Boxer from Shantung
aka 馬永貞 aka Ma Yong Zhen aka Ma Wing Jing aka Killer from Shantung
Written by Chang Cheh and Ni Kuang
Directed by Chang Cheh and Pao Hsueh-Li
The rise of a gangster from nothing to boss who goes down in a violent orgy of death is one of those classic tales that gets told a lot in cinema. Boxer of Shantung is no exception on delivering the basic story. What Boxer of Shantung does do, is deliver the story in an entertaining fashion that makes you cheer for the hero, even as the trappings of power cause him to abandon some of his principals.
Boxer of Shantung is Chen Kuan-Tai’s first lead role, and he brings such an energy of pride to his laborer character Ma Yung Chen that you know he is going places. As a penniless worker, he argues against the innkeeper treating his fellow poors like second-class citizens. He refuses to do a demeaning job for insulting carriage drivers, nor does he accept charity from a fellow immigrant from Shantung who has gone on to do well. He decrees that he is going to be just as successful as him one day, and soon he gets a little territory, then goes punching his way for more. During his rise, Ma remembers his poor roots and chastises his men for shaking them down for money, choosing instead to target richer districts.
The trappings of power are dangerous, and when you play the game of thrones, you play for keeps, even if the game is being a local boss in olden China. Each move leads Ma Yung Chen increasingly in conflict with the Axe Gang, their champions and boss at first seeing him as a distraction to their main rival, Boss Tan Si (David Chiang Da-Wei), but eventually focusing on Ma Yung Chen with their entire gang army.
The action starts slow in Boxer from Shantung, but builds and build until the end, where Ma Yung Chen is battling the entire Axe Gang by himself. This slow burn action may have fallen out of favor in our ADD/hyperediting modern reality, but it still works for me. The fight scenes are worth waiting for, Chen Kuan-Tai is a powerful force, and the choreography incorporates all the random objects around the landscape into the melees. With each bump into the Axe Gang, Ma Yung Chen battles both more dangerous members and just plain more and more members of the Axe Gang.