Sunday, January 27, 2013

Five Fingers of Death (aka "King Boxer" aka Tian Xia Di Yi Quan) 1972

Directed by Chang-hwa Jeong. This is one of the greatest martial arts films ever made and a must-see for anybody with an interest in the genre even though one of the most available DVD editions out there brags on the package "105 Minutes of Non-Stop Action" and fortunately this is a ridiculous lie. The two best things about "King Boxer" are that, first, the non-action sequences effectively increase anticipation for the fights, and two, they are hilarious.

First of all, here's what it's about: "The Karate Kid." Not exactly, but kinda. Earnest martial arts student and decent sensei are bullied by rival martial arts school/terrorist organization intensifying to a big tournament. Amid all this, a little something for the ladies: romantic sub-plot. Two women vie for the attention of our hero, Chao Chih-Hao. One would be the proverbial girl next door if she hadn't grown up in the same house as him, the other is a singer of the weirdest songs ever.

I have so many favorite parts of this movie, it's nuts. First and foremost there are the brutal beatings. One guy only kills people with his forehead. Two henchman with shaggy haircuts are clearly the inspiration for a legacy of similar characters you've seen forever. A pair of Baoding balls rolled by another character foreshadow the fate of a fink.

In between chops to peoples heads, middles and backs, Chih-Hao sends a letter home to his beloved first Sensei, in stereotypical Asian tradition it is end-to-end honor and devoid of any actual information (I am not making this up):

Dear Honoured Teacher:

I am indebted to you for raising me. I should serve you in order to repay my gratitude. Unfortunately, since my departure, not a day goes by that I don't think about you and sister Ying. I am now under the mentorship of Master Suen but I still remember what you have taught me. I aim to do well in the competition and have cherished sister Ying's words deep in my heart. I will not let you or Ying down. Words cannot express my regards.

-- All the best.


 And these are the actual lyrics to one of singer Yen Chu Hung's songs (again, I'm not making this up, it's from the movie): 

There is a pair of sisters on the farm who are looking for a husband
The loser will have to choose an ugly and short, lazy husband.
The elder sister pretending, a Phoenix opening its wings
The younger sister pretending, a dragonfly skimming the water's surface
Their competition is well-known in the village
The elder sister finally scores 99, and the younger sister scores 101
Elder sister is shy, younger sister smiles
Elder sister has picked an ugly, short and lazy husband 

Most highly recommended.

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