King Boxer | aka 5 Fingers of Death (1972) Review

"King Boxer" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“King Boxer” Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Invincible Boxer, Iron Palm
Director: Jeong Chang Hwa
Producer: Run Run Shaw
Writer: Lo Lieh, James Nam, Yang Chiang
Cast: Lo Lieh, Tung Lam, James Nam Gung Fan, Fang Mien, Wong Chin Feng, Wong Ping, Tien Feng, Chiu Hung, Goo Man Chung, Chan Shen, Chan Chuen, Yen Shi Kwan
Running Time: 102 min.

By Joe909

I love, but I’ve noticed there’s just a widespread disrespect for old-school martial arts movies on this site. Spoiled by “New Wave” slickness and stuntman Jackie Chan’s crazy shenaningans, the modern-day, young HK film devotee totally ignores the movies that started the kung fu craze. Persons like myself ? – too young to remember when these films were brand new, played in drive-in theaters across the country, yet old enough to remember Kung Fu Theater, Black Belt Theater, and a time when kung-fu videos were impossibly hard to find? I still respect these movies, regardless. To tell the truth, I’d rather watch Lo Lieh smash someone’s face in any day, rather than fifty minutes of foolishness wrapped around Jackie Chan doing some wacky stunt.

The disrespect for old-school flicks on this site is no more apparent than on this very page. Two reviews for Five Fingers of Death, both of them negative. Reportedly, the movie is slow-paced. The kung-fu on display is subpar. Lo Lieh isn’t a charismatic lead. The story is too simple and cliched. And so on.

Okay, let me ask this: how can a movie with not one, but two eye gougings (complete with the perpetrator holding the bloody eyeballs in his fist before tossing them to the ground), a severed head thrown hatefully at an opponent, multiple bloody deaths, sword slashings, impalements, and glowing red palms of death be slow moving?

Another criticism is that the story is cliched. Today it is. But when Five Fingers of Death was new, the story was most likely fresh. But now, decades later, after being inundaded with countless movies about a good school versus a bad school, it seems that Five Fingers is just a rehash.

Even though the story is familiar, Five Fingers is unique in that it gives us more of a ensemble piece, whereas Fist of Fury, which had much the same story, was a solo vehicle all the way. That’s one mark for freshness. Another is that it doesn’t revert into the “hate the Japs” vibe of similar flicks. And another is that there isn’t just one character looking for blood in the movie; everyone basically wants revenge.

The violence in this movie is hardcore and realistic. When someone gets stabbed, there’s blood everywhere. The villains are menacing. The three evil Japanese blow away those depicted in Fist of Fury. Two of them wear fright wigs that obscure their features, making them look like heartless monsters. The boss looks sort of like an uglier Lo Lieh (impossible?) and really doesn’t mind getting blood on his hands. There’s also a Chinese villain (who later has a change of heart) who favors slamming his forehead into people. Most of the cast will be familiar to those who have seen The Chinese Boxer, a 1969 Shaw Brothers joint that starred Jimmy Wang Yu, with Lo Lieh as a villain.

So in short, if you want an old-school film that doesn’t skimp on the violence and mayhem, then Five Fingers of Death is for you. The music isn’t bad, and I love the “siren” effect that goes off every time Lo Lieh displays his Iron Fist technique.

Sure, this isn’t the greatest kung-fu flick of all time, but it is an important one: this was the first kung-fu movie released in the US. Without its genuine success over here, who knows when, or if, successive films, such as Bruce Lee’s and Jackie Chan’s, would have ever gained such widespread acceptance and popularity. Respect is due.

Joe909’s Rating: 7/10

By Numskull

If nothing else, this film proves that kung fu films did not die along with Bruce Lee, contrary to what his more simple-minded fans may “think”. It holds up fairly well, considering its age, and the perfectly serviceable plot contains a few elements which may be old now but had not yet been beaten to death when it was made.

The late Lo Lieh (who also co-wrote) plays Chao Chi-Hao, a martial artist of moderate but far from outstanding skill. He goes to hone his skills with a renowned instructor and hopes to compete in a prestigious tournament. Unfortunately there’s this real asshole in town who uses hired thugs, Japanese swordsmen, and his eye-poking shithead of a son to make life difficult for any potential competition for his school in the tournament. Also, one of Chi-Hao’s fellow students gets insanely jealous when Chi-Hao learns their master’s secret iron fist technique and becomes the object of a female minstrel’s affections. Ergo, Chi-Hao must overcome all sorts of difficulties to realize his full potential, win the tournament, and save the day all without making too much of a jackass of himself. After a handful of short, mostly one-sided fights, tournament day arrives and numerous asses are kicked.

The version I watched was the EPI DVD…dubbed only (as with many, MANY old school martial arts movies), but a far better presentation than the muddy pan and scan backwash flooding the shelves. A pretty decent treatment for a pretty decent film.

