The Chinese Boxer [龍虎鬥] (1970)
AKA The Hammer of God, Der Karate-Killer, Cinque dita di morte
Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Chiu Hung, Fang Mian, Cheng Lui, Wang Kuang-Yu, Chai No, Kong Ling, Wong Chung, Chan Sing, Wong Ching, Tung Li
Directed by Jimmy Wang Yu
Expectations: High. You don’t enter the first legitamite kung fu movie without high expectations.
It’s not every day you get to witness the birth of a film genre, but The Chinese Boxer is just that. This is the first legitimate kung fu film, and boy is it a good’un. It definitely doesn’t reach the heights that the genre would later ascend to, but it is a stunning début for the genre and a highly influential film. While Chang Cheh brought martial arts into the republic period with Vengeance!, changing out the wuxia swords for knives and a bit of unarmed combat, Jimmy Wang Yu took it to the next level by completely removing the weapons all together (except for one fight where Wang Yu must battle multiple samurai).
The Chinese Boxer features a story you’ve heard a million times before if you’re a big martial arts fan, and this film is essentially the genesis of the trope: some assholes from one school decide to challenge another school, thus killing the master of our main character and setting him on the path to vengeance. While tales of rival schools are forever popular within the genre, my heart holds a special place for films that pit rival styles against each other, and The Chinese Boxer is — as far as I know — the first film to feature the eternal struggle between kung fu and karate. It may not feature any actual Japanese people playing the roles of the Japanese karate masters, and their fighting style may actually be closer to kung fu than karate in the choreography, but the idea alone of kung fu battling karate was enough to put a broad smile on my face.