The Chinese Boxer (HK 1970)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/30/00
Written And Directed By: Jimmy Wang Yu
Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh

An early Shaw Brothers classic. Several years before Bruce Lee, Jimmy Wang Yu defined the kung fu movie genre with his "One Armed Swordsman" (1967), and refined it even further with this ground breaking film. Generally sited as the first kung fu movie to focus on individual styles of hand to hand combat, the primary conflict is between a Chinese boxer (Wang Yu) and a group of villainous Japanese thugs. A man comes to town and stirs up trouble at the local boxing school. When he is defeated by the master, he swears that he'll come back with a group of karate experts from Japan. When he does, the Chinese fighters are no match for them, and everyone is killed except for Wang Yu who was injured and left for dead. Then begins the long road to vengeance as Wang introduces the audience to the cinematic construct of "the rigorous training ordeal." After training with weights and thrusting his hands into hot coals, he's ready to face the villains who have taken over the village and rule it with an iron fist. After taking on countless flunkies, he finally works his way up to duelling with Lo Lieh, the Japanese karate master. He barely wins the fight and stumbles off camera as the credits roll.

An excellently crafted film that seems shockingly violent for its age. Blood erupts from bodies, eyes are gouged, heads are cut off, and women are raped by cackling villains. The only place the film falls a little short is in some of the martial arts execution. He's great against a crowd, but when he's one on one, Wang Yu's limited martial arts skills look a bit sloppy and restrained. Fortunately he makes up for this shortcoming with his dramatic intensity, but he would be no match against the more graceful and stylistic fighters that followed in his footsteps. A fascinating slice of Hong Kong film history, and definitely worth checking out if you're a kung fu buff.