What's good people? Hai! Karate comes back with another madcap martial arts film to cover, and being that it is Women's History Month, we're going to get into a key film in the career of the Iron Phoenix, Judy Lee aka Chia Ling!! The film? Queen Boxer!! This flick comes to the public straight from the independent Fung Ming Motion Picture Company. Now there's a couple of reasons why this film gets a look here, and we'll cover those soon. But first - the action!!
Queen Boxer begins with a fighter by the name of Ma Yu Chen who heads to a restaurant to settle a score with the big boss(Lee Ying) and his gang of cutthroats. Now cutthroats as a term applies 'cause after Yu Chen wrecks the squad on hand, he somehow gets ambushed and winds up dead in a gruesome manner. It turns out that this group happens to be the infamous Axe Gang of Shanghai. And on their rampage, they happen to massacre a family. But what they didn't plan on was, that one member of the family would get wind of this - and seek revenge.
Ma Su Chen(Lee) arrives in Shanghai after a slightly drawn-out intro complete with a jacking of Issac Hayes' 'Shaft Theme'. It's not the only bit of music that was boosted, as we'll get to. Su Chen comes to rest at a rice bun shop run by Fan Kao To(Peter Yang Kwan), a local who is fed up with gangs trying to terrorize folks to the point where he refuses to pay protection. As he stands up to the Axe Gang subordinates, Su Chen winds up fighting off one or two of them herself, performing a bit of instant dentistry in one case. Kao To winds up running a casino due to his stance, and he and Su Chen wind up teaming up to fight the big boss and the rest of the Axe Gang for some overdue justice.
I won't lie to you - Queen Boxer does have some snooze-worthy parts to it. Lee gets introduced early, and doesn't have much major action until nearly halfway through. Now - she DOES thoroughly bust some heads in this flick. Lee proves exceptional when it comes to handling knives, as evidenced in one scene where she catches a blade and whirls to take out someone in a fluid motion. She stands out in this picture, and while it's not hard to do given the cast(Yang Kwan is aight, but no one else really grabs you), the film does stand out because of her. The action director, Wu-Min Hsiung, more than likely just told her, 'we're going to really highlight how fierce you are - so go get em!' This sentiment was probably shared by the director, Florence Yu Fung-Chi - who also happened to be the producer. She and the Fung Ming company would have this as their only spark of notice, a spark that got snuffed out quickly because of some fibs being told. First one? The film got advertised as a 'sequel' to Shaw Studios' Boxer From Shantung, which starred Chen Kuan-Tai and was a hit that same year. Another aspect was how Judy Lee got her Western moniker. Apparently, Fung Ming(which was owned by both Fung-Chi and Peter Yang Kwan)was looking to maximize their profits with the film. That's why they jacked music not only from Issac Hayes, but also from Shaw flicks and others. It explained why, according to legend, they shot the film in ELEVEN days. And it also was the motive behind making Chia Ling as Judy Lee in order to pass her off as the iconic Bruce Lee's sister in promotions for the film. When the jig was up, Judy wound up being the scapegoat and drew the wrath of those fooled in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Now it is up for debate whether the film company did this on purpose. In any event, Judy dealt with the situation as best as possible. A tough thing when it is your first film. As for Florence Yu Fung-Chi, it was her attempt to be a major director and producer, a tough go for a woman - this was the time where women didn't have the higher prominence outside of acting, not until Mona Fong's rise with Shaw Studios a couple of years later. Not even her prior work as a minor role actress could help further her ambitions in that sense.
Or should we say, second? Because Lee's first film is listed as Escape, and there's not too much more info to be found about this film made in the same year by the same company with Yang Kwan in the lead. Lee was only eighteen, and in this film, she shows off the first glimpses of a fighting style that combines raw power with crisp and graceful presence that would ensure Lee's popularity and be a trademark for the rest of her acting career. She'd be part of the new wave of fierce heroines in martial arts films of the 1970's that would include Angela Mao, Nora Miao, and Li Ching. But for Judy, a good deal of her roles would resemble what you find in Queen Boxer - straight roustabout beatdowns. For those who want a film with a loose plot and a chunk of bloody action, check this out with a bag of popcorn to kill some time and to get some knowledge on how the Iron Phoenix got her start.
RATING: 2.5 OF 5 DRAGON PUNCHES