King Boxer aka Five Fingers of Death aka Tian xia di yi quan
R1 - America - Genius Products
Review written by and copyright: Pat Pilon (9th July 2007).
The Film

This movie is also known as 'Five Fingers of Death'. There's a previous release by EPI, but it's a bootleg. The Genius Products release is the only legal US DVD release of this movie.

Even before 'Enter the Dragon', this movie was released in the US, and accumulated a nice box office. It was chopped a bit, dubbed and renamed 'Five Fingers of Death'. I saw that version and didn't like it at all. The dubbing sucked all the emotions from every scene, took away the pacing and generally left me disinterested in everything that was going on. At least it was widescreen. Then, in October 2004, I saw the movie at the Busan International Film Festival, uncut, in its original language, with subtitles, and I loved it. If flowed much better, the characters were much deeper and the action seemed so much more spectacular because you were invested in everything.

The movie is about a man (Lo Lieh) who wants to train at a prestigious kung-fu school so he can win a tournament, but for reasons that don't need to be elaborated on an opposing school tries to stop him. With a plot like this, you can just imagine the setup is ripe for action. Not to disappoint you, director Cheng Chang-ho, along with choreographers Lau Kar-wing (brother of the legendary Lau Kar-leung) and Chan Chuen delight the audience with action. It's exciting and well made and plentiful. Mr. Chang's style is pretty interesting and brings you into the action, with close-ups of either people being hit or of people hitting. Lo Lieh, though not a trained martial artist, handles himself very well. Along with the other actors, he brings the fight sequences to life. The final fight with Okada (played by Chiu Hung) is especially fun to watch.

I usually joke by saying that Lo Lieh is my favorite non-actor. I don't say this to be mean, it's just a warm comment in honour of the man. In all honesty, he has a nice intensity in his eyes in this movie, and it's far better than his later roles, where he plays the typical evil (sometimes Mongolian) general, out to beat the good guy. He does a nice job being stoic, yet conveying all the desired emotions.

The emotions are all anchored in a very good story, with realistic relationships. With good acting and the nice, smooth direction of Mr. Cheng, nothing is forced, melodramatic or pointless. The movie glides through its plot easily, making the overall experience a very complete one. (I won't go into the idea that a Korean director making a movie in Hong Kong in the early 1970s having Japanese bad guys. You can read what you want in that, but I'll steer clear of it.) I've seen both 'Five Fingers of Death' and 'King Boxer', and I can honestly say 'King Boxer' is much better in every way, and is the only way to see the movie. The original track is a must when seeing this movie and the cuts completely destroy any sense of pacing. This is a great movie, but only if you watch it the way it's supposed to be watched.

Video

2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Like the other Dragon Dynasty releases, the picture is incredible. The colours are bright and accurate, with great separation. The contrast is very nice, and there's no banding. There's a little bit of edge enhancement and the picture also has some noise in a couple of scenes, but apart from that, the picture is great. The print is clean and clear, with no specks, scratches and no real signs of age. It looks way too good for a movie its age.

Audio

There are two audio tracks, both Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (Mandarin and English). It's a nice track, with the dialogue, effects and music being mixed very well. They're all clear and never interfere with each other. The track is also never screechy, except for the occasional scream, and though the range is nothing too big, the movie doesn't demand anything too big. It's an adequate track for the movie.
To help you out, there are English, English (hard of hearing) and Spanish subtitles.

Extras

This label continues is nice tradition of including extras. This DVD starts out with a pretty good audio commentary with filmmaker Quentin Tarantino and film critics/scholars David Chute and Elvis Mitchell. It has much more of a confident and authoritative tone than the 'My Young Auntie' track. This is mostly likely because 'King Boxer' had a far better penetration in the US. Of the three, Mr. Tarantino by far knows more than the other two people, so he talks a lot about, for example, director Chang Cheng-ho's other movies, in particular 'Broken Oath'. They also talk about the characters, the action and the plot. They point out some interesting points about the movie, such as the conventions that it either started or broke. It's a pretty good track, though not as informative as something by Bey Logan.

David Chute and Elvis Mitchell have bios if you wish to read them.

Next up is an Interview Gallery. The first is with director Cheng Chang-ho (5:12) Mr. Cheng talks about why he was chosen to do the movie, and how he prepared to do it (by reading lots of Chinese books). He says what he wanted to do to make the movie different, and what he did to achieve that look. For example, casting Lo Lieh, and using Fuller's Powder. It's a short, but nice, interview and it gives a nice look at how he directed the movie. After that, there's a talk with action director Lau Kar-wing (19:25). The longest interview, it's also the best one. I have to say, though, that the subtitles massacre the names this guy talks about, freely mixing Mandarin and Cantonese spellings, mixing family and given names, thereby confusing people who don't already know the people he mentions. Mr. Lau is very informative, talking about how he got his start in martial arts, moviemaking and how he got to be the 'King Boxer''s martial arts director. He then talks about the moviemaking process, the ways to improve the fights and how filmmaking differs today. It's quite informative and will be of great interest to fans of the movie. The last interview with film critics/scholars David Chute and Andy Klein (6:52) and they talk about the movie in terms of its American importance, being the first release in the US, and for its level of violence, for example. I don't like this US-centric view of the movie, but they soon move on and talk about the plot and the palm technique. They also talk about the way the movie changed shooting martial arts scenes.

After that, you've got a huge Trailer Gallery. There are four subsections. The first is King Boxer Trailers, with a New Home Video trailer (1:08), a Theatrical Trailer (with alternate title, 'Five Fingers of Death') (2:48) and an Alternate Opening Sequence (1:08), which is nothing more than the opening sequence for 'Five Fingers of Death'. The new trailer is by far the best. The alternate trailer is the dubbed and crappy 'Five Fingers of Death' trailer. the opening sequence is also from 'Five Fingers of Death' and the original opening sequence is far better.

You've got other trailers. The second subsection, Other Films from these Filmmakers, has trailers for 'Clan of the White Lotus' (3:36), 'Executioners from Shaolin' (3:55), 'Golden Swallow' (3:39), 'The Invincible Fist' (3:36), 'Killer Clans' (3:17) and 'The Magic Blade' (0:57). The next section is Shaw Bros. Currently Available, with 'One-Armed Swordsman' (4:02), 'The 36th Chamber of Shaolin' (3:53), 'My Young Auntie' (4:19) and 'The Shaw Bros. Collection' (1:34) while the last section, Dragon Dynasty Trailers, has 'Born to Fight' (1:43) and its insane stunts, the great sequel 'Infernal Affairs 2' (3:15) and Tsui Hark's 'Seven Swords' (1:56). Essentially, all the trailers showcase the movies' action sequences. The last thing is a Stills Gallery. There are some posters used for the original release as well as the cover for the Hong Kong release. You also see some nice black and white and colour stills that, presumably, were used for promotional purposes.

Overall

The Film: A- Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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