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With: Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Wen Chung Ku, Wang Chin-Feng, Nan-Kung Hsun, Chao Hsiung, Tin Fung, Tung Lam, Tung Lin, Tien Feng, James Nam, Bolo Yeung, Chan Shen, Fang Mein, Feng Chen, Gam Kei-Chu, Ku Wen Chung, Wong Shu Tong
Written by: Kong Yeung
Directed by: Jeong Chang-hwa
MPAA Rating: R
Language: Mandarin with English subtitles
Running Time: 104
Date: 05/26/1972

King Boxer (1972)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Fist on My List

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeong Chang-hwa's King Boxer -- better known as Five Fingers of Death -- is notable for being the first big kung-fu hit in America, and ushering in the genre for good. Produced by the Shaw Brothers in gorgeous color and widescreen ("Shawscope"), the film presents a complicated mix of heroes and villains, with shades of gray in-between. Basically, the conflict lies between two martial arts schools, both of which hope to win the big competition at the end.

The hero, Chao Chi-hao (Lo Lieh) is sent for extra training after his master is attacked. Meanwhile the villain, Meng (Tien Feng) prepares his son for the tournament, using underhanded tactics and bullying to get rid of any competitors. Chao Chi-hao learns the infamous "Iron Fist" technique, and so Meng sends his thugs out to maim the hero's hands. He must recover both his physical and spiritual skills in time to win the tournament.

This is an odd film to have ushered in the martial arts genre in the West, since it has no major stars, nor a major director. But despite the convoluted plot and large tapestry of characters, the film is packed with amazing moments, crisply shot and edited. The fast, exciting action sequences are still superb, and put to shame most of today's Hollywood efforts.

King Boxer has been released on several different DVD editions already, but from what I've read, this 2007 edition from the Weinstein Company/Genius Products is far and away the best. Another selling point is the highly entertaining, geek-friendly commentary track by filmmaker Quentin Tarantino and critics Elvis Mitchell and David Chute. The disc also contains interviews with the film's director and action choreographer, a still gallery and loads of trailers for other Shaw Brothers classics. Three other Shaw Brothers movies have been released in conjunction with this one: Liu Chia-Liang's The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), Liu's martial arts comedy My Young Auntie (1981) and Chang Cheh's One-Armed Swordsman (1969), starring Jimmy Wang Yu -- each with loads of extras.

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