Chao Chi Hao (Lo Lieh) trained for years to become an expert fighter, but his teacher, who brought him up after his parents died, thinks Chi Hao would be better off training at a martial arts school. Despite his teacher being threatened by thugs, Chi Hao agrees to leave him behind and, after saying goodbye to his sweetheart Yin Yin, joins the school only to be placed at the lowest rung of the ladder. Meanwhile, a rival school are devising a way to win the upcoming, prestigious tournament by foul means...
Scripted by Lo Lieh and Chiang Yang, Five Fingers of Death was the first important Chinese martial arts hit in the West, shortly before Bruce Lee made it really big there. As you watch it, you may ponder on how much more peaceful historical China might have been if there weren't any fighting schools and tournaments around, but you're more likely to be caught up in the non-stop, bloody action as the fists, feet and every other part of the body fly.
Our hero follows the traditional path to supreme fighting skill. He starts out a lowly kitchen boy when his talents are judged poor by his new teacher, who does him the favour of throwing things at him to catch him off guard. It's not long before Chi Hao has asserted himself after taking revenge on the man who has humiliated him in a bar, and the new teacher decides to promote him to star pupil by giving him the Iron Fist instruction manual.
Along the way, he has romantic trouble when he saves a singer's life, and she understandably takes a liking to him in return; meanwhile Yin Yin dreams of running towards him through fields in a shampoo ad kind of way. But more importantly, the rival school has hired three Japanese heavies to stack the odds in their favour: they proceed to overwhelm Chi Hao in the forest and break his hands to prevent him winning the tournament.
Is he going to let that stop him? Of course not, but there's plenty more punishment where that came from. The "eye for an eye" mentality guarantees a fight every ten minutes, and also has a genuine "eye for an eye" subplot - Five Fingers of Death doesn't skimp on the gory details. The combat is extravagantly staged, with fighters tumbling through the air, and illustrates the brutal effects with heads frequently split open. Whether they took it seriously or not, you can see why it caught the imagination of Western audiences back in the seventies, and it continues to provide enjoyment today. Listen for the way the music occasionally threatens to turn into "Walk Like a Man" by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.