Plot: The spiritual boxer is a well known legend and the mystical lore of an invincible man, bolstered by powerful spirits is quite popular, to the point that it attracts some less than noble devotees. Hsiao (Wong Yu) is one such example, an apprentice who travels the land with his master Chi Keung (Kong Yeung) and puts on demonstrations of the spiritual boxer legend. In most cases, the audiences are dazzled by the performances, but sometimes a mistake is made or a keen eye notices a trick, which then reveals the entire operation as a scam. But when he is asked to put his skills to use to protect the innocent, can he turn his charlatan charm and legitimate martial skills into talents that help people instead of rob them?
Entertainment Value: This is a fun one, as The Spiritual Boxer blends a brisk narrative, excellent martial arts action, and a skilled sense of humor, giving us a movie that entertains from start to finish. The strength of the narrative and humor are crucial to the movie’s success, as the film puts less emphasis on action scenes than most of its peers, quite a bold approach. A good amount of martial arts driven action is present, but most of the sequences are brief and focused, with fewer full on, large scale fights. This was a risky choice, but it pays off and in those scenes where the action takes the spotlight, it is fantastic, super fun battles. I am always impressed by the precision of the action in this one, as the fights seem so exact and on point, even when complex choreography is involved. At the same time, the scenes aren’t overly mechanical and that is not an easy balance to strike. So while this isn’t wall to wall like some Shaw Brothers productions, this is certainly a case over quality over quantity.
The action scenes are fantastic in The Spiritual Boxer, but one reason they’re so effective is that they’re part of a larger narrative framework. I love wild, epic fights even if they’re for no real reason, but this movie proves that surrounding martial arts with a good story can work wonders. The movie crafts a narrative that reels you in and keeps you hooked, with a lot of heart and attention to detail. The characters here are a cut above the usual chop socky offerings to be sure, while humor and even light supernatural elements are used to effective ends as well. The mystical aspects are restrained and not as ridiculous as some movies would provide, while the humor feels organic and rarely falls into the broad, slapstick approach. I would still consider The Spiritual Boxer an action movie first and foremost, but I appreciated the other elements woven in and to me, the humor is a real in this one. I also think it broaden the film’s appeal, since it has so much more than martial arts style action on tap.
The Disc: A new HD restoration is present here from 88 Films, with an image that looks much cleaner and clearer than you might expect. I was impressed with the clarity and restored print, the movie looks simply fantastic here. I couldn’t find any real concerns here and this is a sizable improvement over previous DVD incarnations. You can choose between Chinese and English language tracks, with optional English subtitles also provided. On the extras side, 88 Films has included an audio commentary with Asian cinema expert David West, so fans can learn a little more about the genre, stars, and studio involved.