Arrow Video are about to release their Shawscope – Volume 1 Blu-ray box set with a collection of some of the finest action and martial arts films to come out of the Hong Kong studio. We will be reviewing these titles’ disc by disc.
The first film in this set is King Boxer, aka Five Fingers of Death starring Lo Lieh and directed by Chung Chang-wha which was the first kung fu movie to be released in the West to amazing box office.
Lo Lieh plays Chao Chih-Hao, a skilled kung fu student who lives a good life with of his master, and also he’s in love with the master’s daughter Ying-Ying (Wang Ping) hoping to marry her some day. However, when some thugs attack the village and the master finds himself too old to fight back, he insists Chao must learn different martial arts skills and sends him off to the school of famous master Suen Hsin-Pei (Fang Mian). To incentivise Chao, he says that if he learns enough to win the local martial arts tournament, he can have Ying-Ying’s hand in marriage. Things turn out bad when he is ambushed and defeated by the local gang, who have his hands smashed to teach him a lesson. But he does not give up and swears to learn the secrets of the iron palm. The scene is set for not only the fights at the tournament, but also revenge on the thugs who beat him and terrorise the local town.
The film was one of four films screened in London by Shaw Brothers in 1972 to jump ahead of the Bruce Lee films which were yet to be released in the West. This was chosen as the best one and opened in London to fantastic box office. Warner Brothers then picked it up for release in the USA and retitled it Five Fingers of Death (The original English title interestingly was Invincible Boxer). This started the kung fu movie craze which swept the world for the next few years.
The director Chung Chang Hwa was a Korean who had a successful career as a director in his native country and was asked by Run Run Shaw to join his company. He made a few films, including a successful swordplay epic called Valley of the Fangs. He was then asked to direct King Boxer, with a modest budget and a star who was mainly known for his co-starring roles, Lo Lieh. The director was very wise to have Lau Kar Wing choreograph the fight scenes as he knew his elder brother, the famous choreographer at Shaws Lau Kar Leung, would turn up to help his younger brother, which he did.
The film is also unusual for Shaw Brothers as it had an original score for most of its running time composed by Wu Ta Chiang who was conductor for the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. The famous sound, when Lo Lieh uses his iron palm technique, is taken from the USA TV series Ironside.
This was the last film the director made for Shaw’s, he had a running battle on his next film with producer Mona Fong who was known for cutting budgets very low and for not having any knowledge of the film making business. He left immediately to join Golden Harvest and ended up making some great films for them, including Skyhawk and Broken Oath.
This new Blu ray from the Arrow Video box Set Shawscope Volume 1 has a fabulous remastered image from a new 2K restoration. Colours are bold, blacks are solid, this has never looked any better. Audio gives you original DTS mono sound in original Mandarin language with English subtitles or the classic English dubbed track.
Extras are plentiful on this disc and include –
- Brand-new commentary by David Desser, co-editor of The Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema and The Cinema of Hong Kong
- Newly filmed appreciation by film critic and historian Tony Rayns. A brilliant look back with a little history of how the Shaw Brothers studio came to be and lots of fascinating facts and trivia about the film, the director and its stars.
- Interview with director Chung Chang-wha, filmed in 2003 and 2004 by Frédéric Ambroisine
- Interview with star Wang Ping, filmed in 2007 by Frédéric Ambroisine
- Interview with Korean cinema expert Cho Young-jung, author of Chung Chang-wha: Man of Action, filmed in 2005 by Frédéric Ambroisine
- Cinema Hong Kong: Kung Fu, the first in a three-part documentary on Shaw Brothers’ place within the martial arts genre produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003, featuring interviews with Jackie Chan, Jet Li, John Woo, Sammo Hung, Gordon Liu, Lau Kar-leung, Cheng Pei-pei, David Chiang and many others. Great documentary about the Kung fu movies and the stars and directors who made them.
- Alternate opening credits from the American version titled Five Fingers of Death
- Hong Kong, US and German theatrical trailers, plus US TV and radio spots
- Image gallery
This really is a great disc and fans of the film will be very pleased with not only the transfer but the great extras as well.
Disc 1 of the Shawscope Volume 1 box set from Arrow…….
FILM – 8.5 / PICTURE – 9 / AUDIO – 8 / EXTRAS – 10