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  • 'Ma yong zhen' or 'Boxer from Shantung' in the dubbed videocassette version I viewed is a long film but engrossing, showing the rise of Ma Yung Chen from lowly labourer to gang boss.

    The film has a strange melancholy air, ending with some of the characters fleeing from Shanghai as war approaches. The music has also a sad feel to it. Avarice is the main driving force of most of the characters as they go about their business but over all there is a doomed air.

    Kuan Tai Chen who plays Ma Yung Chen (very well) has a pleasant appealing smile but there is something sad in him too. His yearning to be somebody is touching. He is plausible in the fight scenes too, particularly the tremendous gory fight at the end, which seems to go on endlessly like a nightmare you can't wake up from. David Chiang as usual is great, though not on the screen long enough. The 'four champions' in the film include the Shaw Brothers regular Feng Ku who is always good value.

    I believe John Woo worked as an assistant director on the film and is a fan of the director, Cheh Chang. Compare the end of this film with the end of Woo's 'The Killer'.

    There is a lot of combat in this film but it sits well with the narrative and the characters. Some martial art films are all fighting and no plot but 'Boxer from Shantung' has both in equally good measures.
  • BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (aka KILLER FROM SHANTUNG, 1972) successfully combines gangster and kung fu genres to create a compelling two-hour rags-to-riches tale of a poor drifter in early 20th century Shanghai who rises up in the local mob by virtue of his kung fu skills. Ma Yung Chen (played by Chen Kuan-Tai) so impresses the local bosses that he is quickly given his own teahouse and protection racket, yet he remains loyal to his friends, including a hapless little sidekick, and friendly to the poor. He has a run-in with another local gangster, Tan (David Chiang in an extended cameo), but they soon develop mutual respect.

    The kung fu comes in when Ma is confronted by rival gangster Yang, whose henchmen consist of the Four Champions. When Ma beats three of the Champions in their very first encounter, an enmity develops that finally culminates in a massive brawl at a neutral teahouse where Ma takes on dozens of Yang's thugs. In this remarkable fight scene, Ma is hit with an ax but continues to fight up and down the two stories of the building with the ax imbedded in his stomach. It's all shot in the Shaw Bros. studio and backlot in Hong Kong, with some additional work on HK locations familiar to kung fu fans.

    Chen Kuan-Tai (EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN) was bigger and stronger-looking than most Shaw Bros. kung fu stars and carries the right air of brute force and intimidation in what is essentially the role of a petty gangster. Yet his broad smile, outgoing manner and protective nature give his rough-hewn character a likability that attracts audience sympathy. Ma is not just a standard vengeance-seeking kung fu student forced to learn new styles to beat a more powerful opponent. He is more at loose ends, trying to find his way in the world and not necessarily on the straight and narrow path.

    Aside from Chen and David Chiang, the few familiar kung fu faces in the cast include Cheng Kay Yeh (as Chen's sidekick), Ku Feng (as one of the champions) and Wang Ching. Top-billed actress Ching Li co-stars as Chen's love interest, a singer in the restaurant he runs, although her role is less significant than the billing would indicate. The film was directed by kung fu specialist Chang Cheh, with Pao Hsueh Li given a co-directing credit. The action directors are an impressive lot and include Tang Chia, Liu Chia Liang (Lau Kar Leung), and Liu Chia Yung.

    ADDENDUM: A follow-up of sorts is the similarly-styled MAN OF IRON (1972), also reviewed on this site, which also co-stars Chen Kuan Tai and Ching Li, but gives Ms. Ching a larger, more interesting role. QUEEN BOXER (1974), also reviewed on this site, is an unofficial non-Shaw sequel to SHANTUNG and focuses on the sister of Ma Yung Chen as she arrives in Shanghai and begins a quest for vengeance. She is played by the phenomenal kung fu diva, Chia Ling (billed as Judy Lee).

    In December 2003, Celestial/IVL released a restored, remastered, letter-boxed, subtitled Region 3 DVD of BOXER FROM SHANTUNG. That's the one to see.
  • The Boxer From Shan Tung (1972) is a rags to riches story about a country bumpkin who aspires to become the greatest gangster of his era. Ma Yong Zhen makes a name for himself from the ground up by getting the poor and the down trodden to become a part of his "empire". But like all fast rising gangsters they have to fall sometime. The battle in the Tea House has to be the single greatest piece of action film-making I have ever seen. The usual Shaw Brothers players can be found in this two hour plus epic of bloodletting proportions. Kuan Tai Chen stars as Ma Yong Zhen. As usual he makes a great lead actor. He always sports a smile and never let his personal situations bring him down. Kuan also makes a credible butt kicking fighter. David Chiang has an extended cameo as Tan Si, a fellow gangster who becomes a mentor/friend to Ma. Feng Ku co-stars as one of the 4 Champions of Shan Tung, Wang Chung and Hark-On Fung have small roles as Tan Si's henchmen. Ching Li co-stars as the Tea House singer who falls for the mack-daddy charm of Ma Yong Zhen.

    Check out the remastered print from Celestial Films. Not only is the film restored to it's original running time but the picture is in pristine condition and the English subs are excellent. Get ready for some action packed, bone crunching excitement!! Another winner from Chang Cheh and the Shaw Brothers!

    Highest recommendation possible.
  • Before the advent of DVD media, films such as Cheng Cheh's "Boxer From Shantung" could only be seen in severely butchered form, complete with laughable and awful dubbing, fair to poor picture quality, always in "pan and scan" format with a percentage of the picture chopped out, and in most cases, with the harder violence removed as well. Finally "Ma Yong Zhen" can be seen the way director Cheh envisioned his passionate "rags to riches" epic, with "epic" being a suitable word as this film is quite big in scope, and surpasses the 2 hour mark. The tale itself is a familiar one to be sure; a young, ambitious street urchin uses his unique boxing skills and mental cunning to climb the bloody ladder of success, and fortune. But this tale has rarely been filmed so eloquently. There is so much to praise here, beginning with cinematography; forget comparing this film with the endless and uninspired kung-fu pictures made through the 60's to 70's. For the look of "Ma Yong Zhen" is that of a mostly beautiful art-house style production. This can finally be seen in it's original aspect ratio of 2,35 widescreen, and the difference is hardly describable. For years apparently, this was only released widely with a running time of just over 90 minutes, but the wonderful DVD from "Celestial Pictures" restores the feature to it's 124 minute running time. The lead character, played by Chen Kuan-tai, is really superb in his role as the ambitious 'Ma'. He possesses a strange, utterly unique physical beauty which somehow elicits sympathy from the viewer. The film reminded me a bit of 1983's "Scarface", as the stories, as well as the extreme violence are similar themes within both pictures. However Chen's character never loses touch with his own humanity, unlike Tony Montana, who became a monster. And I must agree with another poster who described the feeling of "sadness" that envelops the film. Much of it is quiet, subdued, featuring some haunting, and totally unobtrusive musical score. Of course this is misleading, as the film explodes with a brand of violence hard to describe, for the films breathtaking climax. That new DVD also features the original Mandarin language audio track, and hearing the original language is the only way to see this. There are English subtitles as well. Recommended viewing for anyone curious to see a how a traditional kung-fu film can be transformed into a work of art.
  • Boxer from Shantung is pretty much what you'd get if you made Goodfellas as a Chinese martial arts film. Ma Yongzhen (Chen Kuan-tai) is poor country boy who moves to Shanghai to seek his fortune. Unfortunately, the times are tough and oftentimes he and his friends don't even have enough money for a roof over their heads. But after meeting a legendary crime lord Tan Si (David Chiang), Ma realizes that the only way to move forward in this city of poverty and misery is to do so through illegal means.

    Boxer from Shantung elevates itself above most of its peers by the virtue of its fight scenes. Chen is a fantastic, fully-trained martial artist, whose various moves and stunts are beautiful to watch. I also like the fact that unlike in so many other martial arts films, the main character is not invincible. Fitting for a gangster film. The last fight scene is actually pretty brutal to watch because of this, but all the more awesome for it. Definitely one of the best fight scenes I've seen in my life and worth the price of admission by itself.

    What keeps the film from being a masterpiece is the fact that the story is rather bland. It starts out well enough and the ending is fantastic, but the middle part lost me pretty quickly. It felt like the film was simply going through the motions to get to the good part. It's by no means awful and you still get a lot of good fights, but the characters themselves don't become as dear to you as they should.

    Still, it's a film you see to watch people kung fu fighting. And for that it is a very good film. If you're looking a captivating story and fleshed-out characters, this is not your film, but I think you already knew that walking in.
  • This 1970's Shaw Brothers studio epic from legendary director Chang Cheh still seems to be as increasingly watchable to this day.

