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King Boxer: Five Fingers Of Death
cast: Bolo Yueng, Lieh Lo, Ping Wang, Mien Fang, and James Nam

director: Chang-hwa Jeong

104 minutes (18) 1972
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail
[released 23 March]

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
Bam! Kung fu, with mucho high-kicking and bone-crunching punches, is dished out in spades in the 1970s' classic, King Boxer: Five Fingers of Death (aka: Tian xia di yi quan). This trend-setting flick has stood the test of time and is as fresh today as when it first came out to critical acclaim in 1972.

There can be no doubt around the influence of King Boxer on subsequent films in the kung fu genre. The action scenes are wonderfully set with wide and varied choreography, the plot line of competing schools is so formulaic that it appears on the periodic table. But, King Boxer was the film that gave us many of these perversely enjoyable clichés, such as; improbable leaps, surreptitious training of new techniques to combat the tournament cheats, horribly bad dubbing and of course that most eastern of traits, patience.

Back to the plot, there is no room for convolution here as rival schools, helpfully differentiated by different colour schemes in their headgear, go up against each other in the name of revenge (see what I mean about formulaic?) and as you suspect the bad guys are bigger and stronger to start with. The revenge story is set against the backdrop of an important martial arts tournament. I won't spoil it by telling you who wins. There is a mild love interest, complimented by some over-the-top gore and violence, and it is the latter that means that King Boxer holds onto its 18 rating.

This is the film that really brought kung fu movies to the west. It was the start of the craze and despite some technical flaws in the production it is still a damn fine effort, especially when you consider its vintage and impact. It was a seminal moment in Hong Kong kung fu movie history and the genre has never looked back, well, except only to copy...

This Shaw Brothers re-release reminds us how prolific that particular company were, with almost 500 productions alone. There are a ton of familiar faces in King Boxer with Bolo Yueng (Enter The Dragon, Bloodsport, etc) arguably the most famous of these faces.

King Boxer is a fantastic movie with an interesting history, and anyone who is even remotely interested in this genre should really look this up. Its lineage in terms of impact is far reaching and the quality of the fight scenes is superb, and there a million youngsters out there doing martial arts who could trace a line straight back this movie when it comes to how they got into karate, judo, etc. Like all kung fu movies, the scariest part is the dialogue, which in King Boxer undergoes something of an ugly transmogrification when translated from Mandarin to English. Somehow I find it endearing. This is high-kicking fun at its best.

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