When I was 10 years old, Cinemax aired a Bruce Lee marathon one night. Thanks to all my mother's stories about how she and her friends would go to the matinee to watch Bruce Lee movies, not to mention how he was revered in the film The Last Dragon (one of my favorite childhood movies!), I had to see this legendary figure for myself. That summer night, my mom and I watched four of his movies back to back, and it was on that summer night that I fell in love with Bruce Lee.
While I was browsing IMDB.com, I learned that July 20th of this year marked the 43rd anniversary of Bruce's death. It inspired to me to write an article about the man that defied nearly everything he was a part of, be it martial arts, movies, or television. I went back and watched all the films from Bruce's short, yet illustrious movie career and decided to do a review of each film. So, as they say in any martial arts tournament...BEGIN!
Putting Bad Guys on Ice in The Big Boss (1971)
In The Big Boss (or Fists of Fury, as it was called when I was a little girl), Bruce stars as Cheng Chao-an, a young man that travels to Thailand to work with his family at a corrupt ice factory. Cheng doesn't do a lot of fighting in the first part of the film, because he promised his mother he'd stay out of trouble (ahhh...). Of course, Cheng has to break his promise when the factory's drug trafficking is revealed and members of his family start being killed off. This movie will always have a place in my heart, due to it being the very first Bruce Lee film I ever watched. Even without my bias, it can't be denied that The Big Boss is a really fun movie, chock full of action and bits of comedy. Some scenes were a little too cartoonish, to be honest. There's a scene where Cheng kicks a dude through a wall, and the hole is a perfect outline of the guy's body, a la a Looney Tunes short. I didn't mind that too much, however. The only things I did mind were that the blood looked like red paint (I hate that!), and that Bruce's character fell in love with a girl that was supposed to be his cousin. Riiiiight...
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 kicks
Favorite Scene (other than Bruce whuppin' butt): The part where Bruce gets drunk off Hen. Gold.
Handing Out Swift Justice in Fist of Fury (1972)
Whereas The Big Boss had bits and pieces of comic relief, it was made clear that Fist of Fury (or The Chinese Connection) wasn't playin' around in the least. In this film, Bruce plays Chen Zhen, a man living in China during the early 20th century, who learns that his martial arts teacher was murdered by a rival Japanese dojo. He vows revenge, and man does he get it! Once again, Bruce delivers as Chen. This movie has him showing off his skills from start to finish during his hellbent mission of vengeance. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as The Big Boss, but it's still one of my favorite Bruce Lee films. At least this time, Bruce didn't have a crush on his cousin. One thing I highly recommend is to watch this with the original Mandarin dialog (I recommend this for all Bruce Lee films, but this one especially). Watching this with the dubbed English language takes away from the movie, making it extremely corny and damn near unbearable. Trust me on this.
Rating: 4 out of 5 kicks
Favorite Scene (other than Bruce whuppin' butt): Before Bruce learns the Japanese dojo killed his teacher, they give his school a sign that says, "The Sick Man of Asia." Bruce pays the dojo a visit, kicks their rumps, and makes two of the students eat the sign. He warns them that next time, they'll be eating glass. That's gangsta.
Getting Friends Out of the Frying Pan (and Sometimes Into the Fire) in The Way of the Dragon (1972)
The Way of the Dragon tells the story of Tang Lung, a slightly awkward man from Hong Kong that travels to Rome to help a family friend keep her restaurant out of a gangster's hands. Unfortunately, Tang Lung doesn't speak a word of English (which for some reason is the primary language in Italy in this film), but nonetheless, he manages to get the job done. However, with every victory, the gangsters come harder at him and his friends. After a while, they have no choice but to pit Tang Lung against none other than...Chuck Norris! This was another fun film that could actually be considered an action comedy, with Tang Lung's peculiar behavior at the beginning of the film and the comical elements they allowed to be in most of the fight scenes. The movie also had a small twist ending that no one saw coming, which I really liked. Two of the most interesting things about this film is that it's the only one of Bruce's movies to not take place in Asia, and it's Bruce's directorial debut (he also wrote the screenplay!). I thought he did a fantastic job. I really loved Bruce's and Chuck's showdown at the Colosseum, which has now become iconic amongst martial arts movie fans. My only gripe is that Chuck should've spent less time on the Total Gym and more time in the bathroom shaving that sweater he called chest hair (it even covered some of his back). Gross.
