King Boxer – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Directed by
Chang-hwa Jeong

Cast:
Lo Lieh Chao Chih-hao
Tung Lam Meng Tien-hsiung
James Nam Gung-fan Han Lung
Fang Mien Suen Hsin-pei
Wong Chin-feng Yen Chu-hung
Wong Ping Ying Ying
Tien Feng Meng Tung-shan
Chiu Hung Okada
Goo Man-chung Sung Wu-yang
Chan Shen Wan Hung-chieh


The Movie:

Released in the United States mere months before Bruce Lee’s introduction, Fist of Fury, King Boxer (AKA: Five Fingers of Death) was the first Kung Fu film ever released in North America. Amazingly, while this trivial fact alone would probably be enough to earn the film its legacy in the pantheon of Martial Arts cinema, taking in the movie you realize that the movie is so much more. While its fight scenes may not be up to par with those of Lee’s or with the classics of the genre that were only a few years away, such as The Five Deadly Venoms or The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, the film’s has an extreme amount of violence for the time and provided a unique experience that movie-goers flocked to.

Unfortunately for the movie, its biggest flaw is probably with its star, Lo Lieh, who is unable to really hold the screen in the way that a Bruce Lee or Gordon Liu would be able to do. Lieh isn’t necessarily bad, but doesn’t have the charisma that would make superstars out of heroes from bigger Kung Fu flicks. Also, Lieh was an actor and not a Martial Artist before this picture, as unfortunately it shows on screen. This isn’t to say that he isn’t likable as the movie’s hero, Chao Chi-hao, because he’s perfectly adequate, especially in the film’s final moments, but it makes one wonder just how much more this film would be revered if Gordon Liu or another performer of his caliber were its star.

Then again the role of Chao Chi-hao kind of calls for a blank slate, as he begins as a novice student of Kung Fu who travels to a prestigious school in order to hone his skills and eventually enter an important tournament which will determine Martial supremacy in the region. The movie’s excellent pacing moves the film along, from Chao Chi-hao’s initial training to more intensive instruction, eventually including the mythical Iron Palm technique. Using this plotline as a backbone, the film is filled with a plethora of villains and other characters that interact with Chi-hao creating interesting subplots that keep us personally invested in the story as the film moves along.

One of the main strengths of King Boxer is a terrific cast of loathsome heavies. Tien Feng, who was terrific in the role of the master in The One-Armed Swordsman brings a whole new dimension to this type of character as Meng Tung-shan, the leader of the school rival to the one at which Chi-hao is training. This is a man who outwardly must stay stoic and regal, but within the walls of his school is a manipulative scheming adversary, using gangsters and thugs to get rid of rivals that may hinder his son (Tung Lam) from winning the same tournament. As the film goes on, his layers begin to unravel until he is shown for what he really is, and Tien Feng is brilliant the entire way, giving gravitas to a character who would usually just be a paper thin example of evil.

We also get a bevy of notable henchmen, from Meng Tung-shan’s lazy, eye gouging heir apparent, to the deadly assassin Okada (Hsiung Chiao) and his two partners in Karate. Each is the picture of evil, murdering all in their path, with women even falling victim to their treacherous deeds. Also important is Gam Kei-Chu’s role as Chen Lang, a Kung Fu master with an Iron Head technique that is seemingly unstoppable, even when facing Enter the Dragon’s Bolo Yeung in one short fight scene.


Director Chang-hwa Jeong deserves credit also for being a true innovator in the genre, instituting a harder level of violence then had been seen in this type of picture before. Eyes are gouged, skulls and limbs are crushed, and men are eviscerated on screen. The use of sharp close-ups and incredible editing gives this picture a visceral feel that is still very effective. Even little things, like adding a layer of powder on floors and on people’s clothing to make the impact of a blow that much more exciting gives the film that little extra effect and would go on to be used in countless other Kung Fu epics.

Anyone that doubts the of this film should check out its final ten minutes, which come off as both a Shakespearean style tragedy and an invigorating example of well timed mayhem. The lighting and cinematography during this period is nearly flawless, bringing fourth all the emotional impact necessary to bring this film to its proper close. If you don’t love King Boxer before this sequence, it’s nearly impossible not to do so afterwards.

For aficionados of old school Martial Arts films King Boxer is a hard hitting, entertaining near-masterpiece. Full of innovation and solid plot lines, the film can stand with nearly any of the early Kung Fu flicks of its era. If only for the fact that some of its actors are not as crisp in their fight scenes, including headliner Lo Lieh, the movie would nearly be a perfect example of the genre as a whole.


The DVD:


The Video
All other editions of this film can now be put away. The restoration done to this picture is absolutely amazing, as King Boxer looks nearly like a new film on this DVD. The film’s degradation over the years has been virtually eliminated as each frame is crisp and its lighting magnificent. The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1

The Audio
The Audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and is also light years ahead of any transfer done to disc of this film so far. The dialogue is never drowned out, even amongst the fight scenes and we get a nice balance throughout. This is also a terrific showcase for the movie’s theme, which fans of Kill Bill will instantly recognize.


SPECIAL FEATURES:


Feature Commentary by Quentin Tarantino and Film Scholars David Chute and Elvis Mitchell – Of all the commentary tracks that have been included in these Shaw Bros. releases by Dragon Dynasty, this is definitely the one to recommend. This is an incredible track from beginning to end, with the trivia coming fast and furious enough to make you dizzy. Chute’s professionalism is the perfect counter to the rabid fanboy tendencies of Tarantino and Elvis Mitchell’s comments are always knowledgeable and pitch perfect.

Interviews with Directors Chang-Hwa Jeong and Lau Kar-leung – These are both terrific interviews, as Jeong discusses how he was able to accomplish exactly what he wanted with this picture, and Lau Kar-wing talks his long career in the business. Kar-wing’s is probably the more interesting of the two as he gets into how he was able to put together the movie’s fight scenes and make them look good.

Interview with Film Scholars David Chute and Andy Klein – Another good interview with these two, as they discuss the picture’s historical significance in the genre. These two are fantastic giving us little things about the movie that we may have not noticed and pack a lot of info into this 8 minute interview.

Trailer Gallery – Again we get tons of trailers, from other Shaw Bros. releases to other Dragon Dynasty DVD’s.

Commentator Biographies

Posters and Stills Gallery

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for King Boxer
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

9
THE VIDEO

8.5
THE AUDIO

8
THE EXTRAS

7
REPLAY VALUE

10
OVERALL
9
(NOT AN AVERAGE)