Director: Chang-hwa Jeong
Weinstein Company/Dragon Dynasty

In the same year of Bruce Lee's untimely death, Warner Bros. theatrically released this Shaw Brothers martial arts epic in the United States. Known primarily as the first film of this sort to be widely distributed in this country, KING BOXER, better known as FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH, is the historically significant production helped define the Kung Fu craze of the 1970s.

Exercising themes procured in many American and Italian westerns, the story concerns a young Chinese boxer Chao Chi-Hao (Lo Liegh) and his duration at a respected school to improve his fighting techniques. During his term, he is toughened up by an old master, making him stronger and more skillful. He is later double-crossed by a jealous rival, and has his hands bloodied up and broken by a gang of thugs. Their attempt to diminish his "iron fist" backfires when he recuperates just in time for the big tournament.

KING BOXER is certainly not the best martial arts film ever made, but it is above average and very influential and extremely well made. The plotline of a young hero fighting enemies while making his way to the big event is standard stuff, but it's padded out with all the right elements. There's lots of graphic violence; eyes are poked out and dropped to the floor (this never happened when The Three Stooges did it!), foreheads are split open, blood sprays like a shaken beer can, and there's even a decapitated head swerved around for good measure. Add an endless series of well-orchestrated fights, decent acting, impromptu musical numbers, typical dubbing (in the U.S. release version) and attractive period setpieces, and you have a kung fu classic. But perhaps there's four or five main characters too many and it runs a few minutes longer than it should (though in all fairness, the mult-leveled climax is pretty exciting stuff). The excellent soundtrack music has been lifted from other sources, most notably a screeching crescendo from TV’s “Ironside” theme (which Quentin Tarantino would later use for his “Kill Bill” epics), heard mostly when our hero is about to indulge in intense combat. KING BOXER is made up of the stuff that made Shaw Brothers the Hammer Films of over-the-top chop socky flicks!

Previously available from Steeplechase under the FIVE FINGERS title and carrying a pretty horrid transfer, The Weinstein Company is now presenting the film in a gorgeous uncut transfer under its “Dragon Dynasty” DVD line. Here, it’s seen in its original 2.35:1 ShawScope ratio with anamorphic enhancement, and looks spectacular. Colors are breathtaking and detail is sharp as can be, bringing a 3-D like intensity to the proceedings. The transfer is extremely clean, with nada a blemish in sight, making this one of the best-looking U.S. presentations of a Shaw Bros oldie to date. Audio options include the original Mandarin language and of course the English-dubbed track that many of us know and love. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are also included.

The disc includes an array of welcomed extras. There’s a full audio commentary with director and kung fu movie fanatic Quentin Tarantino (a driving force behind the “Dragon Dynasty” DVD line), Asian film expert David Chute and film critic Elvis Mitchell. The commentary is enjoyable, as all three know a great deal about kung fu movies; Tarantino and Mitchell share their experiences seeing the film in the theater (along with the audience reaction to it) and discuss its U.S. distribution, while Chute takes a scholarly angle in his observations. There are three featurettes: a brief one with director Jeong (it’s hard to believe he’s close to 80!); a longer one (nearly 20 minutes) with the film’s choreographer, Chia-Liang; and another brief one with Chute and film scholar Andy Klein, both who give good American perspectives of the film. Other extras include a new promotional trailer for the film, a dupey-looking U.S. trailer for the original Warner theatrical release, the alternate U.S. credit sequence, a nice still gallery, brief bios on Mitchell and Chute and promotional trailers for a number of other Shaw films (including the simultaneous Weinstein Group DVD releases of THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN and MY YOUNG AUNTIE). Long-time fans of this film will surely want to run out and get this disc – those looking for an introduction to the old school Martial Arts genre, well, here it is! (George R. Reis)