When I was a kid, my Sunday mornings were owned by the USA Network. It began at about six o’clock in the morning with USA Cartoon express, then it continued into the late morning with WWF Superstars of Wrestling, then in the afternoon it folded neatly into the coup de grace, Kung Fu Theatre. Bruceploitation films like EXIT THE DRAGON, ENTER THE TIGER and BRUCE LEE FIGHTS BACK FROM THE GRAVE would trade off with 1970s Shaw Brothers classic films like THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHT, THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN and the widely popular THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, the repeated viewing of which granted you a black belt in choreographed martial arts. Shaw Brothers’ Studio was the king of Sunday afternoon Kung Fu, and with close to 1,000 titles, it was almost guaranteed that you would be watching one of their masterpieces.
Shaw Brothers’ controversial horror film THE BOXER’S OMEN (1983) would not be one of those Kung Fu classics playing out on Sunday morning television. In fact, until its 2006 DVD release, THE BOXER’S OMEN was a phantom to Western audiences. The only way to actually see the film in the states was to travel to the East or purchase a VHS copy dubbed from a worn out Taiwanese out-of-print VHS release. Consequently, all that was known about THE BOXER’S OMEN was from favorable reviews written in trade publications. This is sad really considering THE BOXER’S OMEN is probably one of the more important films in the Shaw Brothers library, and it’s a brilliant, trippy cross-over between kung-fu films and horror.
A boxer travels to Thailand so that he can train for an upcoming fight with the man who crippled his brother. While there, he is summoned to a Buddhist temple where he is told he must duel with a Black Magic conjuror. Retaining the standard Shaw Bros use of grotesque black magic in THE BOXER’S OMEN, the film depicts a strange duel between conjurors that uses regurgitated food, raw organs, and, at one point, a raw chicken ass cut from a freshly-killed chicken to create edible potions that summon forth demons and cute little, fuzzy bats. And following the same Kung Fu formula kung-fu fans are accustomed to, our hero must seek retribution, fall from grace, receive his training, and then, against all odds, defeat evil. Now add to this over-the-top gore, lavish sets, zany special effects, and some fun stop-animation!
Prior to 1980, Shaw Brothers Studio was a powerful force in the Asian film market. Their brand of Kung-Fu and horror films were considered to be the top in Hong Kong cinema. Then in 1980, new filmmakers began intruding on to the scene. Inspired by Japanese Pinky Violence films, a new style of realism ushered in by young filmmakers began emerging. As this desire for rawer depictions of modern Hong Kong increased, the Shaw Brothers’ previous use of period filmmaking became antiquated. THE BOXER’S OMEN was their attempt to insert themselves, reluctantly, into the new Hong Kong style. Although still incorporating their use of gruesome and bizarre black magic and martial arts, this new Shaw style included more nudity and realistic violence than their previous films. THE BOXER’S OMEN also marked the Shaw Brothers return of legendary Bruce Lee foil Bolo Yeung. Although playing a smaller villainous role, his massive body builder physique is unmistakable and iconic. It was also the first time he had been in a Shaw Brothers film since 1971.
THE BOXER’S OMEN is an odd little treat. This is not like any other horror film you’ve ever seen. It is trippy, whacky, and wildly captivating.