Dojo Review #9: Boxer From Shantung

20140125-125324.jpgDirector: Chang Cheh

Starring Chen Kuan Tai, David Chiang, Ku Feng, Cheng Kang Yeh, Fung Ngai, Tin Ching, Wong Ching

Plot: A young arrival from Shantung, Ma Yung Chen( Chen Kuan Tai) makes a name for himself in 1930’s era Shanghai with his considerable boxing skill which impresses a local gangster ( David Chiang) whom Ma admires and strives to be like. At the same time he runs afoul of another gang who force Ma to unleash the power of his boxing in order to get revenge and redemption.

Kung Fu content: fistfistfistfist
The action choreography is handled by the great Liu Chia Liang (Lau Kar Leung), his brother Lau Kar Wing, Chan Chuen, and Tong Gai; it is reminiscent of early to mid70’s Shaw era screen combat: realistic less stylized kung fu! I think this helps with the setting of this particular film ( 1930’s gang land Shanghai) and plays to the strength of an actor like Chen Kuan Tai (who was a full contact kung fu champion). While I like Liu’s later more stylized Hung Gar movies, the kung fu in Boxer From Shantung stands out as more gritty, brutal, and straight forward. Much of the choreography is not overdone ( Ma dispatches his opponents quickly for the most part). Also, Ma Yung Chen utilizes strategy especially when fighting the foreign wrestler. This showdown is truly a David vs Goliath battle and like David, Ma uses his head to pick apart the wrestler. The scene in which Ma is watching other kung fu men getting destroyed by the foreigner is quite telling. It establishes Ma as better than the average kung fu man, he is a true Chinese Boxer, he has a strong spirit and it comes out in this scene. John Woo has been quoted as saying that the last scene in Boxer From Shangtung deeply influenced his idea of movie heroics and I am inclined to agree. Once again, Liu and director Chang out due themselves with this display of fierce kung fu, heroics, and fighting spirit! One of my favorite parts of many of Chang Cheh’s kung fu movies are when a hero is penetrated by a weapon (in this case an axe) and finds the strength to fight and ultimately kill his adversary: the final fight delivers on that as well and is a showcase of Ma’s fists and spirit!
If you are ore of a fan of Liu Chia Liang’s more stylized choreography ( 36th Chamber, Challenge of the Masters, etc.) then this movie may not appeal to you, but if you like your kung fu brutal, bloody, and to the point then Boxer From Shantung is for you!
With the remake of Boxer From Shantung(Once Upon a Time in Shanghai) in Chinese theaters now, a return to the view the original is in order. In addition to the brutal kung fu, Boxer is the story of the underdog and it resonates well with audiences. Chang Cheh shows again why is the Master of this type of movie. The unrequited love element is there between Ma and Ms Jin (an opera singer), the big brother-little brother element is there between Ma and his loyal friend Xiao, as well as the background of the gangster underworld. For his first starring role, Chen Kuan Tai doesn’t do too bad, but he really looks confident when is about to use his fists! Boxer From Shantung was an enjoyable movie and the Dojo recommends it for the kung fu film fan!

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