King Boxer (Tian xia di yi quan) (1972)

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Released 14-Aug-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Martial Arts Audio Commentary-Quentin Tarantino, David Chute & Elvis Mitchell
Interviews-Cast-Director Jeong Chang-hwa
Interviews-Cast-Action Director Lau Kar-wing
More…-Interview with film scholars David Chute & Andy Klein
More…-Audio commentator biographies
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Trailer Gallery for other Dragon Dynasty releases
Gallery-Photo
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1972
Running Time 97:34
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jeong Chang-hwa
Studio
Distributor
Shaw Bros
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Lo Lieh
Wang Ping
Chiao Hsiung
Wang Chin-Feng
Fang Mien
Tien Feng
Nan Kung-hsun
Ku Wen-chung
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $24.95 Music Chen Yung-lung


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Spanish
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, but only the bad guys!
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     When aging martial arts master Sung Wu-yang (Ku Wen-chung) is attacked by thugs sent by rival school master Meng Tung-shun (Tien Feng) he realises his powers are waning and so decides to send his best pupil, Chao Chih-hao (Lo Lieh), to the school run by Sun Hsin-pei (Fang Mien) for additional training. Chih-hao does not want to go; he is in love with Sung’s daughter Ying-ying (Wang Ping) but he does as instructed. On the way to Sun’s school he rescues singer Yen Chu-hung (Wang Chin-feng) from Meng’s thugs. She becomes attracted to Chih-hao but he rejects her advances. Arriving at Sun’s school, Chih-hao’s skills are no match for Sun’s best fighter Han Lung (Nan Kung-hsun) and he is sent to perform menial tasks in the school’s kitchen until he proves his humility; only later is he allowed to improve his skills.

     The catalyst for this violence is an upcoming prestigious tournament to decide the best fighter in the Northern region and the best martial arts school, something Meng is determined his son Tien-hsiung will win. To intimidate and eliminate rivals, Meng hires fighter Chen Lang (Chin Chi-chu) and three Japanese swordsmen led by the deadly Okada (Chao Hsiung). When Chih-hao defeats Chen Lang he becomes Sun’s best fighter, and Sun decides to teach him the deadly Iron Palm technique. This, understandably, annoys Han who becomes jealous of Chih-hao. It also identifies Chih-hao as the most serious impediment to Meng’s school winning the tournament. Chih-hao is betrayed by Han and captured by Okada, his hands crushed so that he cannot fight again. He is nursed back to health by Yen, but his spirit is broken. Yen urges Chih-hao to give up the kung fu life, but a message from Ying-ying steels his resolve. As the tournament approaches, can Chih-hao recover his will to fight and his strength and seek revenge?

     King Boxer aka Five Fingers of Death aka Tian xia di yi quan is the film that, in dubbed form, launched the kung fu craze in the United States in the 1970s. Forty years on, it still feels fresh and alive, partly because the fights choreographed by Lau Kar-wing are still impressive and are supported by an ageless story about rival martial arts schools, honour, loyalty, love, betrayal and revenge. The film never quite goes where you think it will and while in other, later, derivative, films the tournament where the rivals face off is the climax, in King Boxer it is not the climax at all, but the start of a fabulous 15 minute sequence that, amid action aplenty, resolves all the plots and subplots in a brilliant, satisfactory way.

     Korean director Jeong Chang-hwa manages to bring an outsider’s touch to Hong Kong and is credited with introducing to the fight scenes of King Boxer fullers earth (to give off dust on impact) and accentuated sound effects to enhance the action, techniques honed later by such brilliant fight choreographers as Sammo Hung. The fight sequences of King Boxer are inventive and exciting and Lo Lieh gives an excellent, athletic, leading performance; if his dramatic acting lacks sparkle and genuine charisma, he is not alone there. In the rest of the cast, Chin Chi-chu as the conflicted fighter and Chao Hsiung as the deadly Japanese master are very good. Make no mistake: King Boxer is a genuine Shaw Brothers classic, still wonderfully entertaining 40 years after its release. No self respecting fan of martial arts or classic Hong Kong cinema can be without it.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     King Boxer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The IMDb gives the original ratio as 1.33:1. The original film was released in the usual Shaw Bros Shawscope ratio of 2.35:1 which this DVD release preserves. I suspect that the IMDb ratio is for the US dubbed theatrical release version 5 Fingers of Death. The alternative opening sequence for this version, included in the extras of the DVD, support this conclusion.

