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Chang-hwa Jeong
Lieh Lo, Ping Wang, Hsiung Chao
Writing Credits:
Yang Chiang

Two martial arts schools prepare for an important tournament.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Mandarin DTS-HD MA Monaural
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $179.95
Release Date: 12/28/21
Available Only As Part of “Shawscope Volume One” 8-Disc/12-Film Set

• Audio Commentary with Film Professor David Desser
• ‘Tony Rayns on King Boxer” Featurette
• Interview with Director Chung Chang-wha
• Interview with Actor Wang Ping
• Interview with Biographer Cho Young-jung
• “Cinema Hong Kong” Documentary
• US Opening Credits
• Trailer Gallery
• Image Gallery
• 60-Page Book


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver;
-Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


King Boxer (AKA Five Fingers of Death) [Blu-Ray] (1972)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 23, 2021)

Known as one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films, 1972’s King Boxer got rechristened Five Fingers of Death in the US. It did well enough that it helped inaugurate that era’s kung fu craze.

Chou Chih-Hao (Lieh Lo) desires to become a martial arts expert. In that vein, he studies under Master Suen Chin-Pei (Mien Fang).

With this tutelage under his belt, Chih-Hao hopes to win an important tournament. He does so not for vanity but instead to keep some bad actors from the prestige and privilege they would gain if they took home the trophy.

Some films remain famous mainly because of their place in cinema history. Others continue to hold up well over the years and don’t age too much.

Boxer falls into the first category but not the second. Though it enjoys some good moments, in general this feels like a movie that mainly packed a punch for those who experienced it when new and novel.

Not that I discount the notion that only those who saw Boxer in the early 70s still genuinely enjoy it now – and those who never viewed it then like it, too. For instance, apparently Edgar Wright used the film as an inspiration for his adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and Wright wasn’t even born when Boxer hit screens.

Still, Boxer feels more important for the way it inspired all the films that follow than for its own worth circa 2021. Despite occasional glimmers of excitement, too much of the movie feels slow and dull.

Essentially, Boxer gives us lots of turgid dramatic scenes – many of which revolve around the gratuitous romance between Chih-Hao and local girl Sung Ying Ying (Wang Ping) – punctuated with wild martial arts action. In theory, I don’t mind the character scenes, as a movie that consists of nothing but fights would get tedious.

However, Boxer explores its more serious/subdued elements in such a thin, unfulfilling manner that they grind the film to a halt. Chih-Hao remains a persistently blah hero, and nothing about his journey feels especially compelling.

Neither do the movie’s villains turn into suitably loathsome baddies. Oh, Boxer requires them to perform the requisite dastardly actions, but they fail to provide personalities that make them memorable.

As such Boxer lives and dies with its action, and these scenes often manage to create excitement. Of course, the film depicts them in fantastic ways that don’t connect with reality, but that acts as part of the appeal of a movie like this.

I suspect this style both thrilled and turned off audiences in the 1970s. On one hand, the novel nature of the stunts/fights made them invigorating for those who could suspend disbelief, but I would bet that those unable to do so found themselves disconnected from the flick due to the flights of fancy.

Nearly 50 years later, modern viewers enjoy great familiarity with the styles on display, so no such dichotomy seems likely to occur. This also means that Boxer won’t seem novel or fresh to 21st century eyes, but it still deserves credit for its innovation and influence.

Like I noted, Boxer does manage a fair amount of impact when it sticks to fights. Even if these lack the “newness” they possessed in the 1970s, the choreography remains well-done and involving.

I just wish the filmmakers had invested as much effort into the rest of the movie. While King Boxer continues to show life in terms of its martial arts scenes, too much of the rest of it feels flat and dull.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus B+

King Boxer appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Boxer brought a good but not great image.

In general, the movie came with reasonably precise sharpness. Occasional soft shots materialized – most of which appeared to stem from the source photography – so the flick lacked consistent definition, but the majority of the flick seemed well-rendered.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects emerged, and I saw no edge haloes. Grain felt natural, and print flaws remained absent.

Boxer opted for a fairly earthy palette, with a mix of sandy amber and blue on display. While the hues didn’t excel, they appeared fairly vivid and occasionally came across as reasonably lively.

Blacks seemed pretty deep and dense, while shadows displayed adequate clarity and smoothness. Overall, this became a mostly satisfying presentation.

Don’t expect much from the wholly ordinary DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Boxer. Speech felt generally natural, with lines that suffered a little edginess but that usually came across in a decent manner.

Though neither music nor effects boasted much range, they also didn’t show prominent distortion. The effects could become a bit rough around the edges, but they usually seemed accurate enough. The movie offered an average soundtrack given its age and origins.

Note that in addition to the original Mandarin audio, the Blu-ray comes with an English dub. I sampled some of it and found it predictably awful in terms of acting quality.

