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The Manchu Boxer
(aka Masters of Martial Arts, Martial Arts Masters, Bonecrushers)
1974; directed by Wu Ma

Originally released in 1974, The Manchu Boxer has become a largely forgotten entry in both Wu Ma and Sammo Hung's filmographies. Shot in South Korea and cranked out on the cheap by Golden Harvest, the film didn't make much of a peep when it came out, which is probably why Independent-International Pictures, a company run by Al Adamson -- a producer and director always looking to save a few bucks -- picked up the film for North American distribution under the title Masters of Martial Arts.

Manchu Boxer  Manchu Boxer

Independent-International typically released films on the United States' grindhouse and drive-in circuits, and so after kung fu films found popularity there in the early 1970's, Independent-International -- like many low-budget production houses -- jumped on the bandwagon. They put out a few original films, such as The Dynamite Brothers (aka East Meets Watts) but most of their kung fu catalog consisted of movies such as this, being bought for cut-rate prices from Hong Kong and other Asian distributors hoping to eke out a profit on B-list releases.

Manchu Boxer  Manchu Boxer

Interestingly, the Masters of Martial Arts version changes all of the cast and crew to Korean names -- except for Sammo Hung, who is given title billing, even though he only has a minor role. The actual star of the movie, Lau Wing, gets no mention, which is strange, given his roles in Bruce Lee films, such as the boss' son in The Big Boss. All this is even more puzzling because at this point, Sammo was more of a stuntman and action director than star -- he was certainly not a well-known name in America, even to aficinados of the genre.

Manchu Boxer  Manchu Boxer

At any rate, the actual film is a plodding oldschool affair. The well-worn chestnut of a plot has Lau Wing promising his father that he won't ever fight again after killing Wu Ma in the movie's opening fight. Of course, the promise gets pushed aside as his friends are beaten up by the local goons, which include Sammo, who also acted as this movie's action director -- though you would not know it by the fairly dull fight scenes, all of which lack his trademark inventiveness and speed. The leaden pace of the fisticuffs seems speedy compared to the exposition. Sample dialogue consists of snappy repartee like: "I'm looking for a job." "A job?" "Yes, a job." "Hmm." "Hmm." This is NyQuil Theatre material all the way.


Note: The Masters of Martial Arts version is available for free via the Crackle streaming service. It was also put out on DVD by BCI, who slapped the alternate title Bonecrushers on the cover, but left everything else the same. The original version has recently been released by Shout! Factory as part of their Martial Arts Movie Marathon series; a review of the DVD can be found here.

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