Remake of Boxer from Shantung concerns an ambitious young man moving to Shanghai in the 1930′s to become the head of his own criminal organization before discovering the price he must pay for his actions.
Ma Wing Jing (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and his brother make their way to turn-of-the-century Shanghai to escape the turmoil in Shantung. After securing jobs as coolies, Ma meets a powerful local triad leader, Tam See (Yuen Biao) who is supported by the British. When Tam takes a liking to the ambitious Ma, Ma spurns him and vows to make his own success. Later, when Ma saves Tam’s life, Tam offers a local night club to Ma. Aided by Kim Ling-tze the club owner, Ma begins to expand his territory, threatening to upset the control of other triads, the corrupt police and his friendship with Tam. The police and the gangs strike at both Ma and Tam, resulting in a bloodbath orchestrated by Tam’s rival, Yang Shuang (Yuen Tak). Barely escaping with his life, Ma is nursed back to health and stages a final showdown with Yang.
This film signaled Shaw Brothers return to feature filmmaking after nearly two decades of producing only television programming. Unfortunately, it never lived up to the standards set during Shaw Brothers heyday in the ’60s and ’70s. An awkward plot never really comes together, while the acting is generally flat. Only Corey Yuen’s inventive action scenes really make this film worth seeing as they evoke images from John Woo’s bullet ballets to Tsui Hark’s hyper kinetic action pacing.
Starting with the positive elements, the action is enjoyable even if most of it has been seen elsewhere. An ageless Yuen Biao is in great form, whether trading blows with Takeshi on a speeding horse carriage or battling an army of hatchet-wielding assassins single-handedly. Japanese import, Takeshi Kaneshiro manages to perform convincingly in an action lead physically in terms of looks and ability yet lacks the charisma to draw us into his character.
On the downside, the film never seems to know where its going in terms of plotting. At one time or another it seems like a send up to The Godfather, The Mambo Kings, and even The Shaw Brother’s own Boxer from Shantung (1972) which is essentially the same film. At one painful spot in the film, our “hero,” Ma seems to lose his memory after a disastrous series of events and his friends convince him that it was all a dream. What follows is a series of humorous lies concocted by Ma’s friends that Corey feels compelled to show us. The scene itself is actually funny but just doesn’t belong in the film. The finale is rushed with our protagonists performing over-the-top acts of violence which is unsatisfying.
Genre: Kung Fu