20 September 2008 | BrianDanaCamp
THE TOURNAMENT Another great showcase for kung fu diva Angela Mao
THE TOURNAMENT (1974) is a Golden Harvest production that deserves inclusion with such better-known films as BROKEN OATH, WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES, HAPKIDO, and LADY WHIRLWIND as the finest work of Angela Mao, the reigning female kung fu star of the 1970s. She has a total of four major fight sequences here, one of which is a remarkable segment at the 41-minute mark that lasts for nine solid minutes as she fights five different guys in succession, starting with Korean hapkido expert Whang In Sik, playing a Japanese karate teacher, and continuing with Sammo Hung, Wilson Tong and two others I didn't recognize. Later, she fights a Thai kickboxer in the ring in Bangkok (where she's dressed as a man), fights Thai thugs at the famous Ayuthia temple ruins in Thailand, and finally, back home in Hong Kong, fights a new set of karate fighters who've taken over her martial arts school, including a big white guy named George V. Yirikian. So Angela keeps very busy in this film, much to the delight of her fans. Co-star Carter Wong (THE 18 BRONZEMEN) plays Angela's brother and has his share of fights as well, including three in the Thai kickboxing ring, but he's generally overshadowed by Angela.
The plot has to do with a kung fu school in contemporary Hong Kong that gets disgraced after two of its students (including Carter) lose in the kickboxing ring at a Bangkok tournament. (The second student, in fact, is killed in the bout.) The school's teacher, the father of Angela and Carter, is drummed out of the Hong Kong Martial Arts Association, which leaves him so devastated that he hangs himself. Angela, rising above the tragedy, takes it upon herself to study Thai boxing and figure out a way to incorporate it into Chinese kung fu and win back her school's honor in the kickboxing ring. This creates enemies among the members of the Martial Arts Association (including Sammo Hung), especially after she lectures them on the limitations inherent in the way they teach and practice Chinese kung fu. (Hence the nine-minute fight at her school.) Halfway through the film she heads to Bangkok, dressed as a man, accompanied by Carter and visits kickboxing schools and goes so far as to film training sessions and actual bouts in the ring (using a Super 8 movie camera with a telephoto lens) which she then studies with Carter, all in preparation for their own matches against Thai boxers. What's important here is that Angela takes a proactive approach to the problem and seeks creative solutions. As a result, she dominates the proceedings throughout, taking on the role of kung fu master in the wake of her father's death. She doesn't just fight, she leads.
Sammo Hung choreographed the many fights and they rank with the superb work he did on HAPKIDO (1972), which also starred Angela and Carter (and Sammo). The director is Huang Feng, who also directed HAPKIDO, LADY WHIRLWIND, and WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES and who knew how to get the best out of Angela, as both an actress and fighting star.
If I have any complaint about the film it's that the hodgepodge music score is all over the place and fills the soundtrack with wildly inappropriate cues at every opportunity. But at least the Fortune Star VCD I watched was widescreen and in Mandarin with English subtitles. (Special Note: The date I'm submitting this review, September 20, has special significance. Just check Angela's bio.)