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天下第一拳 (1972)
King Boxer

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 06/18/2007

King Boxer (aka Five Fingers of Death) has a permanent place in Hong Kong history, since it was the first film produced in the region to receive a wide theatrical distribution in the United States. It would come to be highly influential in creating a template for many of the other kung fu pictures that followed it, most recently and obviously with the Kill Bill films, which re-used King Boxer's theme music (which, oddly enough, was itself taken from the "Ironside" TV series).

Thankfully, unlike some other historically important films, King Boxer has held up very well. The story, which features Lo Lieh learning the "iron palm" technique to get revenge for his school, is standard stuff. But the director, Jeng Cheong Woh, knows exactly how to give the audience enough information to propel the story along, but not so much as to bog the movie down, as was the case with far too many kung fu pictures of this time. And even though the acting is frankly nothing special, the actors do a good enough job and manage to create some likeable characters, which helps tremendously in making the viewer care about what's going on with the story.

But what really makes King Boxer stand the test of time are the fighting sequences. They're probably most notable for their violence, from arterial sprays to gouged eyeballs, but its' Woh's style which really sets them apart. Unlike many of the Shaw Brothers kung fu pictures which followed it that featured fairly static camera movement, King Boxer's fight scenes showcase dynamic camera angles and staccato editing. This could have produced a disorienting effect with other directors, but Woh makes these techniques into cohesive and exciting scenes which should please any martial arts fan.

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Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 07/26/2006
Summary: There's a reason why it's a classic...

This tale of Kung Fu School Vs Kung Fu School pits some very good guys against some very bad guys (with the occasional swapping of sides) and some really nasty Japanese. Spawned a million extremely bad US imitations (well, it felt like that, anyway!) and became the first Hong Kong film to be seen by the west.

It’s ironic that some watershed films in Hong Kong’s history owe debts to non-Chinese influences. ONE-ARMED SWORDMAN was an homage to Japanese Chambara films, and this has a Korean director! The approach of Cheng Chang-Ho in this film is distinctly different in style to those that went before it. Having said that, I’m not entirely sure that Hong Kong directors wouldn’t have hit upon this formula itself, given time. That’s not to belittle the achievements of KING BOXER – it’s certainly a quantum leap from CHINESE BOXER, which started the “unarmed” trend that pretty much continues to this day. Although a little clumsy in its execution at times and still relying on a few of the old tricks, the choreography is miles ahead of anything at the time and it would be another six years or so before the rest of the industry caught up and started doing what this film does on a regular basis. At the risk of upsetting fans, I’d even go as far as to say that this is better than FIST OF FURY (which seems to be referenced several times during KING BOXER), although admittedly the lead isn’t as charismatic or as physically gifted.

This film still has the ability to shock some 30-odd years later with its unrelenting brutality. Be warned, there’s many a drubbing administered by virtually every character in the film, and some of it is very bloody indeed. It perhaps could have done with the same attention to the story and the dialogue as with the fight choreography – there’s a glaring error in the narrative that just grates on me every time and some of the characters are very two-dimensional indeed. That said, there’s a reason why this is a classic, and it’s the high-octane action every time.

Sadly, Lo Leih was never to become a notable Hong Kong leading man following the success of this film. In the late 70’s he had already been relegated to playing mainly bad guys – a kind of 70’s equivalent of 80’s James Tien!

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 09/08/2005
Summary: An artifact of 1972 that remains fresh

Seen now, “King Boxer” is full of clichés and stereotypes—but when it hit the western market in the early 1970s it was audaciously bold and groundbreaking. The intense and profitable reception from UK, US and other audiences marked the beginning of the Kung Fu craze in the 1970’s.
A rich story populated with very good and very bad characters—and some very, very bad Japanese. The corpses are piled higher than in the last act of “Hamlet”, there is more vengeance than “The Spanish Tragedy”, more perversions of family loyalty than in the Oresteian trilogy. Add some self-sacrifice, some redemption, a heavy dose of xenophobic racism, a hero almost too pure to be true and a villain (not even the main villain) who enjoys eyeball plucking and you have quite a movie.

Unlike many of its genre, the characters in “King Boxer”, when they are not head butting, eye gouging, lying in ambush or killing each other, act and react as if they were human beings—or at least believable movie types. Lo Lei as Ji Hoa is a kid from the country who knows nothing about the ways of the larger world. Since he is noble as well as clueless, he intervenes when Tung Lam and his thugs decide to abduct and rape Wong Gam Fung who plays the singer Yen Chu-hung. He makes short work of Tung but is no match for Yen who easily tricks him into riding with her and her band to provide continuing protection from bad guys. Ji Hoa is shocked when during the night he awakens of find Yen bedded down next to him since he simply didn’t think a woman would be capable of such a brazen act. Chiu Hung, who plays Okada, a hired Japanese fighter, is a perfectly formed psychopath. He humiliates, injures and kills people because he enjoys it—no further explanation is necessary, although his Japanese genes may have been enough explanation for the Chinese audience in 1972. Chiu stays in character throughout the film and never resorts to the over-the-top Grand Guignol ranting of many other Hong Kong villains.