    Chen Kuan Tai stars as Ma Yong Zhen, a street urchin in 1930's Shanghai who gets by washing carriages for the upper-class. But he desires more, he wants to have his own power, wealth and status in the city of Shanghai. After a couple of errands with the Four Dragon's gang, Ma gets the recognition he yearns for and is seen as a saviour to the poor and begins his parade by taking over districts in Shanghai. Soon the power and status he has craved for begins to crumble the inner-happiness he has longed for.

    The film has proved to be very influential to this day, as John Woo was assistant director and the Four Dragon's gang was also used in Stephen Chow's 'Kung Fu Hustle' (but known as the Axe Gang), the finale of Ryo Seung Wan's 'City of Violence' also bears resemblance to the finale of 'Ma Yong Zhen'. Chen proves to be a worthy lead as his appearance and performance comes as very empathetic and proves quite adequately in fight sequences. Chang Cheh regular David Chiang plays a small role but sadly shows very little martial arts skills. The fights are somewhat average, if not very bloody but the story line, the central performances, the cinematography and the music score make this film stand out as an evergreen classic. What drew me into this film was it's cool and slick opening sequence (kind of like Chang Cheh's 'Vengeance') it creates the atmosphere of mystery, danger, rage and excitement.

    All I can say is if you can see a worthy version of this movie (sadly there's no DVD released in the UK yet) go and see it. But I'm sure other DVD distributors in other countries have released the full uncut version of this classic.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Another glorious drama from the Shaw Brothers studio, following a similar story to their many others, with the noticeable change of setting: instead of ancient China we're here introduced to the 1920s Shanghai backdrop for the classic tale of one man's rise and fall in the power stakes. Imagine this a kind of Chinese SCARFACE; its morals of the power of corruption, the falsity of greed, and its story structure are all very similar. Unfortunately it's a lengthy film that can't quite retain interest throughout all of its scenes, meaning I had to watch it in a number of goes to follow the story. And although the kung fu fights are adequate for the most part, they are hardly classic examples of choreography, with a few exceptions (the battle with the Russian fighter is a great one for example).

    The thing that holds this film together remarkably well are the performances. Chen Kuan Tai (EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN) is excellent as the lead, a dedicated, ruthless but humane young man, and he proves to be a worthwhile hero. John Cheung (SNAKE IN THE MONKEY'S SHADOW) provides support as his loyal friend and servant, whilst Shaw Brothers hero David Chiang excels in his more minor turn as a boss. The villains are a remarkable bunch, consisting of the vicious 'Four Champions', and their performances are also excellent (as is the usual for a Shaw Brothers movie). The most memorable thing by far in this film is the thirty-minute finale, in which a mortally wounded Chen Kuan Tai attempts to get revenge on those who caused his death and also the death of his friend. The result is a real bloodbath of a fight, with violent director Chang Cheh really making use of the crimson gore with endless blood spurts and slimy torsos. Watching this finale is a real test, as you can almost feel Tai's pain thanks to his strong acting. In fact the film is worth watching for this tour-de-force climax alone.
  • Pre-Venom Mob martial arts film from director Cheh Chang finds the film's hero working his way out of poverty by traveling to Shanghai, only to find himself drawn into the criminal underworld. The Shanghai underworld looks pretty much like every other Shaw Brothers backlot set and the story and characters are not particularly compelling, but the fight sequences are excellent, particularly a wildly bloody finale, where the hero battles the main villain's minions with a hatchet lodged in his side!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Ma (Chen Kuan Tai) settles in at a local flop house where he's befriended by a "little hillbilly" named Xiao. Ere long, our hero begins to pine for some of the better things in life- and, when he sees Tan (David Chiang) being treated like royalty, he decides that THAT's the way to go. Not unlike DUEL OF THE IRON FIST, THE BOXER FROM SHANGTUNG is a Triad movie loaded with hatchet-wielding hatchet men (led, in this case, by Ku Feng as Boss Yang). Along the way to becoming Tan's man in the area, Ma defeats a Russian wrestler. When Tan is ambushed and murdered, Ma sends Xiao packing and sets out to avenge his idol. As in many of Chang Cheh's movies, women are left sidelined watching the action (or seen leaving town, as in this case). While I've seen no trailers proudly proclaiming "No women in this one!", they might just as well have done one: Ma seems FAR more interested in Tan than the young lady who pines for him in the movie. Chang Cheh (thankfully) milks the gory finale for all it's worth (even literally bringing down the Green Lotus Teahouse, the way Jackie Chan would in THE LEGEND OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER). Another ten for Chang Cheh.
  • Occasionally too gluey Eastern about the rising of Ma Yongzhen [ Chen Kuan Tai, in the German title he's giving a pirate, not a boxer ] , who hast to recognize later, the air up there is quite thin. The formal data's of the movie are quite impressing: John Woo as assistant director, Chen Kuan Tai became one the Top Actors thru it, it's with KING BOXER and FIST OF FURY one of THE influential movies of the time, followed by a somehow sequel [ IRON MAN ] and a remake [ Corey Yuen Kwai's HERO, with Takeshi Kaneshiro and the then-comeback of Yuen Biao ].

