The year was 1973. Kung fu flicks were still not all that popular in the States, unless your name was Bruce Lee. Along comes King Boxer, under the flashier, more exploitive-sounding title of Five Fingers of Death. People went to see it, not knowing what to expect. They walked out of the theater stunned, shocked, amazed, and highly entertained. The end result was the first hit kung fu flick in the West, and the floodgates were opened for many Shaw Brothers classics to come to the States, and the chop-socky era was under way.
This was my first exposure to the movie, and while I liked it, I did not have the same reaction I did to other recent viewings of The One-Armed Swordsman or The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, both of which I consider to be superior to this, although there is no denying the impact that it had on the international market for martial arts films.
The story is a straightforward affair, although there are moments and characters that exist in the gray area between good and bad. Lo Lieh stars as Chi-hao, a student of moderate talent, but with great potential. One day his teacher is attacked, and decides that his top student would do best to go study under another master in order to prepare for an upcoming tournament. Reluctantly, Chi-hao travels to study under Shen Chin-pei (Mien Fang). It is here where he learns humility, being forced to perform menial labor before being allowed to enter any lessons. This pays off, as Chi-hao continues to demonstrate his skill which convinces Chin-pei to teach him the art of the Iron Palm (or Iron Fist). This news does not go down well on the other side of town.
While Chi-hao's studies continue, Ming Dung-shun (Feng Tien), leader of a rival school, is willing to go to any length to ensure that his son coems out on top at the tournament. His students, and some hired Japanese thugs, set out to kill/maim, or otherwise incapacitate the competition. So, when he learns of the potential teaching of the Iron Palm, he sends out the troops. This results in an attack which breaks the hands of our hero, not to mention his spirit.
Now, if you don't know where this is going, or how it may end, you just have not seen enough movies. It may be martial arts, it may be centered on another culture, but the basic thrust of the story is pretty common throughout film in general. It goes through themes of honor, revenge, love, and betrayal, with a liberal dose of bloody martial arts action.