King Boxer (1972)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-09-08
Summary: An artifact of 1972 that remains fresh
Seen now, “King Boxer” is full of clichés and stereotypes—but when it hit the western market in the early 1970s it was audaciously bold and groundbreaking. The intense and profitable reception from UK, US and other audiences marked the beginning of the Kung Fu craze in the 1970’s.
A rich story populated with very good and very bad characters—and some very, very bad Japanese. The corpses are piled higher than in the last act of “Hamlet”, there is more vengeance than “The Spanish Tragedy”, more perversions of family loyalty than in the Oresteian trilogy. Add some self-sacrifice, some redemption, a heavy dose of xenophobic racism, a hero almost too pure to be true and a villain (not even the main villain) who enjoys eyeball plucking and you have quite a movie.

Unlike many of its genre, the characters in “King Boxer”, when they are not head butting, eye gouging, lying in ambush or killing each other, act and react as if they were human beings—or at least believable movie types. Lo Lei as Ji Hoa is a kid from the country who knows nothing about the ways of the larger world. Since he is noble as well as clueless, he intervenes when Tung Lam and his thugs decide to abduct and rape Wong Gam Fung who plays the singer Yen Chu-hung. He makes short work of Tung but is no match for Yen who easily tricks him into riding with her and her band to provide continuing protection from bad guys. Ji Hoa is shocked when during the night he awakens of find Yen bedded down next to him since he simply didn’t think a woman would be capable of such a brazen act. Chiu Hung, who plays Okada, a hired Japanese fighter, is a perfectly formed psychopath. He humiliates, injures and kills people because he enjoys it—no further explanation is necessary, although his Japanese genes may have been enough explanation for the Chinese audience in 1972. Chiu stays in character throughout the film and never resorts to the over-the-top Grand Guignol ranting of many other Hong Kong villains.

Tin Fung is the ultra-evil Meng Tung Shan with lip-smacking glee. No brow is left unfurrowed, no dirty deed is left undone and no confederate is left undouble-crossed. Both of Ji’s Masters are murdered, Ji is ambushed and his hands beaten to a pulp and various minor characters are slaughtered almost whimsically as Tin’s plan progresses. Ji ultimately triumphs, since his hands not only heal very quickly but become so powerful that they glow bright red.

Much of the criticism that has been leveled at “King Boxer” is that it has all been done before—which, to an extent, is true. What sets this movie apart from other revenge dramas, though, are two things. One is that seldom, if ever, have all the technical and narrative aspects come together so well; the other is the fortuitous accident of timing that made this excellent movie the one that Warner Brothers decided to use as the icebreaker for martial arts movies into the mainstream of the west.

Highly recommended.
Reviewer Score: 8