Roger M. Wilcox's review of

Five Fingers of Death

(First posted to Bad Movie Night in 2001 or so.)

Remeber when the producers of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon told everybody that their film belonged to a specific genre of Chinese martial arts fantasy movies (which play approximately the same role in Chinese culture that cowboy movies play in American culture), and that these Chinese martial arts fantasy movies were normally made with really really low budgets?

Well, this is the kind of movie they were talking about. Five Fingers of Death uses the same types of plot devices and martial arts action sequences that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon does — in fact, the martial arts training camp in this movie looks the spittin' image of the one in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — BUT, Five Fingers of Death is hardly the cinematic masterpiece that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is. Five Fingers of Death is poorly written, poorly acted, and generally looks like it was produced on a budget of $45 in loose change.

In stort, Five Fingers of Death is the kind of cheap, cheesy chop-socky action flick that connoiseurs of bad movies can have loads of fun ripping on.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around a couple of martial arts schools gearing up for the Big Martial Arts Tournament. And when I say big tournament, I mean BIIIIIIG tournament. The winner got to be Emperor of China or something. (I conceded that choosing your leaders by having them beat each other up is somewhat more civilized than the traditional method of having them wage war across the whole countryside, but couldn't they have had a chess game or a popular election instead?)

Winning the tournament is such a coveted prize, in fact, that the Evil Martial Arts School tries to pull every dirty rotten conniving trick they could to ensure that they would win. They terrorize the Good Martial Arts School across town. They hire one of the students at the Good Martial Arts School to be a double-agent for them. They hire Super-Evil Japanese Martial Artists to kill people who get in their way. (In 1973, when this movie was made, the Chinese still had kind of a sore spot for than whole Rape of Nanking thing, so Japanese people were fair game to use as soulless villains.) When they learn that the star pupil of the Good Martial Arts School is learning the dreaded IRON FIST technique, they ambush him in the woods and break both his hands, then sneak back to his home town and kill his foster dad. Their head thug gouges somebody's eyes out by using the Three Stooges Eye Poking Maneuver of Death.

Finally, the day of the tournament arrives. The Evil Martial Arts School sends its Super-Evil Japanese thugs out to stop the Good Martial Arts School's star pupil from showing up to the tournament on time (and hence forfeiting the tournament). But even though the Super-Evil Japanese are armed with swords, they can't stop the Good Martial Arts School's star pupil, because he has learned the IRON FIST technique. (This technique apparently consists of a bright red spotlight being shined on the star pupil's hands, accompanied by an annoying police car siren sound.) Our hero makes it to the tournament on time and wins it, which ticks off the Evil Martial Arts School's Headmaster so much that he stabs the Good Martial Arts School's Headmaster to death. Then the guy who got his eyes gouged out fights the Evil Headmaster in the dark and gets killed, THEN the hero fights the Evil Headmaster (who retreats to his study and commits hari-kari rather than die at the hands of the IRON FIST technique), THEN the hero fights the leader of the Super-Evil Japanese thugs to the death, and then everybody has a group hug and they all ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after.

The best thing about this film is that, right now, the DVD is on sale for $4.00 at K-Mart. Maybe you too can learn the IRON FIST technique from it, before your enemies do!

Click here to go to Roger M. Wilcox's home page.
Send comments regarding this Web page to: Roger M. Wilcox.