     The trailers included in the extra features show just how bad this film could have looked. Instead, we get a wonderfully clean, restored version that looks fantastic. Colours are deep and vibrant without being garish, and detail excellent. Blacks in some sequences can be a bit weak and shadow detail varies, but is generally good. The fight in the darkened room at the end is a good showcase for the print – it is not pristine but you can see what is going on. Occasionally the contrast and brightness varies, and some outdoor scenes look quite dark, others over lit, but this is not serious for a Hong Kong film of this vintage. In fact, I doubt if the print has ever looked better.

     I did not notice any film or film to video artefacts although motion blur does occur.

     The English subtitles are in a white font in American spelling. Otherwise, there is no obvious spelling or grammatical errors.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio is a choice between Mandarin Dolby Digital stereo, an English mono dub or the audio commentary, all recorded at 192 Kbps.

     In truth, all are mono tracks with all information in the centre speaker. The original audio for the film was mono, so we don’t miss out on anything because the Mandarin track is very good. Dialogue is clear and the audio accentuates the thud of punches and the swish of swords and kung fu hand and kicking moves. Some effects are excellent, such as the sound make by the Japanese wooden clogs, which serve to announce their presence before they arrive on screen. It is also a very clean track without hiss or distortion. The English dub sounds duller, and the English voice acting is as indifferent as usual.

     The original score is credited to Chen Yung-lung; not that there is much of an original score! As was common in Hong Kong films of the era, the music was from the archives, “borrowed” from non-Hong Kong films. Sometimes it sounds like a spaghetti western, with blaring trumpets, other times drums are used. King Boxer famously pinches Quincy Jones’ Ironside TV theme, using it when the hero’s Iron Palm is coming into play. The delicious irony, of course, is when Quentin Tarantino made his homage to Asian cinema, Kill Bill, he pinched the theme right back. The music overall? Cheesy and active, sometimes over the top and obtrusive, but it mostly mirrors the film which is also over the top on occasion..

     Lip synchronisation varied. As usual, no sound was captured on the set and the actors spoke their native language, and were later dubbed into Mandarin. For Mandarin speakers this worked fine, other actors are noticeably off sync. Still, this is what happened then, and it is not really distracting.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Audio Commentary

     David Chute, Elvis Mitchell and Quentin Tarantino have a heap of fun talking about the film; the music, its release by Warner Brothers to start the kung fu craze in the US, the influence of the film, the director and Lo Lieh. They are enthusiastic and between them have a wide knowledge of Hong Kong cinema. More a fan commentary, but certainly not boring.

Commentator Biographies

     One silent text screen each for David Chute and Elvis Mitchell.

Interview: Director Jeong Chang-Hwa (5:01)

     The director speaks in Korean with white subtitles. This contains a lot of film clips and very little information, although he does cover his ideas and his interpretation of martial arts.

Interview: Action Director Lau Kar-Wing (19:26)

     Lau Kar-Wing speaks in Chinese with white English subtitles. He is a humorous and engaging speaker. Although he does mention King Boxer this interview is more about his background and ideas he uses working as an action director. Well worth a listen.

Interview: Film Critic/Scholars David Chute & Andy Klein (6:36)

     Interviewed separately, they cover the influence of King Boxer, the music, martial arts techniques on show and the director Jeong Chang-Hwa’s innovations on this film.

Stills Gallery

     53 black and white and colour poster art and movie stills.

Trailer Gallery

     Includes King Boxer Home video trailer (1:06) in good condition, and the Theatrical Trailer (2:42), which is in fact the trailer for the English dubbed version released in the US under the title 5 Fingers of Death; it is in poor condition showing just how bad the film must have looked before restoration. Also included is the alternative opening credit sequence for the dubbed 5 Fingers of Death.

Shaw Bros. Trailers

     These are the original theatrical trailers for the Shaw Bros films now released by Dragon Dynasty. They are in poor condition, faded and with numerous scratches and artefacts but are great archival materials. Included are: One-Armed Swordsman (3:54), The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (3:45) and My Young Auntie (4:12). Also included is a montage totalling 1.31 minutes of available Dragon Dynasty DVD releases, One Armed Swordsman, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, King Boxer and My Young Auntie. Good condition.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region 1 US version is identical to this Region 4 Release in specifications (the Region 1 is also PAL) and extras. Buy the local release.

Summary

     King Boxer is a genuine Shaw Brothers classic, still wonderfully entertaining 40 years after its release. No fan of martial arts or classic Hong Kong cinema can be without it. With the excellent video and audio and a nice range of extras, the same as available in the US, there can be no excuse. Just buy it.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Monday, March 14, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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