Hong Kong, 1972
97 minutes, in Cantonese with English subtitles
Directed by: Chung Chang-Wha
Starring: Lo Lieh, Bolo Yeung
Chung Chang-Wha will receive the Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award at the screening of KING BOXER (FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH) on Saturday, June 30 @ 5:30pm.
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Saturday, June 30 @ 5:30pm (buy tickets)
A blast of funky trumpets signals the beginning of what is probably THE most influential kung fu movie of all time. Edgar Wright used it as inspiration for Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Quentin Tarantino cites it as one of his all-time favorites, and it was the first kung fu movie to get a wide release in the West, paving the way for Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. If that’s not enough for you, then consider the fact that it’s got action by Lau Kar-wing (grandmaster Lau Kar-leung’s brother), who would go on to choreograph some of Hong Kong’s greatest hits, including Jackie Chan’s Armour of God, Ringo Lam’s Full Contact, and Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China.
Lo Lieh plays Chi-hao, an humble martial artist whose master promises he can marry his daughter if he wins an upcoming tournament. Unfortunately, the rival school is run by Master Meng, who’s mean as a snake and twice as low. His punk son has no hope of defeating anyone, so Master Meng hires a kill squad to ensure his son wins the tournament by slaughtering every single one of his opponents. They blind some, disembowel others, and to keep Chi-hao from using his Iron Palm technique they crush his hands. But two mangled flippers don’t keep a true martial artist down, and the movie ends in a tornado of fury and revenge.
You’d expect a movie from 1972 to feel old fashioned, but with its scenes of maximum martial carnage, it’s easy to see why FIVE FINGERS was a grindhouse crowdpleaser all throughout the Seventies. Chung Chang-Wha leaves behind graceful wirework (which he had used to great effect in The Swift Knight) for trampolines which fire the actors at each other like canonballs. The action scenes come fast and furious, each of them offering yet another essay in mayhem, each one full of novelties, twists, and sudden surprises. Impatiently edited, full of wipes, zooms, and blasting musical cues, it injects all the furious rage of the new generation into the tired old kung fu corpse, and turns it into a super-brawling street fighter of a movie.