10 Dec 2009

King Boxer

It is a genuine tragedy that the name of Sir Run Run Shaw, the 90-year Chinese entrepreneur, filmmaker and media mogul is not more well known throughout the world, as he is a truly fascinating individual. Through his charitable work, patronage of various educational institutions, and establishment of the Shaw Prize, an international award for scientists that has been dubbed the “Nobel Prize of the East” he can certainly be deemed to have contributed more than most to society, but it his cinematic legacy that is most fascinating, particularly how it is still being keenly felt today (Quentin Tarantino used the Shaw Brothers title logo at the start of Kill Bill Vol 1 and even filmed various sequences at Run’s Hong Kong studios, as well as “borrowing” musical cues and the infamous “Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique”). From 1930 to 1987 (Shaw stopped producing films after the death of his wife) the Shaw Brothers studio was a beacon of creativity, producing a unique library of more than 700 films, but it garnered its marvellous reputation thanks to a series of martial arts movies produced during the sixties and seventies that remain some of the finest of all time. 

King Boxer, or to refer to it by it’s American title, Five Fingers Of Death, was released internationally in 1972 and can lay as much of a claim as any other single movie to being responsible for the kung fu craze that hit Western society during that decade, and the enduring appeal of these films today. It was a huge success in America, and went on to establish most of the genre’s conventions that are now so familiar to us; after his master is viciously assaulted by a gang of thugs from a rival school, a run of the mill martial artist named Chao Chih-Hao (Leih Lo) learns the sacred “Iron Fist” technique which transforms his abilities. However, he is now a marked man as a result, and must defy the odds if he is going to avenge his master at the upcoming tournament in which he has swore to fight. This sounds generic, and it is, but being a Shaw Brothers film the production values are far higher than comparable films of the period, even the almost sacrosanct output of a certain Mr Bruce Lee. It is easy to see why Shaw saw this as the particular film to use to expose a new audience to his work. The cast is uniformly excellent, the set design is grand and lush, and as for the fights (which in all honesty is why we watch these films) there is enough eye plucking, decapitations and arterial spraying to sate even the most grisly martial arts fan. Seize a copy of this timeless tale of revenge now that it is finally available on DVD, crack open a couple of beers, and have your own midnight Grindhouse screening in tribute of the 19 year-old boy from Hong Kong who set up a film studio with his older brother and helped change the world. You owe him.
Matthew Kleebauer

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