masterly master lee

a home for forgotten and famous korean pulp, its heroes, its heroines, and its pulpeteers

When Taekwondo Strikes 跆拳震九州 (1973)

Classic Taekwondo movie starring the great Jhoon Rhee (李俊九) and Angela Mao. Set during the colonial period, it tells of the tribulations Koreans went through at the hands of the merciless Japanese occupier. Some, however, fight back using Taekwondo. Now, for those who grew up watching Olympic Taekwondo, this may sound like a lost cause, but proper Taekwondo (like it was practised some decennia ago and apparently still practiced in North Korea) can actually kick butt (instead of prancing around with your hands hanging down scratching your genitalia and executing a ballet kick to impress the judges every once in a while: no, the Master doesn’t like it, he prefers the old school powerkicking and powerpunching Taekwondo).

Anyway, back to the movie. Evil Japanese karateka chase Korean independence fighter Carter Huang into a church, but inside they find Jhoon Rhee. Surpri-ise! And just when you think Jhoon Rhee is going to kick the shit out of the Japanese who fail to realize who they have before them, a young Western nun steps up and gives divine providence a hand (and a foot) by humiliating the leader of the Japanese thugs mano a mano. After a confrontation with the priest, Father Louis (played by producer Andre Morgan), who is startled to find out that his nun learned her ass-whooping martial arts skills from his gardener (yes, Jhoon Rhee of course), Jhoon Rhee, the nun and Carter Huang decide to leave. The priest decides to stay behind in his church, unwilling to believe the Japanese would actually hurt him. And then… Japanese ronin headed by Sammo Hung (with a five o’clock shadow) as the überronin! Just as they’re interrogating the priest by slapping him around, Jhoon Rhee (who by the way really resembles Fred Astaire when he smiles) returns, reveals he is the legendary resistance Leader Li Jundong and single-handedly chases the Japanese out of the church, ronin or not. Let the games begin!

In the ensuing mayhem, the mother of Angela Mao (who plays a Korean of Chinese extraction) is killed and the priest becomes a veritable martyr who suspiciously looks like Jesus (but then with hair painted gray and in the Far East) and our nun takes a bite out of ronin Sammo’s leg.. and then spits it out. The Master was impressed with the spunk of this girl. The plot thickens when Jhoon Rhee has to offer himself in exchange for Father Louis in the lion’s den: the Bansan karate dojo where the Japanese have their headquarters.

Now the others have to try and rescue their master and leader and have to go through Hwang Inshik (who has a beard here, so is doubly dangerous) to get there! So buckle down and enjoy the ride!

This is a great martial arts movie, surprisingly the only one the legendary Taekwondo master Jhoon Rhee ever made. Jhoon, who was close enough to Bruce Lee to tickle him under the chin and not get kicked senseless (which btw is what apparently did happen to a cocksure Hwang Inshik, so sayeth the grapevine). The storyline is quite simple. Koreans are good (as are the foreigners who help them), Japanese are bad, shit is going to happen when impetuous young independence fighters refuse to listen to the words of the patient master (who does know that long-term strategy consists of more than kicking the living daylights out of every Japanese one encounters). The fighting is great, old school action and Hwang Inshik in particular is impressive. Had he looked a little less bad-mooded, he just might have been the biggest star of them all.Granted, the nun isn’t very good and Carter Huang doesn’t impress, but the fight between Angela Mao and Hwang Inshik (who was her real-life teacher) and Jhoon Rhee fighting with shackled arms make up for that. And amply so.

Best one-liner (OK, stricty speaking its three lines. But do you want to argue with the Master about this? Well, do you, punk?)

“ Taekwondo? Damn it. So you’re anti-Japanese!”

Masterly pulp, so sayeth the Master!

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