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Deadly China Doll Collection

Crash Cinema // Unrated // February 22, 2005
List Price: $19.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted March 8, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Angela Mao – the queen of kung fu. While she's hardly as well known as her male counterparts like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, Ms. Mao did and still does have quite a following. Her natural good looks, quirky sense of comedic timing, and quality fight moves made her a natural in front of the camera and she was really one of the first female martial artists to break into film.

In The Deadly China Doll Collection, Crash Cinema presents three of her films in one handy-dandy package at a good price point. They've released these discs individually in the past, and these discs are the same as those individual releases, but if you don't have them in your collection and you are an Angela Mao fan, well, here's how it all breaks down:

Dance Of Death

Angela Mao plays a young orphan boy named Fei Fei whose best friend is killed by a gang of evil kung fu thugs. While out wandering around one day, Fei Fei runs into a pair of aging kung fu experts that are engaged in battle against each other. One is drinking, the other is smoking, and the two of them are trying to ascertain once and for all which one is the better fighter.

Fei Fei talks the elder masters into teaching him the ways of kung fu, so that he can master both of their different fighting styles to use in his plot to take down the evil kung fu thugs who killed his friend. This is a win-win situation in that Fei Fei will be able to get his revenge, and the two older kung fu masters will find out which style works better for Fei Fei and thus determine who has the better style.

Dance Of Death mixes up the action with a lot of goofy slapstick humor in much the same way that many of Jackie Chan's early films did. While this takes away any of the seriousness that the plot could have had, it does give Angela Mao a great opportunity to strut herself in a series of complex fight scenes that really show off how acrobatic a lot of her maneuvers were. Considering that Jackie Chan was supposed to have handled some of the fight choreography on this film, the similarities to his early work are obviously no coincidence. Chi-Hwa Chen, who directed a few of Chan's earlier films like Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu and the 36 Crazy Fists handles directorial duties, further solidifying the connection.

Some of the humor works, some of it doesn't. When it doesn't, the movie drags a little bit but whenever the action kicks in, which is pretty frequently, Dance Of Death is a pretty solid kung fu movie. Listen for a few Ennio Morricone Spaghetti Western themes used in the soundtrack.

Sting Of The Dragon Master

Also known as When Taekwondo Strikes, this film is set during the Japanese occupation of Korea where Angela Mao plays a Chinese Hapkido fighter who teams up with the Korean freedom fighters who oppose the Japanese forces currently running the show in their homeland. She's joined in this group by a few other Koreans (one of whom was played by Carter Wong) and an American who wants to avenge the death of her uncle who was killed by the Japanese. Jhoon Rhee, who plays the leader of the group, has to hustle to keep his rag tag gang alive when the Japanese find out about them, and they spend much of the movie on the run and trying to stay alive.

Sammo Hung plays one of the Japanese soldiers who the group goes up against and he stars in some of the best fight scenes in the film. The first half of the movie is pretty much non stop action, and it's all handled really well thanks to the skills of the talented cast members. The fight scenes mix a nice blend of different styles in front of the camera which keeps things interesting. Though Mao's role is more of a large supporting part than a 'top billed' part, she really shines in the last fight scene of the film. Anytime Mao or Sammo are on screen, the movie is great.

While the storyline is really nothing to write home or get excited about, this film is completely worthwhile thanks to the plentiful fight scenes and the quality of those fight scenes. Sting Of The Dragon Master moves along at a really brisk pace, it's got some great sets (the fights in the church are interesting in the way that they use the locations), and the cast all turn in fine performances.

Moonlight Sword And Jade Lion

The third and final film in the set finds Angela Mao looking for the brother of her teacher, who has recently passed on. It seems that he's the only one who can shed some light on the mysterious murder of her parents that took place when she was but an infant. She works her way through the town trying to find the man, but no dice.

And that's pretty much it for the story.

Moonlight Sword And Jade Lion is sssssllllooowwwwww. There are literally a few scenes where nothing happens – no action, no fight scenes, no dialogue, not even any music. There are a myriad of subplots that float around throughout the film where supporting character A wants to kill supporting character B but none of them really help things at all and most of them are, to be frank, quite pointless as they don't have anything to do with Mao, her teacher, her teacher's brother, or her parents death. One character is setup in the first part of the film to accompany Mao on her quest, but half way through the film he just disappears never to be seen or heard from again and that sub plot too is tossed away and never resolved.

The only saving grace of this film at all is Mao herself. She looks great and there are a couple of fights that she gets involved in that allow her to use her fencing skills and her acrobatic skills. When these are happening, the movie is entertaining. Her screen presence is great, and the fight scenes are pretty cool – the main problem is that getting there is a really chore. There is a jade lion that appears in the movie, and Mao fights another character over it, but the film never bothers to tell us why this is important – it's just there. Once again, listen for some familiar Spaghetti Western themes used in the soundtrack.



Dance Of Death is presented in a non-anamorphic 2.35.1 widescreen transfer. The first few minutes look pretty rough but after that the image cleans itself up and for the rest of the movie, things don't look too bad at all. Colors are decent, and while the subs are annoying (more on that later) the movie is quite watchable. Sting Of The Dragon Master is presented in a poor fullframe transfer that looks like it was taken from an old VHS source. This film doesn't look good at all – the colors are washed out, the detail is fuzzy at best, and the overall lack of clarity is quite disheartening. The cropping of the image really compromises the fight choreography in the film, which looks like it was designed to take full advantage of the widescreen image that it was intended for. Moonlight Sword And Jade Lion is presented non-anamorphic widescreen at roughly 1.85.1 and it doesn't look too bad. It's about on par with the video quality of Dance Of Death.


Dance Of Death is presented in a Dolby Digital Mono Mandarin mix with burned in Cantonese and English subtitles. Sting Of The Dragon Master is presented in a Dolby Digital Mono English Dub with burned in English subtitles. Moonlight Sword And Jade Lion is presented in a Dolby Digital Mono English language dub. The non-removable subtitles on the first two movies are a problem for me. I find having Chinese and English subs on the screen at the same time can be pretty distracting, and I find that having English subs on a film already dubbed into English can also be pretty distracting. I know that source material for these films can be scarce, and I'm sure Crash used the best materials they could, but in the interests of giving an honest review, it has to be noted that the presentation of these three films leaves something to be desired…


Unfortunately, there are no extra features at all on any of the three films in this set.

Final Thoughts:

If you're a big Angela Mao fan and don't already have the three films in this collection, then The Deadly China Doll Collection is worth your time despite the rather unimpressive presentations of the films themselves. Two of the three movies are a lot of fun, and while the third one doesn't hold up so well, it is worth a look for completists. If you've already got the single disc releases, you don't need this set (though the cover art is nice) and if you're only a casual fight film fan, there are better movies out there to start with and you'd best be served by renting this set if you can.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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