Known as the film that started the “kung fu craze” in the US, The Five Fingers of Death (or King Boxer) has a huge reputation and following behind it. The film stars Lieh Lo, a superstar that precedes Bruce Lee. While typically cast as the villain in films, Lo plays a good guy who is faced with fighting several different foes. With director Chang-hwa Jeong behind the lens, does this film have all of the necessary elements to be a successful film?
The story to King Boxer is a simple one, but one that’s told in a respectable manner. The main character, Chao Chih-Hao experiences several different events that change his path during the course of the film. There are several different threads that are dangled in front of the viewer, but they all tie together nicely and there aren’t any real loose ends to speak of. The only thing that seemed odd was the passage of time. One character would say that a year had passed while others mentioned that they had seen Chih-Hao a few days ago. Then again, this could be translation error or people’s differing ways of telling time.
The characters themselves don’t fare as well as the story does. Chih-Hao, in particular, seems to fluctuate between silent nobody to hardened killer too often. Characters in the film seem to change based on the needs of the story, such as when one villain lets someone live only to kill them in the following scenes. Touching back on the passage of time, there are several instances where fighter become masters too quickly to be logical. Things like being a fighter after losing eyesight on the same day and healing broken hands in just a month. I know I’m being picky, but it does detract from the overall experience.
It’s interesting to see how far along martial arts films have come. By today’s standards, the action is passable, but nothing amazing. There is a lot of aerial action and doubling for falls, which seems out of place, but the hand to hand combat is at least solid. I find it humorous that throws and jump kicks are the most devastating attacks, but that’s just being nitpicky. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this film inspired a lot of the aerial fights that we see nowadays in action films, either. King Boxer is not a fast paced fight-fest, but it’s something that should be appreciated nonetheless.
Own it, Watch it, Try it, or Skip it?
It’s hard for me to recommend King Boxer to those that haven’t seen it. It’s apparent that nostalgia plays a HUGE role in how much people will like this film. I didn’t enjoy this film as much as I have other Shaw Bros. films, but I can respect the roots of martial arts cinema. If you are curious about the evolution of fighting and storytelling, give it a look. If you don’t consider yourself a hardcore fan, I think you can pass this one by and be ok.