The audio and dialogue in this movie is so shitty, it should bring shame on the families of everyone involved. The zooms are cool. I looked up the director to make fun of him, but he was deaf, so I’m gonna credit Clouse with all the cool zooms and blame Warner Bros for the sound. Bruce is in this as much as The Big Boss, there’s much time wasted on the corny ensemble cast (I can’t help but compare this to the closest-to-1973 ensemble film I’ve seen lately, Cotton Comes to Harlem, which was 100x more convincing). Overall a sad Hollywood attempt at a Hong Kong movie. Bruce Lee innocent, and his delightfully unusual voice speaking English is a secondary highlight after the justly-acclaimed mirror/claw finale.
Han (Sek Kin, the Chinese Timothy Dalton but with iron fists) lures fighters to his island, including Lee, charismatic gambler John Saxon, and Jim Kelly (who would go on to star in/as Black Belt Jones and Black Samurai). Kelly is introduced beating up racist cops and stealing their car, so we know he’s a good guy – wonder if that was as clear in 1973. Muscley Bolo is Han’s protector, would go on to fight Jean-Claude Van Damme. There’s a female operative on the island, and Bruce’s secret mission is to avenge the death of his sister, but mainly it’s a man’s movie, baby.
Han shows Saxon his claw museum:
Bolo is unimpressed by Bruce until it’s too late:
Jim Kelly rockin’ out:
“Our tolerance was a mistake.” After the poisoning death of a martial arts master, a brown-suited dude is sent to insult and challenge his disciples during the memorial service, a crass move that earns the wrath of disciple Bruce Lee. This starts out way better than The Big Boss by pitting Bruce against forty guys early on instead of waiting for the second half – “Next time I’ll make you eat the glass.”
The titular fist:
Lee’s confuse-o-vision technique:
This is Shanghai, and all the villains are Japanese. Not a master of history, I’d forgotten that the Japanese colonized parts of China throughout the 1930’s and I was amazed at their nerve. Bruce goes on a righteous rampage through the city, smashing racist Japanese in their jerk faces, then in case we’re tempted to feel bad for them, the Japanese massacre all of Bruce’s friends (including poor James Tien again). There is a love interest, just barely, and a couple of fun disguises. The big boss sports an absurd long mustache and has hired an English-speaking Russian tough who fights in a bow-tie – Bruce punches a guy’s dick off before taking them on, the action in this movie always great. Same as The Big Boss, the army closes in on Bruce post-killing-spree. Must see Lo Wei’s New Fist of Fury, a sequel starring Jackie Chan in his first major role.
love interest Nora Miao:
the big boss Chikara Hashimoto:
This is the second movie I’ve watched this year after Cold Weather that partly takes place at an ice factory. In this one, incompetent drug dealers are hiding packets of heroin inside blocks of ice… which are transparent. When a couple of employees find the nondescript packets, the baddies tell them there’s heroin inside, then murder the entire workforce. Strange logic abounds, but this is also a movie that was partly written during filming – per Matthew Polly in the extras, the first half was Bruce Lee’s screen test, and it was decided during filming that James Tien would get killed off and Lee take over the movie.
James, far right, wondering if he’s doomed:
A good, violent movie, though it was touch-and-go during that first half. Mostly low-rent and effective, badly dubbed with a bit of style (aka whip-pans). Even in the modern Criterion HD remaster the music sounds like it’s being played on a faulty tape machine. All the movie’s precision comes in the form of Bruce. Said to have been a dancer who fights with a cha-cha tempo, his first action scene makes the flailing clumsiness of the movie’s first half disappear.
Bodies in the ice:
The drug dealers are led by Big Boss Ying-Chieh Han – before Bruce kicks his ass, he frees the Boss’s pet parakeet as a power move. To get to this confrontation, every single person Bruce knows has to be murdered, so the movie’s death toll is high. Some weird humor in here too – Bruce apparently doesn’t know how liquor works and downs a half-bottle of cognac while out with his boss. Later he’s making growling monkeywolf noises as he Wile-E-Coyotes a guy through a wooden wall.