Tin Fung is the ultra-evil Meng Tung Shan with lip-smacking glee. No brow is left unfurrowed, no dirty deed is left undone and no confederate is left undouble-crossed. Both of Ji’s Masters are murdered, Ji is ambushed and his hands beaten to a pulp and various minor characters are slaughtered almost whimsically as Tin’s plan progresses. Ji ultimately triumphs, since his hands not only heal very quickly but become so powerful that they glow bright red.

Much of the criticism that has been leveled at “King Boxer” is that it has all been done before—which, to an extent, is true. What sets this movie apart from other revenge dramas, though, are two things. One is that seldom, if ever, have all the technical and narrative aspects come together so well; the other is the fortuitous accident of timing that made this excellent movie the one that Warner Brothers decided to use as the icebreaker for martial arts movies into the mainstream of the west.

Highly recommended.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 08/03/2005
Summary: 10/10 - classic piece of 70's kung fu

One of the classics, and rightly so. Treads similar turf to Chinese Boxer and Fist Of Fury, but with more avant garde fight choreography, cinematography and editing. Lo Lieh kicks a whole bunch of ass! The soundtrack and sound design are brilliant too, though Celestial have done their best to ruin it with lots of added sound effects on the HK DVD. Hopefully this'll get a release in one of the PAL countries with better picture & unmolested sound. Definitely a product of the 70's, and a genre film that's unlikely to appeal to those that aren't fans of old school kung fu, but absolutely essential for those that are.

Edit: got the chance to see this one in the cinema with an un-destroyed soundtrack, and liked it even more. Definitely one of the best kung fu films of the era, or since!

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: CaptainAmerica
Date: 06/14/2002
Summary: Because it had to start somewhere!

When those who love HK movies think of "groundbreaking", "trailblazing", and "important" when it comes to a film or an actor, a fan's most immediate response would be Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, or John Woo. But all three of the descriptions above suit the one watershed film that started it all, KING BOXER aka FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH. In the book SEX AND ZEN AND A BULLET IN THE HEAD, it was stated that if it wasn't for this movie, even Bruce Lee wouldn't have been given his due...and in every respect, that statement is exactly right. This is the first HK film (chop socky, kung fu, wuxia or otherwise) to break through to theaters in the U.S.A., and it did so with a bang! Even today, watching this movie, it holds up well in comparison to contemporary fare. (More so considering the "idol" movies of late like THE MAN CALLED HERO with Ekin Cheng.)

These days it would be considered your average "school vs. school" movie, a theme repeated ad infinitum in HK actioners...but it can safely be said this is one of the first to establish and explore that particular theme, along with FIST OF FURY. (Whether that's a positive or a negative is up to you!) It would also, like FOF, help establish foreigners -- ESPECIALLY Japanese -- as stock villains. (Very much a negative for perpetuating national-racial schisms.) The idea of putting local actors in Japanese garb, putting them in black fright wigs, and calling them Japanese (with the exception of their leader) is still as insulting as a caucasian actor putting on shoe polish to give him a "black face". It's also interesting to note that Lo Lieh, who plays the hero in this film, would subsequently play villainous characters!

And let me tell you, villains have rarely been as bad as they've been in KING BOXER! (Almost overkill for the upright Ji Hao!) The master of one school is so obsessed with the thought of seeing his son -- and his school as a result -- win an upcoming tournament, he hires a group of Japanese mercenaries to cripple his son's only real competition (Ji Hao) by breaking his hands! And if that wasn't enough, he has the mercenaries kill Ji Hao's adopted father and teacher, THEN gouges the eyes out of the jealous student who helped set Ji Hao up! And as the film rolls along, they get to do even more bad things! If I'm describing this film as a bloodfest, it really isn't. There are bloody moments, but they're few and far-between for this exciting -- if slightly too melodramatic -- kung fu movie!

If you want to know why you were ABLE to see great actors from Jimmy Wang Yu and Angela Mao to Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh, and watch great films from DRAGON INN to DRUNKEN MASTER 2, watch a literal piece of'll be worth your while! Highly recommended!

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 04/18/2002
Summary: OK

It's far from a kung fu classic, but certainly not bad for '72. I've seen probably 10 or so films made that year, and this was certianly the best I think. It's an average story, but everything is done well, well except a few flaws, but that's to be expected in HK cinema, especially back then.

Rating: 3/5

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 04/07/2002
Summary: Impressive

Comparisons with The Chinese Boxer are hard to avoid. Fong Min, Chiu Hung and Wong Ping play pretty much the same characters in both films. Lo Lieh changes sides, this time as the hero. Similarly too, this is an A-grade Shaw Brothers production and, while lacking the stunning cinematography and slick editing of TCB, still looks great.