As we shift to extras, we open with an audio commentary from film professor David Desser. He offers a running, screen-specific look at the movie's various iterations, genre elements, cast and crew, the film's release, reception and legacy, various production elements and some story thoughts/interpretation.

For the film's first half, Desser offers a fairly standard "historian commentary" that covers the production and its participants. After the midway point, though, he goes more into a discussion of the movie itself.

This means the initial half fares better than the second, as Desser gives us some good details. Once he goes into "interpreter mode", the commentary loses steam. We still get a smattering of useful tidbits, but expect the meat of the chat to appear over the opening half of the flick.

An “appreciation” comes via Tony Rayns on King Boxer. In this 42-minute, 56-second piece, critic/historian Rayns offers info about the Shaw Brothers Studio as well as the development of martial arts cinema in the late 1960s/early 1970s, and additional details related to Boxer and the genre/studio.

Don’t expect a lively presentation here, as we mostly get flat “talking head” shots of Rayns. Nonetheless, Rayns gives us some good information, even if he probably should’ve done an audio commentary instead.

From 2003/04, an Interview with Director Chung Chang-wha goes for 39 minutes, 54 seconds. Here we learn about his career and aspects of the King Boxer shoot.

Like the Rayns reel, this chat can lean a little dry, and a dull visual presentation doesn’t help. Still, we get enough worthwhile notes to make the interview worth a look.

Circa 2007, an Interview with Actor lasts 25 minutes, 51 seconds and brings Ping’s thoughts about her career and work on Boxer. Expect a fairly engaging chat here.

Shot in 2005, an Interview with Film Festival Organizer Cho Young-jung fills 33 minutes, 24 seconds and gives us notes about Chung Chang-wha and King Bower.

However, she mostly discusses her film festival and her impressions of the movie. A few decent notes emerge but this seems like a less than insightful piece overall.

The first part of three, a documentary called Cinema Hong Kong: Kung Fu goes for 49 minutes, 36 seconds. Here we find notes from actors/directors Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, film historian Dr. Ng Ho, actor Kwam Tak Hing’s son David HC Kwan, martial arts choreographer Liang Ting, director/choreographer Lau Kar Leung, directors Siu Sang, Chu Yuan andTerry Tong, producer Run Run Shaw, stuntman Tsu Chung Hok, and actors Jet Li, Shek Kin, Wai Ying Hung, Gordon Liu Chia Hhui, Bruce Lee (circa 1971) and Shannon Yao.

The documentary covers the origins of kung fu and its initial use in films as well as fight choreography, the genre’s progress through the 1960s and its 1970s tropes, various styles of martial arts, Bruce Lee’s impact on cinema, and other developments.

Overall, this becomes a fairly informative program, though it follows a less than logical thread, as it tends to hop about from one domain to another in an awkward manner. Nonetheless, some good information appears and we get a reasonable overview of some genre domains.

Footnote: I assumed parts two and three of this documentary would appear somewhere on the other seven Blu-rays that come as part of this “Shawscope” package. Nope – the set only includes Part One.

I suspect the other two parts deal with post-1970s martial arts movies so Arrow thought they didn’t make sense in this 1970s-centric package. Nonetheless, it still seems “off” that we only get one-third of a documentary.

Next we find the film’s US Opening Credits. They occupy one minute, 26 seconds and show the 5 Fingers of Death title and different music. The credits look and sound terrible, but I guess they’re acceptable for archival purposes.

A Trailer Gallery follows. In includes five trailers – two Hong Kong, two German, one US – as well as a US TV spot, a US radio spot and a “digital reissue trailer”.

Finally, an Image Gallery delivers 52 stills that mix shots from the film and publicity materials. I like the latter but the film elements seem less interesting.

This Boxer disc exists as part of a boxed set that also includes a 60-page book. It provides various essays as well as credits/notes about each film. Unfortunately, my review package lacked the book, but I wanted to mention that it comes with the large release.

As a pioneering efforts in the 1970s martial arts genre, King Boxer deserves respect, and its fight scenes continue to provide reasonable excitement. However, much of the film fails to age well, so this becomes an erratic action experience. The Blu-ray comes with generally good picture as well as adequate audio and a mix of bonus materials. I respect Boxer for its place in cinema history, but the actual film offers only inconsistent pleasures in 2021.

Note that as of December 2021, this version of King Boxer appears only as part of an eight-disc/12-film set called “Shawscope Volume One”. It also includes The Boxer From Shantung, Five Shaolin Masters, Shaolin Temple, Mighty Peking Man, Challenge of the Masters, Executioners from Shaolin, Chinatown Kid, The Five Venoms, Crippled Avengers, Heroes of the East, and Dirty Ho.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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