Written for Varied Celluloid by Prof. Aglaophotis!

Kung Fu: The Punch of Death (1973)
Director: Chai Yang-Min
Writers: Ni Kuang
Starring: Fei Meng, Yasuaki Kurata and Lin Lin Li

The Plot: It’s ancient China. We start our story with home-trained martial artist and gambler Fong Sai-yuk, a young man living with his wealthy father and Kung Fu trainee mother. One day while gambling however, Fong gets in a fight with and consequently kills a favored local martial arts student named Mei. Mei’s teachers – Iron Fist Tan and his apparently nameless brother – hear of the tragic news of their favorite student’s passing and set out to get their revenge. By payback, the brothers beat Fong’s father to death. After coming back from another day of fighting to find his father dead and his home broken into, Fong vows to avenge his father’s death… even if it means training to be the best martial artist in the country.

The Review
I don’t want to come across as being too subjective here, but I don’t watch a lot of Kung Fu films. It’s not that I hate them, I think Kung Fu films are fun, I just don’t watch them too often probably because the ones I have seen can be rather typical. The Prodigal Boxer (aka: Kung Fu Punch of Death) is a typical but fun Kung Fu film that honestly deserves some merit for being an engaging watch. There are some factors that get in the way of this being a perfect sit, but for what it’s worth Prodigal Boxer is a solid Kung Fu/Revenge flick.

Prodigal Boxer has the common fake-looking set design you could imagine for a Kung Fu film. The movie has the kind of cheap sets where you can see the spray paint on the walls made to make them look old or even granite, or more commonly you have the water color skies, hills and trees of the backdrop surrounding Fong’s training scenes. I honestly expected a dummy for one action scene. Now this being a dubbed Action film, you know it’s going to have some lame voice acting, though here it’s rather passable. There are a few funny performances like a Chinese mustachioed crook who sounds Jewish or Siu Ping who sometimes lets a British accent slip. The funniest is whenever a character says ‘Godammit…’ they sound like me every time I lose in a video game.
The very obvious relationship blossoming between Fong and Siu Ping was blatant, but fun to watch regardless. Thankfully it came down to nothing more than Siu Ping toweling him off and buddying around with him which makes it more innocent. With that in mind, the acting is pretty good; Fong, played by great martial artist Fei Meng, comes across as a good kid and a very intense fun-seeker. He comes across as a young, reckless martial artist as well, and watching him train with his mother makes for a charming and simultaneously cool experience. His fighting style, coupled with his character’s happy-go-lucky attitude, makes him a character to root for as well as one Hell of an Action star: he handles the choreography really well and he lights up the training sequences with his timing.

However, this wouldn’t be a Kung Fu film without a mention on the action now would it? How is the Action in Prodigal Boxer? It’s pretty damn awesome, and when it’s not that then it’s surprisingly well shot. The choreography is nice and tight in this flick, there aren’t a lot of moments where an actor will wait to dodge the next scripted blow. The action itself is divided into several chunks with a sparring section in between. There are a few fight scenes in the movie that come across as a little average and even seem like wasted potential. Oddly, these scenes consist mostly of Fong fighting off the bullying students of the brother’s dojo. The first time it happens, it looks like there’s going to be an outright slaughter with Fong taking on the entire class, but instead he just causes a few concussions, sprains some joints and then leaves! Scenes like this are made up for by good action cinematography. They have a lot of nice close-ups of blocks and body blows and fast cuts that never cut out too much of the action.

The combat is at its best in select scenes like the bar fight scene early in the movie where Fong and friends wail on a drunks (which is inter-cut with the assault on Fong’s family) or 80% of the fights between Fong and the brothers. The first fight against the brothers is intense and is the kind of fight that leaves you on the edge of your seat wondering who’s going to win. There are two fight scenes that lead into the film’s climax that are genuinely the best fights in the movie and they all involve the two brothers. The first time it happens, the brothers are beating up random martial artists who just happen to be there and the action is just mesmerizing. The film’s final battle between Fong, the two brothers and even Mei’s father is like what every final battle in a good Kung Fu movie should be: bloody, brutal, stylish and filled with unexpected turns.

The sparring sections are particularly well done and serve as a nice break from the actual fighting. The training methods enforced by Fong’s mother are both intense and inventive, though most of them are somewhat few and far between. The whole movie is fairly well shot with a lot of good close-ups, zoom-ins and locations (outside of the generic training scenes). There are a few moments where the movie boasts some unique artistic direction, but these moments pretty much equate to one scene. At the halfway point when Fong gets beaten by the brothers, his mother approaches him out of concern. Fong then starts to cry a tear of blood to which we see a multi-colored back drop of black blood pouring down it, inter-cut with slow motion images of the brothers and Fong lying there shouting in pain. It’s an attention grabbing scene and a genuine high point in the movie’s direction; Honestly, if a movie has a crazy dream sequence in it, then it’s a good movie in my book… ever see Don’t Go in the House??

Granted, the movie isn’t perfect. Often, the camera will go off focus and blur on the subject. There are a few confusing scenes that felt unnecessary, too. There’s a completely useless scene near the end where Fong is looking after his suddenly ill mother which he is confronted by Iron Fist Tan; Fong tries to postpone the final battle, but fails and his mother instantly gets better for it. Why was that plot device even thought of? The second fight scene between Fong and the brothers also feels like it could’ve been cut out because it’s one of the weaker fight scenes in the movie and it only serves to prove a fact we all ready knew before it happened.

Something I have to admire about this movie is how often and how accepted the in-town fight scenes are. It’s almost like the Kung Fu version of The Quiet Man where a group of people will just break out into a fight in the early afternoon in crowded public places and everyone will just root the victor on. Maybe that happens in every Kung Fu film, but it adds a unique sense of lawlessness to the story… even though the law seems to be rather loosely enforced in the film; it seems that so long as you don’t kill someone in specific patches of land and property, the law can’t touch you.

I figure I’d bring this up as well: the soundtrack. The soundtrack consists of what you’d expect out of a Kung Fu movie taking place in old times: very old Asian sounding, kind of a less climactic score than Once Upon a Time in China and it has its touching moments (like during the dream sequence) but at times it can sound a little silly. There’s a montage where Fong sets out on horseback to avenge his father’s death and we see him riding around a patch of desert to what sounds like an Western score! It’s interesting to note that this movie was one of many to be featured during the ‘Quentin Tarantino Presents the Los Angeles Grindhouse Festival 2007’ event that was shown on April 19th of that year. In a way, I can see why it was put on the festival list: it has a collection of good fight scenes capped-off by a fantastic final battle and some decent direction all the way through.

The Conclusion
Prodigal Boxer is the kind of Kung Fu film that isn’t the most remarkable or edited, but it’s plausibly admirable: you can see why someone would like it and you can see why one could pass it off as another Kung Fu film. It may end up being one of those movies that grows on you because the movie is far from sucking and was one of the more entertaining flicks I’ve watched this whole year. I still find it hilarious how the whole plot’s conflict started over a cricket fight… an uncaged cricket fight. If the crickets had just leapt out of the bowl, this whole thing might have never happened!