Friday, September 05, 2014

Five Fingers Of Death

KING BOXER is nothing less than one of the two most important martial arts films of all time (ENTER THE DRAGON is the other). Under its American title of FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH, it was the first Hong Kong kung fu movie to receive a major theatrical release in the U.S.

Because American audiences had never seen anything like it before, KING BOXER made Warner Brothers millions of dollars at the box office and opened the door for other Hollywood studios to import low-budget action movies from Hong Kong, few of which were as skillfully made as KING BOXER, but often as profitable.

The story is simple enough, which probably helped American drive-in audiences follow it, and similar to many other Asian pictures that concentrated on bone-crunching action over plot.

Two rival martial arts schools, one good and one evil, are set to compete in an upcoming tournament. To better their chances of winning, pupils of the bad school ambush their rivals in an attempt to keep them from competing. Impatient hero Chao Chi-hao (Lo Lieh, who teamed with Lee Van Cleef in the Hong Kong/Italy kung fu western THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER) gains an advantage when he masters the unstoppable Iron Fist technique. You’ll know it when you see it, because his hand turns red and the soundtrack blares Quincy Jones’ theme from TV’s IRONSIDE!

If KING BOXER isn’t the greatest chopsocky flock Shaw Brothers ever produced, this “martial arts masterpiece,” to quote Warners’ trailer, sure as hell is up there. Terrific photography and music is just icing atop this delicious cake baked by director Jeong Chang-hwa (credited as Cheng Chang Ho in the United States). The action scenes are cartoonish in a good way, like when a fighter invades Chi-hao’s karate school and literally tosses opponents through the walls (or later when the same fighter is thrown through the trunk of a tree!). The fights are first-rate in this thrilling film, anchored by Lo’s charismatic turn.


Unknown said...

I remember the night I went to see this on opening night in 1973 at the downtown Milwaukee Palace theater. The entire audience was gobsmacked by this
chop-socker. As you said, we had never seen anything like it before.

Bobby Trosclair said...

Probably the source for the Marvel comic superhero Iron Fist, as well.

One of the few martial arts flicks to get reviewed in Time magazine, as well.