point.
Sammo Hung and Chan Chuen were responsible for the film’s action sequences and once again, they deliver the goods. Hung truly is a winner when it comes to having Taekwondo and Hapkido kickers showcase their skills. Rhee, Mao, Winton, and Hwang In-Shik (as the lead Japanese villain) highlight their amazing kicking skills. Carter Wong gets in on some action as a Taekwondo stylist and he even fares quite well here. In one scene, showing the sacrifice he will deliver to make the actors look good, Hung himself engages in a fight with Winton and has a chunk of his leg bitten off in the process. While this sounds pretty gross, this is just proof that Hung is willing to do what it takes to make the action scenes and the cast involved look good.
When Taekwondo Strikes is truly a martial arts film fan’s dream from the classic era. Sammo Hung’s exceptional action choreography truly is the highlight of the film as he highlights the titular art as well as Hapkido with karate and kung fu. Definitely see this to see Jhoon Rhee and real-life student Anne Winton kick high in their only film as well as seeing Angela Mao kick some serious tail. A true underrated classic.
WFG RATING: B+
A Golden Harvest (HK) Ltd. Production. Director: Huang Feng. Producer: Raymond Chow. Writers: Chu Yu and Kwak Il-Ro. Cinematography: Lee Yau-Tong and Choi Jong-Gul. Editing:
Cast: Angela Mao, Jhoon Rhee, Carter Wong, Anne Winton, Andre Morgan, Hwang In-Shik, Sammo Hung, Chin Yuet-Sang, Kim Ki-Joo, Huang Feng, Kenji Kazama.