But KB is no pale copy. TCB could be read as a rehearsal, and KB the improved second shot, on two fronts - acting and martial arts choreography. Though the acting is still hardened melodrama, it is more involving and believeable than TCB. And the fight scenes range from good to top-notch. It's easy to see why this film was the breakthrough HK martial arts film in the US. One sources even credits this breakthrough with allowing Bruce Lee's film to quickly gain audience share overseas.

The cast boasts over a dozen top badass punchers and kickers, as well as a few lesser-known talents, and most of them get a fair amount of screen time to show off. Of course, any film about boxing and revenge is liable to be gory and violent. King Boxer is at the high end of the cruelty scale. The scene where Ji Hao's hands are broken is hard to watch.

The plot contains quite a few twists and, for me anyway, some genuine surprises. It connect the fight scenes and paces very well. Warmly recommended.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 02/07/2002

Before I do my actual review, there's a couple of things to point out.

1) I hate this kind of movie.

2) The USA title "Five Fingers of Death" is very misleading. Do not think for a second that this is not a primative kung fu movie with your average arm-throwing and punching. There is not one second of a decent shot of the so-called Iron Fist technique, which Lo Lieh was suppose to use, since 90% of the movie was about him training for it.

3) There is one major, most-noticeable flaw. It comes in about 2/3 of the movie when Lo Lieh's hands gets hurt. His kung fu brother had told him that a opera singer was meeting him for an important chat, in order to trick him into the hands of those who hurt him. When the opera singer discovered Lo Lieh, she was not suspected by him at all.

That said, let's do the review. I'm quite confident that this is not only the first, but also one of the finest, 70s style kung fu movies around. It began the kung fu crave in the 70s which was unlike any other period for kung fu madness. When you think of kung fu, Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee always come to mind; but do keep in mind that Wang Yu and Lo Lieh of the Shaw Brothers are the grandfathers of the kung fu (not wuxia) genre.

There are a lot of sterotypes of this kind of kung fu movie (e.g. you kill my master, I kill you), and while this movie possesses many of these abnomible traits, one must keep in mind that this is the one that brought them about. Let's give it some credit for originality. I don't think the "jealousy, traitorous disciple" concept had ever been used before this movie. And don't think for a minute that this is your average cliche that follows all stereotypes. True, into the first half of the movie I thought it lacked emotion and sympathy for anything, but give it some more time and you'll see that it's quite well crafted. There are many well-developed characters, which is VERY rare for a 70s kung fu movie, because later when the genre had become so popular, the movies simply stopped focusing on characters, and action was all that mattered (which is why I hate this subgenre). While this movie does lack some dialogue, it does a pretty good job making up for it in its well-roundedness.

I really hate 70s kung fu movies, so believe me when I say this is one of the best you can find.


P.S. When you get to what you think is going to be the finale, there will be 3 more climax fights. So hold on and enjoy the rest of the ride!

Reviewed by: PAUL MARTINEZ
Date: 07/04/2001
Summary: The Grounbreaker

First of all, this is the first Asian martial arts movie ever to be released in the U.S. For many westerners that makes this the one that started it all for them. As it is, this happens to be the first HK movie I saw on the big screen.

Excellent variation of a standard school vs school rivalry plot. The incorporation of some very well done sub-plots. Especially the use of Japanese thugs as henchmen for the evil school. The story flowed well and was also a little on the gritty side which lends to this movie standing out from others.

Lo Lieh, in one of his few roles as a good guy that I can remember, did remarkably well portraying himself as the unsure, moody, unassuming hero. The actor who played the jealous student who turns on his own school did a fine job as well. I also enjoyed the different type of characters used by the Japanese. It made them stand out more.

The action scenes weren't breathtaking by any means but for the era were adequate. The use of the alarm sound effect when the iron palm technique was used was cheesy in the ABSOLUTE right way. I still remember the audience reacting whenever it played. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 05/03/2001
Summary: Very good

I agree with the review below me that this is a very good movie!! Even for todays standards!!

I use to watch a lot of Lo Lieh movies when i was small and this is one of his best!! Watch the last fight with the now more common 'block a sword' You'll know what i mean when you see it!!

A old movie but i good one, even for today's standards and the plot............can't remember but it did have one!!


Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: nomoretitanic
Date: 04/15/2001
Summary: One of the first chopsocky movies

I saw this movie dubbed. The video box called it a cult film and one of the best martial arts films ever. I thought it was a very standard fair with kungfu school rivals, trampoline jumps, handicapped heros and "two-beat" choreography.

From what I heard this was one of the first non-wuxia kungfu movies, ie a chopsocky movie, or one of the first chopsocky movies to make it internationally known anyways. I wasn't that impressed. The choreography was slow and sloppy. Was not very graceful to watch. I could not tell whether or not the acting was good since it was badly dubbed. The music was obnoxious. The plot was solid--it was standard but it had its twists and turns.

It has been two years since my last viewing of this film. Maybe I'll rent it again tomorrow to make sure that I have not missed some really impressive scenes. But before then, my opinion is that it's a monumental film--not the best film (not by far it ain't) but it's generally responsible for your late night TV screenings since the 70's.