AKA: Spiritual Fists
Director: Chang Cheh
Producer: Sir Run Run Shaw
Cast: Alexander Fu Sheng, Jenny Tseng, Chi Kuan Chun, Johnny Wang, Li Lihua, Leung Kar Yan, Richard Harrison, Bruce Tong, Hu Chin, Alexander Grand, Au Lap Bo, Chan Dik Hak, Chan Sam Lam
Running Time: 137 min.
By Mighty Peking Man
Let’s kick off with some bold statements: Boxer Rebellion is one of the most extravagant Shaw Brothers flicks I’ve ever seen. It has a strong budget and is polished with an international cast. It features some of the finest martial arts choreography of the time (compliments of Liu Chia-Liang); as well as outstanding performances by its lead cast (Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan Chun, Liang Chia-Jen and Wang Lung-Wei).
But truthfully, I’d rather watch Masked Avengers over this any day.
I haven’t seen all of Chang Cheh’s “let’s seriously base this on an historic event” movies, but let me tell you, the guy shines a lot more when he’s making brainless ultra-violent action flicks like Five Element Ninjas and One-Armed Swordsman.
I personally don’t think Chang Cheh and factual scenarios mix. At some instances, Boxer Rebellion is a serious piece of historic drama. Other times, it’s a badass kung fu flick in the vein of a Venoms movie. In the end, we end up with a half-assed true story (with many inaccuracies) smothered with Saturday afternoon Black Belt Theater action. I mean, imagine if Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket had ninjas in it or something? Where I’m getting at is there aren’t enough gray areas, just a sloppy mix of black and white. Make either a no-nonsense, high budget period movie or or a straight up kung fu tale. Don’t try to cram both into one package.
Boxer Rebellion is a very Americanized production. They definitely didn’t skimp out when it came to extras (of all races), set designs and locations. Even the soundtrack (which I’ll assume is the original) sounds like some kind of American TV show from the 70’s. Richard Harrison – an Italian film star who made dozens of films in the 60’s and 70’s, including Chang Cheh’s Marco Polo; as well as unintentionally starring in a string of goofy Ninja movies for Godfrey Ho and Joseph Lai – has a chunky cameo as an American officer who tries to take on Alexander Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan Chun (take a guess who wins?).
All bullshit aside, Boxer Rebellion isn’t bad, but it does take a while to build up into something we’d expect from a Chang Cheh film. The final third of the movie is what packs the most punch (mind you, this is a very LONG movie). The action is brutal, entertaining and bloody remarkable (no pun intended). As with most Chang Cheh films, don’t expect a 100% happy ending. Heck, a lot of the movie has kung fu guys vs. men with rifles, so use your imagination.
Now, excuse me while I pop in Crippled Avengers.
Mighty Peking Man’s Rating: 7/10