• Spiritual Boxer, The



    Released by: 88 Films
    Released on: June 11th, 2018.
    Director: Chia-Liang Liu
    Cast: Yue Wong, Chen Chi Lin, Lung Ti, Yeung Kong
    Year: 1975
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    The Movie:

    Hsiao (Yue Wong) is, or he’d like everyone to believe at least, one of the touted ‘spiritual boxers’ of legend, an unstoppable warrior and a force for good aided by virtuous spirits who help him fight evil. He and his master, Chi Keung (Yeung Kong), travel throughout Qing Dynasty era China and put on impressive demonstrations that show off their amazing skills and abilities, typically impressing audiences and winning favor with those who see them.

    There are issues, however – see, it’s all a put on. Chi Keung is a drunk and when he gets so sloshed that he basically just takes off, Hsiao decides to keep up the ruse while flying solo. Eventually a kindly woman named Jin Lian (Chen Chi Lin) instills in Hsiao a change of heart, but this only gets him on the bad side of some of the local bandits out to take advantage of the villagers that Hsiao has recently been conning himself.

    A bit of a redemption story, The Spiritual Boxer mixes martial arts action and comedy in reasonably equal measure. Not all of the comedy works, but all of the action does and it’s clear that this picture was a huge influence on the type of film that would later be popularized in a huge way by Jackie Chan. Interestingly enough, while director Chia-Liang Liu excelled with serious fight movie fare for the Shaw Brothers like The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin (and its two sequels), Heroes Of The East, Legendary Weapons of China and the amazing 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, he’d also team up with Chan in the nineties to turn out a legitimate classic in the form of the untouchably great Legend Of The Drunken Master in 1994. So, you could easily make the case that the seeds for what he and Chan would create were being sewn in this picture made almost two decades prior – it’s even got drunken boxing in it.

    That said, this lacks a certain energy that makes the best kung-fu comedy pictures work as well as they can. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch, in fact it’s quite entertaining even if it is about fifteen-minutes too long, but Yue Wong, as decent as he is, doesn’t quite have the charisma he needs to really pull us into the storyline the way he should. Yeung Kong is fun, playing the stereotypical drunken old man character well enough, and Chen Chi Lin is fine, but out leading man is good… just not quite great. Still, an appearance from Ti Lung is always welcome, so the movie has that going for it as well.

    Production values are about average for a Shaw Brothers movie of this period. That’s to say that the movie is nicely shot and makes good use of those familiar looking and beautifully artificial sound stages that were such a bit part of the studio’s established look. The score works well, the fight scenes are often quite creative and typically nicely choreographed. The movie also features a scene that comes pretty out of left field involving a haunted house that is one of the more unexpected moments in the picture. If you’re interested in the history of martial arts films then you really should see this – just know going in that while it’s good, it doesn’t rank with the best of the Shaw martial arts films made around the same period.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The Spiritual Boxer arrives on Blu-ray framed at 2.35.1 in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer on a 25GB disc. There’s a bit of mild noise reduction on display here resulting in a bit of smoothing and some slightly waxy skin tones but it’s not a complete deal breaker – in fact it seems less obvious here than on some of the other titles that we’ve seen from the line. And like most of the Shaw Brothers Blu-ray releases, the image is pretty much spotless, free of all but the most minute instances of print damage. Black levels are solid and there’s a decent amount of detail here as well some appreciable texture. All in all, the image here is pretty solid.

    Audio options are provided in DTS-HD 2.0 Mono options in English and Mandarin Chinese with optional subtitles for the Chinese track available in English only. The English track isn’t nearly as effective as the native language option but, as always, it’s nice to have it included on the disc. The clarity of the Mandarin track is a bit better, it’s cleaner too. The score sounds decent and the over the top sound effects have plenty of punch behind them.

    The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary track with Hong Kong Cinema Expert David West that puts the film into context alongside some of the other pictures that the Shaw Brothers were cranking out around the same time. He offers up insight into the career and directorial style of the film’s director as well as some trivia about the cast and crew that were involved in the picture.

    That’s it as far as what’s on the disc, unless you include menus and chapter stops. As far as the physical product goes, however, we get some nice reversible cover sleeve art and a color insert booklet containing and essay on the film from Calum Waddell that offer a pretty solid reading and appreciation of the film. Additionally, if you buy this release direct from 88 Films’ website, you can get it with a limited-edition slipcover.

    The Final Word:

    The Spiritual Boxer is more historically important than it is genuinely engrossing, but it still has enough moments that inspire to make it worth checking out. Obviously, it would inspire some pretty big pictures to come and it’s hard not to compare it to those more impressive efforts, but there are some solid fight scenes here and some occasional doses of effective comedy. 88 Films’ Blu-ray release looks quite good and sounds fine and the included commentary and liner notes offer some welcome background information on the film.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!