Jimmy Wang Yu in the late 1960s became a movie superstar with his swordplay epics, especially with the classic One-Armed Swordsman which was the first to make over one million at the HK box office. In 1970 he decided to make a film about Chinese Martial Arts after people were saying that the cinema in Hong Kong was trying to copy the Japanese too much.
The Chinese Boxer is the first modern real Kung Fu Movie (not counting the many Wong Fei Hung films starring Kwan Tak Hing in the ’50s and ’60s), it follows Wang Yu as Lei Ming a top student at the Chung Yi school who witnesses a bitter old student who returns to challenge them after learning Japanese martial arts. After being defeated by the schools teacher he goes away and later returns with three Japanese Karate masters who proceed to kill everyone in the school. But unknown to them Lei Ming survived and after training in the Iron Palm technique, dons a mask and sets out on a mission of bloody revenge.
Very well directed by Wang Yu himself, the plot follows the now cliche revenge story and while Wang Yu and others are clearly not true martial artists, the fights are exciting and very bloody. The best of these is a battle with some Samurai in the long grass and snow which is wonderfully shot and edited. Lo Lieh in a dodgy wig is the leader of the Japanese gang and its great to see so many other familiar faces in the film before they went on to greater things such as Chen Sing, Chen Kuan Tai and Yuen Woo Ping.
This film certainly opened the doors for people such as Bruce Lee to come back to Hong Kong to make Kung fu movies, which then started the craze throughout the 1970s. Wang Yu was never going to match Lee in empty hand combat on screen and his best work will always be with a sword in hand or battling with one arm, but he certainly had on-screen charisma, especially as a brooding anti-hero.
While obviously not a patch on later martial arts classics, especially when it comes to the choreography, The Chinese Boxer is worth watching for its historical importance and is a great directorial and acting effort from Jimmy Wang Yu.
FILM – 6 OUT OF 10