Release Date(s)Various (December 28, 2021)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: A+
- Overall Grade: A+
From the mid-1960s and through to the early 1980s and beyond, the Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers Studio ruled the roost when it came to martial arts cinema. Producing a number of successful films that traveled all over the world, particularly to the US, Britain, and Europe, their brand of extreme hand-to-hand combat films entertained audiences under a myriad of different titles and in various languages. Today, they’re still beloved to genre fans, particularly to those who grew up seeing these films in grindhouse cinemas or repeatedly on television.
Arrow Video presents twelve of these films, encapsulating the Shawscope: Volume One Blu-ray boxed set, a massive and beautifully-rendered release. It’s loaded with an amazing amount of extras per film in gorgeous packaging with an accompanying booklet, making it a massive undertaking for a single review. Because of its size, I’ll be covering this release one disc at a time, updating this review of the entire set over time to go over it in better detail.
Below, you’ll find quick links that will take you to reviews of each disc, as well as a link for other extras, packaging, and my final thoughts on this set:
(Click Below to Jump to Individual Disc Reviews):
DISC TWO: THE BOXER FROM SHANTUNG
DISC THREE: FIVE SHAOLIN MASTER / SHAOLIN TEMPLE
DISC FOUR: MIGHTY PEKING MANDARIN
DISC FIVE: CHALLENGE OF THE MASTERS / EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN
DISC SIX: CHINATOWN KID
DISC SEVEN: THE FIVE VENOMS / CRIPPLED AVENGERS
DISC EIGHT: HEROES OF THE EAST: DIRTY HO
DISCS NINE AND TEN, PACKAGING, & FINAL THOUGHTS
King Boxer (aka Tian xia di yi quan and Five Fingers of Death) was released in Hong Kong in 1972 and later in the US in 1973 and is credited as the beginning of the martial arts film craze of the 1970s, prior to Bruce Lee’s global popularity. In it, a kung fu tournament is fast approaching for a peaceful fighting school, but a rival martial arts instructor sends a group of thugs into town to not just bully, but render the competition inert. Zhihao, who has been studying the legendary Iron Palm technique, plans to use his skills to stop the invading mob, but also win the competition.
In many ways, the plot is similar to The Chinese Boxer, which was released two years prior. It adds in a love triangle of sorts and a martial arts tournament, but a story about evil invading forces versus a strong-willed man with deadly fists certainly wasn’t new. However, that didn’t matter to Hong Kong audiences who weren’t deterred by, nor did they care about any of the similarities. King Boxer was an immediate success there, and soon the world over, particularly in the US where it was re-cut, re-dubbed, and re-titled by Warner Bros. as Five Fingers of Death. The Western meddling did little to hurt its chances at the box office. It was also a massive hit and established Shaw Brothers as one of the premiere Hong Kong film studios.
King Boxer was shot by Wang Yung-lung on 35 mm film with anamorphic lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Arrow Video presents the film with a new 2K restoration from the original camera negative. It’s an excellent presentation with a high bitrate and well-managed grain. Detail in the costumes and on the various sets really showcase the design of the film better than ever. Saturation is healthy with bold uses of green, blue, and red, the latter of which particularly emanates from Zhihao’s glowing palms. Blacks are decent with good contrast, and the image is stable throughout. Transitions are obviously less detail-oriented, and there’s minor speckling on display, but it’s an otherwise solid presentation.
Audio is included in Mandarin or English 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles for the Mandarin audio and English SDH for the English audio. The Mandarin track is the obvious way to go in terms of performance, but also in terms of aural quality. The dubbing on the English track is hollow, never mind the performances. Though some might prefer the English track, either option warrants clean presentations with good support for dialogue and score. Keen listeners will recognize a familiar music cue used by Quentin Tarantino in the Kill Bill films.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by David Desser
- Tony Rayns on King Boxer (HD – 42:56)
- From Korea to Hong Kong: Interviews with Chung Chang-wha (HD – 39:54)
- An Interview with Wang Ping (HD – 25:51)
- Chung Chang-wha, The Man of Action: An Interview with Cho Young-jung (HD – 33:24)
- Cinema Hong Kong: Kung Fu (HD – 49:36)
- Five Fingers of Death US Opening Credits (HD – 1:26)
- Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer #1 (HD – 3:51)
- Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer #2 (Upscaled SD – 3:24)
- German Theatrical Trailer #1 (HD – 3:20)
- German Theatrical Trailer #2 (Upscaled SD – 3:47)
- US Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:57)
- US TV Spot (HD – :28)
- US Radio Spot (HD – :55)
- Digital Reissue Trailer (HD – 1:06)
- Image Gallery (HD – 52 in all)
The audio commentary features David Desser, film professor and co-editor of the books The Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema and The Cinema of Hong Kong. Highly knowledgeable, he discusses the era in which the film was made, its release in different countries under different titles, and details the film’s cast and crew. He goes in depth by analyzing the film’s dramatic qualities and speaks on other films and TV shows in production around the same time, including Enter the Dragon and Kung Fu, and how their combined success paved the way for other Hong Kong action films to come to the US. Film critic and historian Tony Rayns then follows with an extended but fascinating look at the history of Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest, and the film rivalry between them during the 1970s that led up to King Boxer. In From Korea to Hong Kong, director Chung Chang-wha is interviewed twice in the early 2000s. He discusses his upbringing, his film career, and his story techniques at length. In her interview from 2007, actress Wang Ping talks about working for Shaw Brothers, the films that she made there, and other aspects of her career. Chung Chang-wha, The Man of Action features an interview with author Cho Young-jung who discusses the director’s work and why she chose to do a retrospective on him. Cinema Hong Kong is the first in a three-part documentary from 2003 by Celestial Pictures on the history of Hong Kong martial arts action cinema, speaking with a variety of people within the industry including Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Jet Li, Shek Kin, Terry Tong, Chu Yuan, Siu Sang, Wai Ying Hung, Gordon Liu Chia Hui, and others. The set of US Opening Credits featuring the title Five Fingers of Death are taken from what appears to be a very battered film print (it’s a shame that the entire US version of the film couldn’t be included). Next are a series of trailers and TV spots from all over the world, as well as an Image Gallery containing 52 images of color and black and white promotional stills, posters, newspaper clippings, lobby cards, and home video artwork.
KING BOXER (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO/EXTRAS): B+/A-/A-/A+
More to come...
- Tim Salmons