A woman finds her passion for the art of karate reignited in this thrilling drama from director Chapman To, who also churns out one of his greatest performances.

Years ago, after losing a competition, Japanese-Chinese woman Mari Hirakawa had given up learning karate. Her father, karate master Akira Hirakawa, had passed away. Mari, who now works as a security guard and is the lover of local radio DJ Calvin Fung, expects to get the apartment, which doubled as the Hirakawa Dojo. However, she soon learns that she has only been given 49 percent of the property with the other 51 percent being willed to Chan Kent, a former student of Akira’s who was expelled ofor using his skills to start fights.

After a three-year prison sentence for assault of a corrupt police officer, Chan Kent returns to his former dojo, much to the chagrin of Mari, who spends her days in the apartment’s bedroom and nights wallowing in self-pity. Chan begins teaching in the dojo and seeing Mari’s situation, makes her an offer. A K-1 tournament is coming up and if Mari should stay on her feet by the end of the fight, win or lose, Chan is willing to sign over the apartment to her. Mari agrees and begins training, not realizing what’s in store both in and out of the ring.

Chapman To just keeps the surprises coming. To, more known for his comedic wit in films, churned out one of his best performances in the Infernal Afffairs films and while his first few efforts as director seemed to have revolved in comedy, his latest directorial effort is truly one for the ages as he breaks against type as well as delving into the spirit of the martial arts. While To has produced films in various genres, this film really can be considered one of his best to date. Co-writing with Erica Li, To constructed a film about a young woman whose martial spirit is lost with a chance for revitalization while another character, his in particular, finds redemption.

While lead actress and former pop star Stephy Tang is not a martial artist, her natural athleticism has enabled her to handle her martial arts scenes very well. She churns out a star-making performance as Mari, the Japanese-Chinese woman who lost her way when he denounces karate after a loss in a tournament, much to the chagrin and ultimate sadness of her father, played by the legendary Yasuaki Kurata. Mari is the focal point of a woman who slowly begins to lose everything, even her married boyfriend Calvin, played by Ryan Lau. It is when an offer is made that she accepts training in karate again and soon realizes that maybe her one-time passion for the art has been simmering waiting to be unleashed once again.

To himself churns out one of his best performances as Chan Kent, a former classmate of Mari’s who at first, we see is a Triad enforcer. That is until he remembers the last words of his late master before being expelled and turns those words into actions when he sees an underage girl fall prey to a corrupt policeman hired by his triad. This leads into a brief battle between Chan and the other enforcers, played by fellow fight choreographers Bill Lui and Ryouichi Ishijima; and Charlene Houghton, daughter of veteran HK film actor and Hung Gar master Mark Houghton. It is he who helps Mari reignite her passion for karate despite being an enemy due to his gaining most of the apartment. Stephen Au, who not only was involved in the film’s action but was Stephy Tang’s martial arts trainer for the film, brings something special as moderator Mute Dog, who is relegated to using his skills in wrestling rings just to get by.

The beautifully shot action is done by a total of six choreographers and Chapman To is one of the names listed, alongside co-star Au, Lui, and Ishijima along with Leung Bok-Yan and Jack Wong. Chan’s fight against the enforcers has some slow-motion moves and some close-ups, but it is Mari’s preliminary K-1 fight against Choi Ka-Yin that really stands out alongside her training sequences. Mari’s kata scenes are beautifully shot as well as they become a catalyst for her reignited passion for the art.

The Empty Hands is far from another mindless martial arts film. Instead, Chapman To has crafted a beautiful film about the passion of martial arts in terms of revitalization and redemption, driven by a magnetic performance by Stephy Tang and To in one of his greatest performances to date.


Golden Scene presents a HK Film Production. Director: Chapman To. Producers: Chapman To and Tang Wai-But. Writers: Chapman To and Erica Li. Cinematography: Tam Wai-Kai. Editing: Allen Leung.

Cast: Stephy Tang, Chapman To, Stephen Au, Dada Chen, Yasuaki Kurata, Ryan Lau, Tanya Chan, Chow Chi-Fai, Shan Sajid Ali, Michelle Lo, Roy Szeto, Man Sai, Choi Ka-Yin, Charlene Houghton, Bill Lui, Ryouichi Ishijima.