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Category:    Home > Reviews > Martial Arts Cycle > King Boxer (1972/aka Five Fingers Of Death) + The One-Armed Swordsman (1967/Dragon Dynasty)

King Boxer (1972/aka Five Fingers Of Death) + The One-Armed Swordsman (1967/Dragon Dynasty)


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: B/C+     Film: B/C+



Two of the most important of all Shaw Brothers Martial Arts films, King Boxer (1972/aka Five Fingers Of Death) + The One-Armed Swordsman (1967) are very key.  The former launched the Martial Arts Cycle in the United States and the later helped launch a subgenre of such films where the protagonist is (like Zatoichi) seemingly disabled.  They are being released at the same time as The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin and My Young Auntie separately by Dragon Dynasty/Genius Entertainment and you can read about those two at the following link:





Boxer holds up incredibly well with some of the best fighting in the genre.  The story is better than most in the genre, the camerawork exceptional and the fighting sequences some of the best in martial arts cinema history.  The tale of two men fighting to win a national tournament was told before, but was always phony, stale, too documentary like and even stillborn.  Chang Chang Ho (aka Chang-Hwa Jeong) took the material, made it follow like an intense fight, even when there was no fighting, and created a classic.


Yes, there are people flying in the air, but it does not have phony on-wires look that the current cycle usually had.  When the group fighting takes place, it does not look rehearsed, badly timed or like a bad series of dancers taking turns.  It is raw, still ahead of its time and a gold standard for all such films that most of them miserably fail to live up to.  The violence can be stylized, but can also be surprisingly graphic for its time.  The later imitators exchanged realism for formula slickness that was more interested in being hip than real, smart or entertaining.


Swordsman is key as noted and has its moments, but does not hold up as well, but is as important as the other three releases (picked by Quentin Tarantino himself) and is an original.  The typical “wiseguy Freudian connection” made about the disabled protagonist doing Martial Arts is about “castration” and you then hear a stream of foolishness by said person who usually does not like film or even know much about psychology.  The real reason for the success of such films is the audience identifying with the lead and the “disability” becomes incidental, expressed by the fact they surprise all by being able to fight.  During the counterculture period such films arrived, they certainly hit a chord.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on both films look good, upgraded from the original camera materials for the most part and showing much improved color and depth.  Detail is also improved, but it is going to take HD to bring out the best of these ShawScope films.  Yuan Chen San and Kwan Han-Le shot Swordsman with atmosphere and some memorable moments, while Wang Yung Lung went all out on Boxer in a way that reminds one of the groundbreaking work Sergio Leone and Tonino Delli Colli did on their famous Spaghetti Westerns.  Compositions, choreography and set-ups are exceptional, with all kinds of visual surprises that even broke ground for the Action genre overall.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound on both films are fine for their age, dubbing or original sound, though they show their limited fidelity.


Extras on both editions include commentator biographies, stills, trailers and on camera interviews with David Chute and Andy Klein.  Swordsman also offers an interview with Jimmy Wang Yu and a decent feature length audio commentary by Chute and Klein.  Boxer brings back Chute for another audio commentary, this time joined by critic Elvis Mitchell and Quentin Tarantino, who was supposed to be on both according to the back of the Swordsman box but is not.  That disc also has an on camera interview with the director and action director Lau Kar-Wing.


Needless to say King Boxer/Five Fingers Of Death is the biggest must-see of all the Dragon Dynasty films we have covered, which is beyond the latest four.  In addition, we have other Martial Arts reviews including one of the many One-Armed Swordsman films, this one with Zatoichi at this link:





Plus, those who can’t wait for these films to come to an HD format can check out the HD-DVD for the Bruce Lee classic Enter The Dragon at this link for our review:





Let’s hope Dragon Dynasty gets to issue more Shaw Brothers classics and we find some hidden martial arts gems too.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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