Rating: 3.5 kicks out of 5
Favorite Scene (other than Bruce whuppin' butt): I have two. The first one is where Bruce is invited to a woman's apartment and scurries out the moment he sees her topless (I'm not postin' a GIF for that one, y'all), and the other is where Bruce and Chuck have their fight, and there's a moment of tension between Bruce, Chuck and a kitten. Yes, a kitten. Ironically, the kitten looked a lot like my late kitten Blackjack, that I had when I was---you guessed it---10 years old.
Enduring a Fake Bruce Lee and Horrendous Editing in Game of Death (1978)
*Sigh* Basically, this movie is about an international martial arts film star named Billy Lo, who for all intensive purposes, is a fictionalized version of Bruce Lee. Billy and his girlfriend are being strong armed by a local crime syndicate, and when they attempt to kill him on set (of the set of Fist of Fury no less, in a scene eerily similar to Brandon Lee's actual death), he fakes his death and sets out to fight back against them. Bruce started filming scenes for Game of Death back in 1972, but sadly enough, he passed away before his vision could be completed. So, the folks at Golden Harvest decided to use scenes from the unfinished project as well as scenes from old Bruce Lee films to make this turkey. In between the old stock footage, they used a stand-in actor named Kim Tai-jong, who only resembled Bruce whenever he wore oversized sunglasses and was shot at a certain angle.
Out of all those films my mother and I watched that night, I liked this one the least. Now that I've revisited it as a grown woman, I see that this movie is much worse than I remembered it. The editing is god awful. There's a huge difference between the old footage with Bruce and the scenes shot for the film. It's painfully obvious that Kim isn't the real Bruce Lee, and the cuts between him and the real Bruce are just ludicrous. They even used a fake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in certain scenes. The film's only saving grace are the fight scenes, which are surprisingly decent and capture the essence of Bruce's Jeet Kune Do style, and the actual footage used from the original Game of Death, which unfortunately isn't shown until the final 20 minutes. I suggest skipping this one. If y'all want to see the original cut of The Game of Death (as it was originally named), you can check it out here. It's incomplete, but it's much better than the hash the studio turned it into. I still can't believe Rotten Tomatoes gave this movie a 75% rating. For shame!
Rating: 2 out of 5 kicks (only for keeping the original pagoda scenes)
Favorite Scene (other than real and fake Bruce whuppin' butt): There were a lot of unintentional laugh-out-loud scenes, but the best one was where Kim Tai-jong was looking in a mirror and they used a still photograph of Bruce's face to cover the stand-in's head. I swear I'm not making this up.
Saving the World One Baddie At a Time in Enter the Dragon (1973)
In Enter the Dragon, three men are invited to a mysterious martial arts tournament on a distant island that's run by an even more enigmatic man named Han. The first is a man named Lee, a Shaolin monk hired by British intelligence to spy on Han's illegal activities. Lee also has a personal vendetta, since Han's men are responsible for his sister's death. The other two men, Roper and Williams, are from America and are forced to flee the country; Roper has to leave due to his debts owed to loan sharks, and Williams leaves after defending himself from racist police officers. Once on the island, the men soon realize they have to fight not only to make it through the tournament, but to stay alive.
Enter the Dragon was released on July 26, 1973, six days after Bruce died. Unfortunately, it would be the only Hollywood major motion picture he would ever release. True to form though, he went out with a bang. With its exciting plot, interesting characters, and butt kickin' fight scenes, Enter the Dragon is Bruce's best film, hands down. The movie never offers a dull moment, and keeps you entertained from beginning to end. Not only is it my all time favorite Bruce Lee film, it's one of my favorite movies, period. Every time it comes on, I quote just about all the characters' lines. This movie didn't air during Cinemax's all night Bruce Lee marathon for some strange reason. I watched years later when I was in my early teens, and I've loved it ever since. For Bruce Lee fans as well as martial arts movie fans, this is a movie not to be missed.
Rating: 5 out of 5 kicks
Favorite Scene (other than Bruce whuppin' butt): Bruce giving his philosophy to the young student. I love it.
There was a member of the IMDB message boards stating how he "loved the myth of Lee." Honey, this ain't no myth. All those years ago, as a 10 year old child, I saw with my very own eyes that Bruce gained his legendary status for a reason. He was everything everyone pertained him to be. And as I've gotten older and become an even bigger fan of Bruce Lee's, I've seen that he was all that and more. As Babe Ruth said in The Sandlot, "Heroes get remembered, but legends never die."