The Boxer from Shantung (1972)

Posted in Reviews by - July 06, 2020
The Boxer from Shantung (1972)

An intense, blood-soaked, career-defining moment for former Shaw Brothers extra, Chen Kuan-tai, one of the only genuine kung fu fighters at Movietown who makes the film’s highly kinetic choreography look effortless. Chen’s star potential was only spotted by Shaws after his starring-role debut in the 1972 Ng See-yuen indie, Bloody Fists, before the studio then stole him back to cast him in this much-revered head-basher, playing real-life boxer Ma Yongzhen. Ma’s rags-to-riches tale set in the underworld of 1930s Shanghai was well-known to native audiences at the time, and the film’s emotional and visceral resonance certainly left a lasting impression on its young assistant director, John Woo, and the subsequent gangland ‘heroic bloodshed’ films he helped to popularise in Hong Kong in the 1980s. Ma and his buddy, Xiao Jiangbei (Cheng Kang-yeh), are proud country-types from Shantung (aka Shandong) who are determined to make it big in bustling Shanghai. When he meets enigmatic entrepreneur, Tan Si (David Chiang), for the first time, Ma refuses his to wash his carriage, throwing his money away in an act of defiance, before revealing his incredible, seemingly natural martial arts ability. “I may be a nobody, but I know how to fight,” he says, and the determined Ma goes on a rampage to realise his dreams – and his dignity – through the power of his fists. His gradual ascendance sees him not only commandeer the local teahouse and other property, but he is also regarded as something of an empowering and noble force among the community; diplomatic, prepared to stand up to power and use violence when necessary, not unlike many of Chang Cheh‘s notable masculine antiheroes. Unfortunately for Ma, he finds himself at the epicentre of a power-struggle between two rival gangsters involved in the opium trade, Tan Si and Brother Wong (Chiang Nan), and the whole thing broils over into an enraged, climactic, axe-wielding bloodbath of the highest order. This was a smash hit when it was released, and it still holds real power today.

AKA: Boxer from ShantungKiller from Shantung.

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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