Numskull’s Rating: 6/10

By Tgushiniere

The Five Fingers of Death, dubbed and presented to Western audiences circa 1972-73, started off the martial arts movie craze of the seventies! For me, this qualifies it as an instant classic. Korean director Cheng Chang Ho was at his best working with early Shaw Brothers star Lo Lieh. Cheng used varied camera angles that almost gave a type of 3D effect. He also had dust spread on the hard floors, so when actors hit it, you could feel the impact through the dust rising in the air. At the time, these innovative techniques made this one better than the average chop-socky flicks that would soon flood the American market.

Enter Chao Chih-Hao (Lo Lieh), a strong student with great potential. Chao Chih-Hao’s master conspires with another great master to train him in order to win a very prestigious tournament. Naturally, veteran Shaw actor Feng Tien wants his own son to win the tournament, and does every thing in his power to make it so. On his way to his new school, Chao Chih-Hao saves the life of a pretty singer named Sun Hsin-Pei (Mien Fang). Sun Hsin-Pei falls in love with Chao, not knowing he’s in love with his old master’s daughter Ying Ying (Wang Ping), thus creating a romantic triangle. The plot soon heats up as Chao Chih-Hao reaches his destination and begins training.

Jealous number one student (Korean actor James Nam) seems to always nit pick at our hero. However, Nam fails to stop the villain’s hench man, as he is pummeled by the bad guy using his head! The master steps in to save the day, but is seriously injured by a tricky head shot. Chao Chih-Hao seeks revenge at the local tavern and defeats the bad guy. Here we see his growth as a fighter. After a scolding the master gives our hero for breaking school rules, he is entrusted with the iron fist training manual, guaranteed to come with glowing red hands, along with the theme from the 70’s television show “Ironside.” The villains get wind of this and three vicious Japanese villains are hired to stop Chao Chih-Hao and any others from winning the tournament. Does our hero prevail? Which beautiful girl does he choose? Will he learn the iron fist technique?

Amidst a plot line full of betrayal, loyalty, love, and redemption; Lo Lieh triumphs in grand fashion. The action, especially for its time, is decent. As the film goes along you get to see plenty of cruel acts, including eye gouging, hand smashing, a head without a body, and some noble self sacrifice. Old school lovers will know a classic when they see it, but for all the jaded lovers of fast precision martial arts with tons of CGI and updated special effects, give this one a try. Watch a good, story driven kung fu movie that gets more viscious as it unfolds!

Tgushiniere’s Rating: 10/10

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About T. J. Gushiniere

Former Military Police Sergeant, and currently a civillian police officer. Hobbies include viewing and collecting martial arts films. Reading fantasy/sci-fi novels and trying to stay fit. Boring but " I am the law! "
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6 Responses to King Boxer | aka 5 Fingers of Death (1972) Review

  1. T. J. Gushiniere says:

    Hello Perkele! For me as a kid in the seventies, this was one of the best Kung Fu flicks this side of sliced bread! I am biased since i saw this one at an impressionable age with a child’s sense of wonder in a Chicago theatre ( balcony seats!). I first saw this in 1973, the proprietors did not care how old we were, they just wanted our hard earned $ 1.25 and that second $1.50 for popcorn and drink! For it’s time and entry into the West, this will always be a Classic for lovers of Old School like me and a 10/10!

  2. JJ Hatfield says:

    Tgushiniere – Hey there! Damn it’s good to see you make the transition to writing reviews again!
    You have a treasure trove of knowledge and experience that will truly benefit COF, as well as entertain. 🙂
    Good review. I haven’t seen this movie in so long I may have to dig out the VHS.

    Good to see you here!


    • I agree! It’s also great to see that he likes old school stuff as much as me. Sometimes as I’m watching a Bruceploitation flick, I think to myself: “Out of the millions of people on earth, I’m probably the ONLY guy on earth watching this movie”

  3. JJ Hatfield says:

    I wouldn’t take that bet! Tgushiniere has quite the collection of older films and Bruce flicks. He is a good guy and still talks to me even though >>>looks around to see if anyone can hear>>>>>>
    I do not care for Bruce Lee all that much 🙂

    runs for cover after hardcore Bruce Lee fans start throwing things at me…………………….

    • T. J. Gushiniere says:

      Thats okay, we both like Tony Jaa JJ, and thanks for the compliments. I’m slowly trying to review again. MPM, my favorite LEE impersonator is Bruce Li. Yes, I saw some of his best work at the movies compliments of a big sister, and older cousins!

      • I think when you use the words “best”, “Bruce Lee”, and “Impersonator” the next words better be “Bruce Li”…. lol

        Actually, the guy in Tower of Death/Game of Death isn’t too bad either! And Sammo Hung (Enter the Fat Dragon) makes an EXCELLENT impersonator!

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