King Boxer on DVD

Sunday, 15 February 2009 09:18

Korean director Chang Chang Ho’s movie is one of the initial brace of martial arts films to be released on the new Dragon Dynasty label. Its partner is “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”, a review of which can be found here. “King Boxer” deserves a special mention not least because it was the first major kung fu film to take cinemas across the USA by storm, way back in March 1973 - six months before “Enter The Dragon” blew everyone away.

The movie charts the destiny of Chao Chih-hao (Lieh Lo), who when we first meet him is a pupil in a beginners’ school of kung fu. Chao’s master realises he must send his pupil away to a better school if he is to continue progressing, so Chao is despatched to train under Master Suen.

King Boxer DVDAt the same time, the region’s more advanced martial arts centres have their sights on an up-and-coming tournament. The school to whom the winner of the competition belongs will take charge of martial arts training in the area. This is a very prestigious prize, and one school in particular will stop at nothing to win it. Unlike Master Suen, the masters and students at Meng Tung-shan’s centre use their skills to evil ends, intimidating the local market folk and stealing from them, and also picking on weaker or isolated members of other schools.

The core of the movie concerns the tragic, bloody rivalry between the two kung fu schools, and the twists and turns of fate as one side, then the other get the upper hand, but at ultimately devastating cost. Master Suen tries desperately to concentrate on honourably preparing his fighters for the championship, but all the time Meng Tung-shan and his gang plot, provoke and cause an escalation in violence in a bid to undermine their main challengers to the title.

Chao Chih-hao is caught in the middle, and as his powers grow, he and his friends and family become the enemy camp’s primary target. If they can stop him taking part in the tournament, the battle will be over before it has begun. With this devious goal in mind, they hire three deadly assassins from Japan to take their opponents out of the game...

Before I had even looked into the special features on this DVD, the commentators’ labelling of the movie as one of the first modern kung fu epics had truly struck home. Whereas the fights and action in most other movies of the era often came across as flowing and dance-like in their choreography, the style and pace of the combat in “King Boxer” will be quite familiar to a modern audience. The battles are fast, bloody, and very convincing. Fists, feet and blades look like they’re being thrown and swung with intent, and when they make contact, you really believe it.

Whilst the character and plot development get ample time on-screen, there is rarely a break of more than five minutes before the next fight scene kicks in. It really is quite breath-taking! The director apparently used some new tricks to achieve this heightened, accelerated sense of reality, for example using trampolines instead of wires, and floors were dusted with powder that is puffed into the air to help sell the force of moments when opponents are thrown to the ground or pounded into a wall.

In contrast to the relatively ethical tone of “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”, here we get to see how martial arts can be abused and used to exploit and even kill in the pursuit of power. Even our hero is not above hitting back in anger, and seeking revenge for acts against him and his school. He is driven by darker feelings than Lui Yu-de in “36th Chamber”, and the film is more dramatically powerful as a result.

If you prefer your kung fu to be a bit more sedate and pensive, I recommend you give “36th Chamber” a go; alternatively, if you like your action to be blood-thirsty and darker in tone, “King Boxer” is definitely right for you!

The DVD includes an audio commentary featuring none-other than uber-fan Quentin Tarantino as well as kung fu movie experts, interviews with the director and the experts, trailers, a stills gallery and commentator biographies.

The DVD is released by Momentum Pictures’ Dragon Dynasty label on 23 March 2009, Certificate 18, RRP £12.99 – or less from  

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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