    An epic is aimed, the premise is well, but due to the missing pace and the lacking dramatic and elaboration it isn't reached. The action scenes are either rigid or way too exaggerated, and some sequences could have been cut; a running time of 2hrs is too much for that. For example the Wrestling episode, which is terribly long, but also some sections with Ching Li as eye-catcher and secret love interest of Ma Yongzhen, which adds nothing at all to the film. So there's only struggle to the next, the opponents are always increasing, Ma himself is little impressed by that. At the end he runs around a tea house, collapsing it and beating the sh*t out of estimated 200 thugs, and already has an Axe cut in his belly. Thats too silly.

    Movie has sure his strengths, production values is as high as the body count, Chen Kuan Tai does very well in his first leading role, there's an expanded cameo of David Chiang and the gangster story is something new, compared to the usual revenge - plot. The prologue and epilogue are quite fine, between them is a good film, but not an outstanding one.
  • This is basically a kung fu Scarface type of story. Chen Kuan Tai gets an "Introducing" credit in what I believe to be his first starring role. He was great, and gets even better in future movies. David Chiang has a key role and as always was the coolest guy on screen. The version I saw was uncut, which is my favorite word for movies, though it did feel a bit long. I don't think anything was worth cutting out though. I feel sorry for those stuck with a version shorter by a half hour. My favorite supporting actor of the era, Ku Feng, was in this too, but if I told you I watched 2 Shaw Brothers movies today and he was in both... well, this shouldn't be a surprise. That guy worked his ass off and the odds of such an occurrence are quite high!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Ma Yung Chen (Chen Kuan Tai) from Shantung yearns to be someone of importance. Someone people don't look past, but admire as he walks own the street. He is going to take pal Hsiao Chiang Bei (Cheng Kang-Yeh) aka Little Hsiao Chiang Bei, along with him. Those who were with him when he was down and stick by his side as he rises, will be rewarded well. When Ma meets the infamous Boss Tan (the always amazing David Chiang Da Wei) he knows exactly what he wants to be. He refuses a job from Boss Tan, announcing he will get where he wants to be on his own. he will owe no one for his success. It creates an immediate respect between the two.

    Ma's steps to become important include accidentally intervening in a district fight between Boss Tan and Boss Yang (Chiang Nan). Ma's Iron Fists easily defeat Yang's men, who have nearly destroyed Tan's men in the district. Yang thinks Ma is working for Tan, despite Ma's assurances he is on his own. Yang sees Ma as a means to indirectly screw with Tan over district dominance and an impending opium deal.

    Little Hsiao learns about a contest involving a Russian Muscleman and a $20 bet. If you can make the Russian fall, you win $20 and no doubt recognition in Shanghai as someone on the rise. It's the perfect stepping stone for Ma. One of Yang's 4 Champion fighters, Li Caishun (Tien Chiang) is on hand to guard the proceeds fro the challenge. Li and Ma have already had on run in and Li wants t make sure there will not be a third encounter. Li is one of those men who's powerful so long as he has minions around him. Ma defeats both Li an the Russian without much of a sweat

    Ma will have run in with two more of Yang's champions and also back them down without much effort. This irks the Champions and seems to amuse Yang, who back burners the issue to focus on ridding himself of Tan before the Opium deal can occur.

    Ma learns he has become the boss of the poorest section in Shanghai. Tan lost the area to Yang, who in turn technically lost it to Ma during their fist encounter. Tan sends along some of his best men, including Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, to help Ma establish himself as Boss. All profits from the area go directly to Ma. Tan sends a message nothing is owed to Tan or anyone else. Ma did this on his own.

    Ma has flirtations with a local singer, Chin Lin Chi (Ching Li). They exchange glances an smiles, but it never goes beyond that (Not like in Man of Iron where Ching Li and Chen Kuan Tai become an actual couple). Chin Lin Chi loses interest when Ma goes from being a no boy to the boss of her area. She sees him now as just another thug looking to make a name for himself while stepping on others. Ma is picked on by his men for his interest in Chin Lin Chi. Ma brushes it off by announcing he can get any woman he wants - and proves it.

