FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH (aka: KING BOXER) (Tian xia di yi quan)

(director: Chang-hwa Jeong; screenwriters: Yang Chiang/Lieh Lo; cinematographer: Wang Yunglung; editors: Chang Hsing Lung/Fan Kung Yung; music: Yung-Yu Chen; cast: Lo Lieh (Chao Chih-hao), Wang Ping (Sung Yin Yin), Wen Chung Ku (Yin Yin’s Dad), Wang Chin-Feng (Yen Chu-hung), Nan-Kung Hsun (Han Lung), Chao Hsiung (Okada), Tin Fung ( Ming Dung-shun), Tung Lam (Ming’s Son); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Raymond Shaw/Run Run Shaw; Steeplechase; 1972-Hong Kong-dubbed in English)

“Helped bring on the kung fu craze of the ’70s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s one of the Shaw Brothers Studios most popular films, an international success that helped bring on the kung fu craze of the ’70s as the first important Chinese martial arts hit in the West. It was seen shortly before Bruce Lee made a name for himself in the West. It’s directed by the Korean Chang-hwa Jeong and penned by Lo Lieh and Chiang Yang. The formulaic, by-the-numbers, melodrama gets in the way of the well-choreographed kick boxing scenes (the action choreography is by Lau Kar-Wing). It’s never more than an action pic whose appeal is to fanboys, those into martial arts and Quentin Tarantino.

It opens with an old master (Wen Chung Ku) attacked in an alley. He fends off the many thugs who attack him, but tells his star pupil Chao Chi-Hao (Lo Lieh), whom he raised when his parents died, that he must improve his fighting skills with master Sun Hsin-pei (Fang Mien). There, in that faraway school, he will train for the tournament and if he beats the rival thugs will win the hand of his lovely daughter Yin Yin (Wang Ping). At the school Chi Hao’s taught patience, as the teacher refuses to teach him on the highest level until he pays his dues by learning humility. When he’s deemed ready, he’s taught the Iron Fist fighting technique.

Meanwhile, a rival school run by the evil Ming Dung-shun (Tin Fung) uses devious means to gain the upper-hand for the upcoming tournament by hiring three Japanese thugs to commit thuggish actions: they jump Chi Hao in the forest and break his hands. But a singer (Yen Chu-hung) of traditional songs, whose life he saved from thugs, nurses him back to health. The question remains, will our virginal self-righteous boy be ready in time to get revenge for the killing of his two teachers by the baddies and win the tournament? I don’t want to give away the climax, but I bet if you think real hard you’ll guess who is the winner. But don’t start thinking too much, or else the film becomes less palpable.