King Boxer (1972)

I have to admit I often have problems determining the period in which most martial arts films are supposed to take place—Chinese history is not one of my specialties—so it was genuinely startling when, as the baddies return home in the last part of this film for the last battle, they find the light bulbs have gone out. HOLY SHIT IT’S NOT AS FAR BACK IN THE PAST AS I THOUGHT… As for the film itself, the first and only time I saw this was probably about 15 years ago, one of the horrible old Warner pan/scan dub jobs we had to make do with When I Were A Lad, back in the analogue age; watching the Dragon Dynasty DVD this evening was like watching it for the first time, not least because pretty much all I remembered of it anyway was someone getting their eyes ripped out… I don’t know much about director Jeong Chang-Hwa, but he seems to have had some skill at compressing an awful lot of business into a comparatively small runtime (his fight scenes are clearly highly edited, and he seems to have liked trimming his shots very tightly); the simplest way to sum the story up would be something like this, there’s a big martial arts tournament coming up and two main schools are competing, one of which is basically lording it over the town where they’re based, so they must be defeated for the good of one and all. But there’s lots of stuff going on around this broad plot, with betrayal being a significant theme; our hero (Lo Lieh; if he didn’t have Bruce Lee’s repertoire of noises he clearly gave good scowl) is dumped on by one of his supposed brothers in arms, who eventually finds himself shafted by the villains. Jeong packs so much in, with a fairly large secondary cast, it’s remarkable how easy it is to actually keep track of; historically interesting, of course, as the first Hong Kong actioner released in the West, it’s probably not the best of its kind, really, but still a pretty damn solid piece of what is still fairly brutal entertainment.

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