    Ma gets a carriage and has it painted identical to Tan's - as he is still trying to emulate Tan. Even Tan's former men who are now with Ma, remark how similar the two are. Ma is discussing expanded his holdings with his men, but doesn't want to step on Tan's toes or deal with Yang. There is a Casino an Brothel that neither seems to possess. Ma goes on his own to take on the owner Chang Chin Fa (Ku Feng), one of Yang's Champions. Chin Fa is infuriated when Yang orders him to give the properties to Ma. It is all part of Yang's plan to deal with Ma once Tan is out of the way.

    When Tan learns the properties are now in the possession of Ma and that Ma has a carriage identical to his own, his is flattered and offers a warning. Yang is far more devious than he appears. Ma needs to watch every move he makes where Yang is concerned. Little Hsiao promises to pass on the warning. Sadly, Tan doesn't heed his own advice and is ambushed by Yang through information leaked by Tan's right hand man (Wong Chung).

    Ma goes in search of Tan and finds the ambush aftermath. Ma vows to avenge Tan by taking on Yang. Ma prepares for the meeting with Yang by ensuring Little Hsiao is out of harms way. He tells Little Hsiao to get $100 from the cashier and get out of Shanghai. Little Hsiao should go buy a farm, get married and live a happy life. The life Ma has created for himself has no room for someone as honorable as Little Hsiao.

    Ma ignores his men's behest not to confront Yang on his own. The man cannot be trusted. Ma promises things will work out the way they were meant to work out. His men should stay put and wait for his return. Everyone seems to know this is a suicide mission but none speak to it.

    Yang has filled the tea house with his own men. Which I have come to expect with storylines like this. You know what will happen, but you have to watch anyway. I have to applaud Ma's stamina. He took a beating, but kept coming back for more. Chin Fa has buried a hatchet in Ma's stomach and it didn't even phase Ma. Yang watches in interest and horror, as his men are killed one by one by Ma. even his champions don't stand a chance against a man who has nothing more to lose.

    Ma's men arrive to help him as Ma struggles to remain on his feet to reach is final goal - Killing Yang for the murder of Tan. Yang's men are sent outside to deal with ma's men. The blood bath fills the street. Ma can barely stand by the time he gets his hands on Yang. One of Yang's men, who is also mortally wounded, attacks Ma after Yang has dawn his last breath. The irony of Ma's situation doesn't seem lost on him as he break out in hysterical laughter.

    He did exactly as he planned. He became someone. Someone people notice on the street. Someone people, on some level, respected. He also mirrored Tan's rise and fall nearly to the letter. Ma's men enter the tea house as Ma dies at the foot of the stairs. They take their revenge on the man who dealt Ma's final blow.

    Little Hsiao has done as Ma requested. He has packed everything he possesses and is boarding a train out of Shanghai. Also on the train are Chin Lin Chi and her uncle who are no doubt hoping to go where others will not dictate their lives.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Possibly Chang Cheh's finest martial arts movie, containing everything that people have come to expect from him. The film has a good, although not great, storyline, charismatic actors and thrilling action scenes. It also contains a ton of blood.

    Chen Kuan Tai plays the title character, and we follow him as he rises through the ranks of the gangster world. David Chiang shows up in supporting role as a crime boss who is admired by Kuan Tai. Although he only appears briefly he still gets a chance to show of his moves, and be a tough guy.

    The main themes of brotherhood and betrayal are all here as usual, and the film culminates in one of the finest final fight scenes to appear in a Shaw Brothers Movie.

    Of course there is still the usual problems, as in a lot of the more modern day Chang Cheh films, no one considers the idea of actually just shooting the hero from afar. Of course they don't, that would be too sensible, and most of the villains here are idiots. Of course if they just shot him it would end the movie quite abruptly. Instead Kuan Tai gets to fight it out in a bloody trail of glory, and doesn't even give up when he's gets an axe in the stomach.

    An axe in the stomach, and he fights till the end with it sticking out of him. Any other film you may think this is ridiculous, but in a Chang Cheh film this is expected.

    Chen Kuan Tai would go on to work with Chang Cheh in numerable other occasions, but was never better than in Boxer from Shantung.

    Also check out the remakes, Hero, starring Yuen Biao & Takeshi Kaneshiro and also the more recent Once Upon a Time in Shanghai. Both deserve a look, but don't live up to Cheh's classic.