Also known as: King Boxer, Tiān xià dì yī quán, lit. Number One Fist in the World (Hong Kong)
Release Date: April 28th, 1972 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Jeong Chang-hwa
Written by: Chiang Yang
Music by: Chen Yung-yu
Cast: Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Wang Chin-feng, Bolo Yeung
Shaw Brothers Studio, 97 Minutes
Five Fingers of Death (or King Boxer, as it’s also known) is a stupendous martial arts film from Hong Kong. It came out just before Bruce Lee helped the genre explode internationally. It may be less popular than the pictures of Lee or Jackie Chan but it is absolutely amazing and I rank it above the majority of Lee and Chan’s work.
The film stars Lo Lieh. While he never became an international superstar like Lee or Chan, he was in a ton of films and worked hard to give great performances on screen. He may not have been as accomplished as those two bigger stars, as far as his fighting abilities, showmanship and charisma but he could still hold his own and was better than most.
The film follows Lieh’s Chao Chih-Hao. He leaves his first teacher to train under a more advanced instructor. While at the new school, he becomes caught up in its rivalry with a local tyrant and his lethal henchmen. Over the course of the film, Chih-Hao impresses his new teacher enough to be given the secret of the Iron Fist technique. Everything comes to a head in a tournament but the film goes beyond the traditional climax, as things continue beyond that.
The film has a lot of intertwined characters and stories but it does a good job of managing it all and giving us a non-traditional plot structure. Just now revisiting it for the first time in years, I’m pretty sure that The Karate Kid, the original one, took the bulk of its story from Five Fingers of Death. Seriously, the more I think about it, the more connections I make between the two films. Except people didn’t get murdered or have their eyeballs ripped out in The Karate Kid.
The fight choreography is really good. The cinematography is also really solid. I have always enjoyed the scenes where Chih-Hao channels the Iron Fist power and the filmmakers use hot red lights to highlight his hands.
Five Fingers of Death has also held up really well, especially in comparison to other Hong Kong kung fu movies. It feels like a top notch production with superior camera work, lighting and a very pristine look.