Production and Distribution

During the 1970’s, the world developed an intense fascination with a new genre of film: martial arts. Large movie corporations such as Warner Brothers were actively monitoring the box offices of other countries, hoping to find the “next big thing.” For Warner Brothers, this came to them in the form of King Boxer, a film from Hong Kong centered on an ancient Chinese boxing tournament. The film, produced by the Shaw Brothers production company, boasted a modest budget of only $300,000 (Jones 2). Shaw Brothers was founded in the 1920s under the original name of Tianyi Film Company. The company became one of the most successful film companies in Asia, quickly expanding to Malaya and Singapore before Japanese occupation halted their growth. After World War II, the company continued to grow and changed their major language from Cantonese to Mandarin. King Boxer was first released in Hong Kong in 1972, and had a virtually unknown cast of actors. Warner Brothers quickly picked up the film and released it the following year with a new title and an English dubbing (Desser 24). Five Fingers of Death, as it was now called, was incredibly well received in the U.S. market as well as across the world. The film grossed 3.8 million in only in rentals in the United States, making even more on the international stage (Jones 2). The actors, who were virtually unheard of outside of Hong Kong, became the first Kung Fu superstars and went on to star in many more movies.

The Shaw Brothers Logo

The same year King Boxer was released in Hong Kong, another set of martial arts movies was enjoying success in Japan. Known as the Sword of Vengence series, these films were based on popular manga that was first published in 1970. The Lone Wolf and Cub series was centered on a wandering assassins-for-hire and his young son as they travel the Japanese countryside while avoiding enemies. The films that were subsequently released did not experience the same level of international success as Five Fingers of Death. However this did not affect the success in Japan and the films ultimately spawned a franchise spanning seven movies from 1972 to 1980. There were also two television series based on the manga, and the central characters of Ogami Ittou and his son Daigoro have become pop culture phenomena, making multiple cameo appearance in later television shows. Kenji Misumi was the director for the film, and Shintarou Katsu and Hisaharu Matsubara produced Baby Cart at the River Styx; Katsu was a prevalent actor, director, and producer in Japan until the early 1990. Katsu produced four of the seven Lone Wolf and Cub movies, while Matsubara helped produce five. Unlike Five Fingers of Death, these did not have a major production company in charge of creation and distribution, which led to the movie being released only in Japan. While the original cut didn’t see a release until 1997, Shogun Assassin, a film composed parts of the first two films in the Lone Wolf and Cub series, was released in 1972 (Wikepedia, 1).

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