New York Asian Film Festival 2012

Five Fingers of Death

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Five Fingers of Death
Tian xia di yi quan | Chung Chang-Wha, 1972
Hong Kong | 97 minutes

In person: director Chung Chang-Wha!

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 and kicking off the international kung fu craze. 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 King Boxer was a grindhouse crowdpleaser all throughout the 70’s. 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 cannonballs. 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.

Series: New York Asian Film Festival 2012

Venue: Walter Reade Theater

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