Searching for Lady Kung Fu
At the reception for an Asian film festival at Lincoln Center six years ago, excitement rippled through the crowd: Was it her? Lady Kung Fu? Was that Lady Whirlwind?
Rumors long circulated that she had left movie stardom in Hong Kong for domestic life in New York City, but no one had heard much else about Angela Mao, possibly the most famous martial arts actress of her time, in more than 30 years.
Surprised fans were now greeted by a small 60-year-old woman wearing a floral silk dress. Her son helped her manage the crowd. One fan, Ric Meyers, approached her for a photo. Like others, he was curious to know what she had been up to. He got his answer.
“She told me and my friends she was running restaurants in Queens,” Mr. Meyers said. “I told them, ‘We all have to go.’ But we all just got too busy and never went.”
“She gave off the impression,” he added, “that she was a very private person.”
On a warm afternoon this September, Ms. Mao, now 66, sat in one of those restaurants, keeping an eye on lunch service as she rubbed her baby granddaughter’s belly.
The restaurant, Nan Bei Ho, sits on a quiet street in Bayside, a suburban Queens neighborhood beyond the reaches of the subway system and not far from the Long Island border. It is the oldest of three restaurants she runs with her husband and son, all of them in Queens. It serves Taiwanese food and is popular on weekends but is otherwise nondescript.
这家名为“南北和”(Nan Bei Ho)的餐厅坐落在市郊的皇后区住宅区贝赛德一条安静的街道上。这里超出了地铁系统的覆盖范围，距离与长岛的边界不远。如今，茅瑛与丈夫和儿子都生活在皇后区，共同经营着三家餐厅，其中“南北和”是最早开业的。餐厅供应台湾菜，周末生意很好，但其他方面乏善可陈。
Martial arts fans have sought the address of this restaurant for some time — they wanted to know what happened to Angela Mao, the Queen of Kung Fu, who fought and flew through dozens of films in the 1970s but vanished within a decade.
A woman with a hearty laugh, Ms. Mao sometimes expressed confusion that people still had any interest in her.
Over the course of three hours at the restaurant, she spoke in Mandarin, with her son and his wife translating into English. Ms. Mao, who usually declines interviews, reflected on her past without sentimentality.
On moving to New York: “My son was born, and my husband came here for work. Supporting my family is what is most important to me.”
On her second vocation: “Chinese restaurants are always a good way to make money in the U.S.”
On leaving the spotlight: “My story is now in history. I want to be off the screen. I always keep low.”
When encouraged to discuss her stardom with less modesty, she turned away from her granddaughter, seeming to consider the past for the first time in a long while. Then she chuckled.
“How famous was I?” she said. “When I was a somebody, Jackie Chan was a nobody.”
Ms. Mao’s career was brief but bright, taking place in Hong Kong and Taiwan and including roles in more than 30 films over a decade. Studios promoted her as a female Bruce Lee. When she appeared as Mr. Lee’s doomed sister in the 1973 martial arts classic “Enter the Dragon,” her place in the kung fu canon was secured. Quentin Tarantino has cited her as an influence, and a violent fight scene in his 2003 film “Kill Bill” involving a swinging ball and chain is strikingly similar to one of Ms. Mao’s duels in “Broken Oath.”
茅瑛的电影事业短暂却灿烂。在十年时间里，她在香港和台湾演了30多部电影。电影公司把她宣传成女版李小龙。当她出现在1973年的经典武打片《龙争虎斗》(Enter the Dragon)中，扮演李小龙在劫难逃的姐姐时，她在功夫片领域的地位就树立起来了。昆汀·塔伦蒂诺(Quentin Tarantino)就自称受了她的影响。在塔伦蒂诺2003年的影片《杀死比尔》(Kill Bill)中，一个激烈打斗的场景中出现了四处挥舞的链球，和茅瑛在《破戒》(Broken Oath)中的一个决斗场面惊人地相似。
She fought with ferocity and grace, mowing through armies of opponents with jaw-breaking high kicks, interrupting the carnage only to flip her pigtails to the side. A common climax in her films was her combating a villain twice her size.
“She was the first female kung fu star — name above title,” said J. Hoberman, a longtime movie critic who now writes about video for The New York Times. He has fond memories of seeing Ms. Mao’s movies on triple bills at Times Square grindhouse theaters in the 1970s. “She basically had one act, which was going from an obedient character to a machine-like avenger,” he added. “A lot of people saw her films as feminist statements the same way as Pam Grier films.”
“她是第一位女性功夫明星——想当初，她可是相当大牌，”资深影评人、目前在为《纽约时报》(The New York Times)撰写DVD影评的J·霍伯曼(J. Hoberman)说。他还保留着上世纪70年代的美好记忆：他猫在时代广场(Times Square)的磨坊戏院里，观看三场连放的由茅瑛主演的影片。“她基本上总是演这样的角色：从一个逆来顺受的人，变成冷酷无情的复仇者，”他补充道。“很多人都觉得她的电影和帕姆·格利尔(Pam Grier)的电影一样，是女性主义者的宣言。”
Ms. Mao’s career coincided with the over-the-top, often impolitic exploitation era in film. The narrator for an American trailer of her 1972 film “Hapkido” declares: “Watch out for the pigtail that whips you up and wipes you out. … Lady Kung Fu: the unbreakable China Doll who gives you the licking of your life.”
She was born Mao Ching Ying in 1950 and grew up in Taiwan, the third of eight children, to a family of entertainers for the Peking Opera House. Like her siblings, she started training for the opera at a young age, taking voice lessons when she was 5. She also studied martial arts, specifically hapkido, rising to the level of black belt — a prowess that later distinguished her from other action stars, who merely choreographed their fight scenes.
In her 20s, she moved to Hong Kong, where a thriving film industry was based, but she was hardly romantic about it. “To be honest, the money was just better in movies,” she said. “I had to support my family. Most of the money I made I gave to them. This is the Chinese tradition.”
Leading female roles were rare in Hong Kong at the time. Mr. Meyers, the fan who met with Ms. Mao at Lincoln Center, is the author of “Films of Fury,” a comprehensive history of the kung fu movie genre. Ms. Mao, he said, was the first woman to star in her own action films without having to defer to a male star.
想当年在香港，女性主角还很罕见。在林肯中心见到了茅瑛本人的影迷迈尔斯，是《狂怒电影》(Films of Fury)一书的作者，该书全面记录了功夫类电影的发展史。他说，茅瑛是第一位身为动作片主演且在片中不必屈居男影星之后的女性。
“Men ran things,” he explained. “Hong Kong had lots of machismo then. Women were considered ‘jade vases.’ They didn’t speak on screen. They were considered decoration.”
When asked about this epithet, Ms. Mao snapped, “I was never anybody’s ‘jade vase.’” She shifted in her seat. Moments later, she dispatched her son to tend to a customer she noticed from the corner of her eye.