King Boxer (1972)

Posted in Reviews by - March 23, 2013
King Boxer (1972)

One of the most enjoyable martial arts movies ever made, this relentless, unapologetic head kicker completed the Shaw conversion from swashbuckling 1960s hits by directors like King Hu and Chang Cheh to full-bodied, empty hand fight movies. Picked up by Warner Brothers and released in the US in 1973 several months before Enter the Dragon, it was King Boxer (under the superb title Five Fingers of Death) that would become the leading example of Hong Kong action cinema in the west and instrumental in introducing kung fu to a whole new audience.

With exaggerated zooms, maniacal villains and martial superpowers, this film – more than any other – set the groundwork for what viewers would come to expect from Hong Kong martial arts cinema. The film’s influence can still be felt today. Quentin Tarantino would steal the recognisable Ironside motif for his epic homage Kill Bill, a film dedicated to the memory of late Shaw Brothers icons Chang Cheh and Lo Lieh.

Interesting also is the fact the film is directed by a Korean, Jeong Chang-hwa, still heavily influenced by the supernatural structure of Shaw’s earlier swordplay pictures, but with an added emphasis on delicate, well-paced storytelling. Subsequent kung fu movies would ultimately do away with the storytelling altogether, but here we get a rather detailed, character-driven drama about the quest for martial supremacy between two rival schools.

Lo Lieh is sent packing by his father and girlfriend to train under the auspices of Master Suen, who teaches him the Iron Palm technique (in which his hands embody a devilish red glow) in a quest to defeat teacher Meng and his evil class of bastards at an upcoming kung fu tournament. Meng sends his cohorts to kill anyone who stands in his way, teaming up with the Japanese to hire a trio of Samurai assassins to take care of Suen and the boys.

As for the film’s leading man, it was Lo Lieh – not Bruce Lee – who would provide the west with their first kung fu hero. Lo Lieh’s body of work is vast but he was never more iconic than in this trailblazing movie.

AKA: Five Fingers of Death; Invincible Boxer

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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