Issue #253          HOME          Contact Us        BACK ISSUES           February 28th, 2005

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King Boxer
(1972, Shaw Brothers)

Cantonese: Tin ha dai yat kuen
Mandarin: Tian xia di yi quan
English: Number One Fist Under Heaven
Alternate English Title: Five Fingers of Death


RATING: 7/10


Urged by his elderly master (Ku Man-chung) to enhance his skills by training at a new school, handsome fighter Chao Chih-hao (Lo Lieh) finds his new regimen to be nothing more than menial labor. However, after one year’s worth of such strenuous chores, he is allowed to join the rest of the students in the practice hall and displays considerable skills. The school will be participating in an upcoming tournament and the master determines that it is Chih-hao who possesses the most advanced abilities and the strongest moral character. Thus, it is he who will be their representative. Meanwhile, another local school (led by Tien Feng) plans on winning the tournament through whatever means, leading to deception and violent slaughter. Chih-hao is given the honor of learning the all-powerful Iron Palm style, but an act of treachery leads to a severe injury and what would seem to be the end of his days as a kung fu man.

Lo Lieh Ku Wen-chung (left), Wang Ping Tien Feng

This Cheng Chang-ho effort was probably not considered to be an especially noteworthy production by Shaw Brothers while it was before the cameras, but it certainly became one upon release in the West. Acquired by Warner Brothers for a pittance, the movie was re-christened FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH for its U.S. run. Released in the spring of 1973, it grossed millions and launched the kung fu craze in America, with studios (major and minor) scrambling to buy virtually every martial arts movie they could get their hands on.

Lo Lieh Chan Shen Lo Lieh

So, how does KING BOXER hold up after three decades? As can be seen from the synopsis, the story is built around the usual components (plus the second act introduction of three Japanese killers brought in by the evil school to vanquish the opposition), but this is to be expected. The kung fu is what made this picture a worldwide success and does not disappoint. Lau Kar-wing and Chen Chuen’s choreography is wonderfully fluid and the editing particularly sharp: the action is fast, tough, and easy to follow. It is also "in-your-face" almost in a literal sense, as fighters and weapons sometimes lunge toward the camera in the style of a 3-D movie. The exaggerated trampoline-enhanced leaps are one facet of the genre that would be utilized less in later years, though it still works here on a kinetic level (combatants jump high and then strike at each other in mid-air, with the loser landing hard). Significant moments are punctuated quite beautifully by an excerpt from Quincy Jones’ IRONSIDE theme (re-used so memorably in the KILL BILL films) and Lo Lieh exudes quiet charisma while the villains grimace and try to goad him into fighting with them via the usual taunting. Second-billed Wang Ping has a thankless supporting role as Chih-hao’s distressed love, while the other players include Fong Min, Chiu Hung, Chan Shen, and Bolo Yeung.


The image looks excellent throughout, and while Celestial has resisted the temptation to track in new music, the enhanced foley FX can be pretty distracting. Itís not a good mix, but itís tolerable; the music has solid presence and the dialogue track is never muffled. The original trailer is not provided, but we do get a collection of storyboards (juxtaposed with their counterparts from the finished film), along the familiar Celestial extras. Note that even with the PAL conversion factored in, this version still runs about four minutes shorter than the English dubbed edition released on tape in the U.S. and Canada by Southgate Entertainment in 1990. That transfer was likely the source for the various bootleg DVDs that have appeared during the past few years.

Reader Marin Spanic kindly wrote in with the following update, which explains a lot in regards to Celestial's running times.


Just read your excellent review and wanted to add a little info about the shorter runtime. I wanted to try this out, why the movie is so much shorter - the hard way. I dubbed the English audio of the DVD to the Celestial DVD and the result is as follows:

After almost EVERY shot of the movie, the beginning of the next shot is CUT by Celestial. So 400ms up to 1600ms are cut from almost every shot-change. If accounted to the whole movie, this can make a huge difference in runtime. When you compare the old US version to the new Celestial release, you can spot lots of bad damage at shot-changes. Instead of cleaning them up, Celestial just cut them out. I dislike this very much, but they seem to be overdoing it with their insane schedule and have to cut corners somehow...

[John: Either that, or they are shortening the films in order for them to better fit timeslots on their cable network.]

...but no scene is cut or even appears to be cut - a pretty good achievement when doing such a ridiculous thing. This accounts to most of the releases from Celestial, hence the very short-running BATTLE WIZARD or CHINESE BOXER. So I can confirm that KING BOXER is "uncut" on Celestial, but has LOTS of frames missing for the whole runtime...

Best Regards...

This DVD is available at:

Images in this review courtesy of Intercontinental Video Ltd. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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DVD Specifications

  • Hong Kong Release
  • NTSC Ė Region 3 Only
  • Intercontinental Video Ltd. #103926
  • Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Post-synced Mandarin Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English, Traditional Chinese
  • 12 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (2.35:1)
  • 97 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Australia: M 15+
  • Finland: BANNED
  • Great Britain: 18 (cut)
  • Manitoba: PG
  • Nova Scotia: 18
  • Ontario: PG (cut)/AA (uncut)
  • Quebec: 13+ (cut)
  • United States: R (cut)
  • Contains brutal violence and some coarse language


  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful