Five Fingers of Death, also known as King Boxer, The Iron Palm and Invincible Boxer in certain international releases, is a 1972 Martial Arts Movie released by Shaw Brothers, and is notably one of the studio's first films that is granted a wide release in North America. Together with Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury, released a few months later, this is one of the films which kicks off popularity of kung-fu films for western audiences.
Lo Lieh, who starred as the lead after years of playing extras or bit-part villains for the studios, effectively kicked off his career as one of Shaw Brothers' leading man. Lo plays Chi-Hao, a budding young kung-fu trainee under the tutelage of Master Sung Wu-Yang. Chi-Hao and Sung's daughter, Sung Yin-yin, are lovers, but Chi-Hao must prove his worthiness by partaking in a kung-fu tournament in the big city. However, things are made complicated by a dangerous, challenge-seeking Blood Knight, Chen Lung, as well as a conspiracy involving a rival martial arts school working with a Japanese gang.
Five Fingers of Death contains examples of:
- Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Chen Lang the Challenge Seeker, and Han Lung who bosses his superiority after defeating Chi-Hao in their first direct confrontation. Chi-Hao himself starts off somewhat as one, but mellows out after a humiliating defeat.
- Bald of Evil: Subverted with Chen-Lang, who later tries warn, and even assist, Chi-Hao when Okada tries laying an ambush for him.
- Barehanded Blade Block: In the climactic fight, Chi-Hao managed to catch Okada's katana with his bare hands, and even managing to break off the blade, leading them to fight hand-to-hand.
- Big Bad Duumvirate: Dung-shun the rival martial arts clan leader, and his chief enforcer, Okada who leads a crew of Japanese thugs. Both of them enjoys abusing their powers terrorizing the town.
- Blood from the Mouth: Tends to happen when Chi-Hao basehs the guts of his opponents using the titular skill. Each time with a simply glorious geyser of red syrup.
- Blood Knight: Chen Lang, who delights in taking on challenges simply to prove his superiority, and fights for the sheer pleasure.
- Bullying a Dragon: The opening sequence sees a bunch of thugs trying to attack the elderly Master Sung, who then proceeds to wipe the floor with his opponents, despite being outnumbered.
- Combat Pragmatist: Displayed by most of the characters, notably Han Lung who tries to help Chi-Hao up after knocking him down... only to sucker-punch the latter halfway through.
- Decapitation Presentation: Chen Lang's final scene... is a head in a sack held by Okada.
- Driven to Suicide: Combined with Better to Die than Be Killed, Dung-shun, confronted by Chi-Hao who had killed off most of his underlings, simply commits Seppuku himself rather than facing Chi-Hao.
- Even Evil Has Standards: "Evil" may be a bit of a strong word, but Chen Lang decides to bail after witnessing Okada and Dung-shun blinding Han-Lung and leaving him for the dead.
- Eye Scream: Han Lung, courtesy of Okada's Finger Poke of Doom. There's even a shot of his eyeballs falling to the floor.
- Fingore: Part of the Cold-Blooded Torture suffered by Chi-Hao when his attempts at confronting Okada goes south: getting himself tied against a tree trunk, where on the other side, Okada's mooks whacks his fingers with clubs.
- Giant Mook: The Mongolian giant brute, appropriately named "Hercules" in the foreign dub. His only role however is to get beaten up by Chen Lang after minutes of screentime before leaving the film altogether.
- Killed Offscreen: Chen Lang's last scene has him holding off Okada, so that Chi-Hao may reach the tournament unhindered. In a much later scene, Okada reveals he had Chen Lang's head in a sack, right before confronting Chi-Hao.
- Leitmotif: "Ironside" by Quincy Jones. Nowadays known as the "siren-sounding" score from Kill Bill, but it was originally used extensively by this film.
- Katanas Are Just Better: Averted, most of the Japanese mooks use katanas, which didn't achieve much when trying to rough up the good guys.
- Power Glows: In the climax, Chi-Hao, having accessed the full power of the titular Five Fingers of Death, have his palms glowing visibly with an intense red aura; this state turns his hands virtually invincible and drives his martial arts powers over the max.
- Punched Across the Room: Chi-Hao using his Iron Fist power in the finale, against Okada, effectively sending Okada through walls repeatedly.
- Sacrificial Lion: Chen Lang and Han Lung, both supporting characters dies in the finale to establish the villains as an actual threat.
- Step into the Blinding Fight: The final action scene where Chi-Hao and Han Lung takes on Dung-shun and his mooks, in a dimly-lit room. It helps that the latter is blind at the moment and had readjusted himself to rely on his hearing instead of sight.
- Tournament Arc: Much of the film's final act revolves around Chao Chih-Hao partaking in the tournament to earn the approval from Yin-yin's family.
- Training from Hell: Chi-Hao's training involves having spears hurled at his direction, which he's supposed to catch with his bare hands, as a test of reflexes.
- Training Montage: Twice for Chi-Hao, the latter after he suffered having his fingers crippled, to achieve the titular Five Fingers of Death technique.
- Use Your Head: This is the main schtick for Chen Lang, whose skills in the "Iron Head" technique allows him to smash and beat down numerous people simply by headbutting.