Title: Boxer From Shantung
Director: Chang Cheh, Pao Hsueh Li
Starring: Chen Kuan Tai, David Chiang, Cheng Young Hip, Ching Li, Wang Ching
Review: When it comes to naming influential directors especially in Hong Kong Cinema, Chang Cheh should be at the top of that list especially when he directed close to 100 films for the equally legendry Shaw Bros including many of their key titles including Five Element Ninjas, The One-Armed Swordsman and the Five Deadly Venoms.
Joining “The Sexy Killer” which memorably remade “Coffy, this film plays essentially like the kung-fu version of “Scarface” even though it was shot nine years previous to the release of that film. However unlike Tony Montana; Ma doesn’t set out with any kind of plan to be a crime boss as he refuses a hand out from the honourable crime boss Tan Si after impressing him with his fighting abilities. In an unusual twist it’s actually his own good intensions which see him still being drawn into the dealings of the local underworld, while soon seeing Tan Si almost as a mentor figure especially when he start imitating Tan Si’s style right down to his trademark cigarette holder.
As Ma’s power and influence rises he sound finds himself being targeted by the hatchet welding mobster lead by Boss Yang whose territory Ma and his followers are moving in on, as Ma refuses to muscle in on any territories run by Tan Si out of mutual respect. This of course leads to several large scale confrontations which is where the film especially gets interesting as Chang Cheh uses some great cinemography to elevate the film being just another kung fu flick, especially when he gives us moments such as Ma being surrounded by a group of knife welding mobsters, only to turn the camera away at the key moment they strike, almost as if he is interpretating the audiences reaction and forcing them to look away from a potentially gruesome scene. Ma of course is a martial arts powerhouse as he frequently takes on multiple opponents with little hassle.
The fight scenes throughout the film are all certainly memorable with the highlights here seeing Ma take on a towering Russian strongman while ending on an absolute high with the Tea house showdown which plays not unlike the Scarface finale with Ma taking on overwhelming odds as he battles up and down the two floors of the teahouse with most of the fight spent with a hatchet embedded in his torso in what might be one of the bloodiest fight scenes I have ever seen especially when the bodies just appear to be piling up on the floor of the teahouse, with Cheh constantly managing to find new and ever more inventive ways to maintain the hold he has over the audience as the sequence plays out.
Working with a much longer run time at two hours than your standard kung fu movie, this film also avoids the usual revenge seeking student learning new styles path to instead give us a tale of a man trying to find his way in the world and generally do the right thing which is clear from the start as we see Ma and Xiao being forced to sleep on the floor of an Inn because they can’t afford a room and yet neither of them lets their situation beat them down, despite the innkeeper certainly taking a good shot at it. Its these humble beginnings which makes Ma’s corruption from power all the more believable especially when he suddenly goes from having nothing to suddenly having a tea house and a steady stream of protection money coming in. While this plot line is perfectly satisfying, it does however never take advantage of the relationship between Ma and the tea house singer Ms. Jin played here by Ching Li whose despite having some nice scenes never feels as if she is being fully used.
While perhaps alittle overlong for your more casual viewer watching this expecting some light hearted chock socky, but for those willing to brave the run time this is a rewarding experience, while the engrossing story really ensures that the runtime really doesn’t drag more so when each of the fight scenes seems to top the last with the finale which really has to be seen. This truly is the work of a master firing on all cylinders with this film really proving a highlight of his heroic bloodshed period which would go on to inspire both John Woo and Quentin Tarantino and here the influence is certainly clear.