Director Lau Kar Leung made his Shaw Brothers directorial debut with The Spiritual Boxer, starring Wong Yu, Lin Chen Chi and Li Hoi Sang.
The film concerns the trials of a travelling con man who along with his master shows off invincible feats of kung fu but what are really just trick and cons to make money out of the unsuspecting public. But in the end, they have to team up and save a town from two notorious and murdering bandits.
This was a big departure for Lau Kar Leung as the films he choreographed before for directors such as Chang Cheh were much more bloody and serious in tone. This has been described as the first-ever Kung fu comedy, and you can see why it was obviously a big influence on the blockbuster hits of later years from Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung.
Wong Yu although a good martial artist and acrobat does not really have the on-screen charisma to carry the film and as the comedy is much more emphasised it tends to make the pace a bit slow in places. The action when it does surface is as expected excellently choreographed especially the end battle where his master, under the influence of too much drink guides his student to victory, very reminiscent of the finale of Drunken Master made just 3 years later.
Look out for great cameos at the beginning of the film by Ti Lung and Chen Kuan Tai. The film was a big hit on release and a sequel was made in 1979 and had more emphasis on ghosts and comedy rather than action.
The Blu ray release by 88 Films has a very good HD picture, a bit soft in places but far superior to the previous UK or Hong Kong DVD releases. The sound is original mono and sounds just fine, you have the option of original Mandarin with English subtitles or English dubbed track. Extras are just an Audio commentary by David West which is very informative and well worth a listen. The reversible sleeve is a nice touch also.
Not Lau Kar Leung’s best film by a long shot but worth adding to your Shaw Brothers collection.
The Blu Ray is locked to Region B.
FILM: 6 PICTURE: 8 AUDIO: 7 EXTRAS: 6