Spittin’ Blood

Jimmy Wang Yu’s directorial debut unknowingly set up the kung-fu genre’s future, eschewing the more mystical wuxia action, and choosing instead more ground-locked fisticuffs. Then comes the blood.

Bruce Lee effectively remade The Chinese Boxer in Fist of Fury, the not-subtle angst about the Japanese occupation intact too. In Chinese Boxer, the Japanese bring violence, murder, gambling dens, and rival schools seeking to silence Chinese tradition that’s depicted as peaceful.

Viewed today, Chinese Boxer seems sedate, even dulled

Chinese Boxer is little else other than a gruesome, at times campy revenge fantasy. Yu’s perfectly poised hero trains for battle during the middle act, all to battle Kitashima (Lieh Lo) whose fighting prowess means he can destroy buildings. Kitashima’s first action on screen involves an upward kick that goes through a ceiling, the type of outlandish intimidation that defined Hong Kong martial arts during the decade. Later, he kicks through the walls of Yu’s school, mauling the physical place as much as the physical persons within.

Yu was a superstar at the time of Chinese Boxer. Even in a post-Bruce Lee world, Yu commands attention, if not the charisma that took Lee international. Instead, Yu became a homegrown hero, proper and traditional in his style, but nudging the brawls into an exploitation era. Viewed today (and minus context), Chinese Boxer seems sedate, even dulled. Given the films that followed, Chinese Boxer fell to the wayside. The influence matters more now than the film itself.

That unintentionally derogatory and ignoring what Chinese Boxer does so right, notably the choreography. Daring camera moves add motion to already kinetic scenes, sweeping around combatants as they engage, zooming out for scale, and pushing in when drama calls for it. Ignore the crudeness of victims spitting blood (predicting an outrage over videogame Mortal Kombat some twenty years later) and focus on the slick styles. It’s elaborately composed, and fed into what became a routine clash over kung-fu schools, Chinese Boxer comes to represent the best this genre offers – even if later films found greater success.

Video

Other than stray dust, 88 Films performs incredible clean-up to this master, struck from the negative according to promotional materials. Scratches and gate weave nullified, much of The Chinese Boxer looks practically new.

Outstanding resolution drives this presentation, presented with remarkable clarity and definition. Easily resolved grain keeps this clear (although snow during a key fight brings artifacting), even if a slight oiliness suggests a mild pass through filters. A spot or two of frozen grain and minor smearing confirm this suspicion. Impact to the end result is negligible given the visible texture, but trained eyes will notice the anomalies.

Also generous is contrast, persistently bright whether dealing with interiors or exteriors. Black levels provide equal oomph, bringing needed dimension to the frame. Color saturation offers stability, staying somewhat neutral, with slight zest. There’s a sense the stock faded over time, but this new master brings back the life, and without suggestion of digital grading.

Audio

Not that it makes any difference to the end product, but the case shows a logo for DTS-HD, but both the English and Mandarin tracks are PCM. Just an FYI.

Focusing on the Mandarin, quality is as expected for an early import. At its best, dialog is coarse, strained, and overly bright in delivery. Every line is a chore, if appealing in that roughshod manner associated with kung-fu cinema of the era. The score isn’t much better either, even revoltingly raw when hitting high notes or dramatic lows. Fight sounds comes through equally weary.

Extras

Author Samm Deighan joins in for a commentary track, and journalist David West provides a visual essay over 17-minutes. Then comes an interview with actor Wong Ching, and that lasts almost 14-minutes. Trailers follow.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Chinese Boxer
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

Establishing the genre’s template, The Chinese Boxer grounded kung-fu cinema – literally – and began a decade that defined martial arts action.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 49 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: