Color, 1972, 110 mins.

Directed by Lo Wei

Starring Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Quin Lee, Tony Liu, Robert Baker, Tien Feng, Wei Ping-Ao, Maria Yi / Produced by Raymond Chow / Music by Ku Chia Hui and Fu-ling Wang / Cinematography by Chen Ching Chu

Format: DVD - Media Asia (approx. $40)

Letterboxed (2.35:1) / Dolby Digital 5.1

The best of Bruce Lee's Chinese films, Fist of Fury (retitled The Chinese Connection for English language distribution) was his second starring vehicle following the smash hit starring debut, The Big Boss (called Fists of Fury in the U.S. - got that?). More political and serious than its predecessor, Fist of Fury serves as an unabashed showcase for Lee's awe-inspiring marital arts skills and, along with the nearly perfect Enter the Dragon, also provides a nice introduction to his work.

The original Cantonese title of the film, Jing we men (loosely translated as Doorway to Martial Arts Excellence), conveys one of the essential concepts of the film (and Lee's entire career, in fact); the important role of education and its effects on society. Set in Shanghai during the oppressive rule of the Japanese, the narrative begins with Chen Zhen (Lee) arriving at his old martial arts school where he learns that his teacher has been murdered. Chen breaks down at his master's funeral and determines to uncover who was responsible. Not surprisingly, after some moderate detective work and some testy interrogation, he traces the poisoning death to a Japanese school, thus allowing Lee and director Lo Wei to present some amusingly violent allegories for the culture clash. Chen keeps his rage pent up out of respect for his master until he begins to uncover the truth, causing him to suddenly explode in a violent, howling rage, killing a few men in the process. Chen goes on the run, though the innocent Nora Miao tracks him down in the woods and tries to help him deal with his quest for vengeance. The final third of the film, in grand Lee style, finds him infiltrating the Japanese school and going hand to hand with a number of powerful foes, including a sinister Russian, Petrov (played by Lee student Robert Baker and dubbed in the Cantonese version by Lee himself!).

Though not a particularly stylish nor technically accomplished film, Fist of Fury holds up extremely well thanks to Lee's powerful screen presence and the elaborate social subtext. Lee's bottled up fury for the opening half hour forces an audience to become increasingly agitated and excited, waiting for him to burst into action, and indeed he does. Lee also provides his first trademark scene with nunchaku, those ultra-lethal implements of certain death banned on cinema screens in the United Kingdom (as opposed to guns and chainsaws, which are okay.) American viewers accustomed to post-Death Wish portrayals of solo vengeance in film will be jarred by the finale, which continues well past the standard climax to offer a thought provoking commentary on nobility and sacrifice.

Fist of Fury has been released in the United States under its export title twice already on DVD, from Goodtimes (passable) and, as part of its Bruce Lee box set, from Fox. The bare bones Fox edition presents the same crisp but scruffy-looking dubbed laserdisc transfer from several years ago, using Columbia's master from all those familiar reissued drive-in and urban screenings. Media Asia has shown much more respect for the film, which is presented in a similarly letterboxed but brighter edition. The soundtrack in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English has been remixed quite well in Dolby Digital 5.1. Though the Morricone-style music is spread a little thin with such wide separation, the fight scenes and ambient effects should satisfy any martial arts film fans who wanted more after Warner's spectacular Enter the Dragon remix. Weapons swish through the air, punches reverberate between the audio channels, and body blows and flying kicks constantly pan from left to right, back to front. Very nicely done. However, Media Asia has also lavished a number of extras on this DVD, which is housed in a CD-style silver cardboard longbox with a Bruce Lee zipper hip pouch(!). All of Bruce's Chinese trailers are accessible from the fun animated menu screens: Fist of Fury (amusingly accompanied by Strauss' "Thus Spracht Zarathustra" and Bernard Herrmann's love theme from Vertigo!), The Big Boss, Game of Death, and a very interesting Cantonese trailer for Enter the Dragon which offers a fascinating comparison with Warner's promotion of it in the U.S. A few brief outtakes from Game of Death's fight scenes are also thrown in for good measure. Most surprisingly, Media Asia also supplied two commentary tracks, in Cantonese by Donnie Yan and in English by British Hong Kong Action Cinema author Bey Logan, who incidentally portrayed Petrov in a TV remake of Fist of Fury. Logan, who obviously did quite a bit of preparation beforehand, manages to keep the commentary speedy and interesting throughout, with some useful insights into Chinese culture and color symbolism within the film, the Japanese and Western influences on the film's music and editing, and the complex relationship between Burce Lee and Lo Wei, who never worked together again after this film. Logan also pauses along the way for a few amusing personal observations, such as his assessment of Nora Miao's silly hairdo and a (hopefully joking) reference to Steve Martin. The disc is subtitled in the usual nine languages, Media Asia style; the English subtitles are large and readable, though sometimes inaccurate. This option is far more preferable than the familiar dubbed version, which has always sounded flat, irritating, and out of synch. Though Fist of Fury was dubbed in post-production in all languages, the Cantonese version is the most enjoyable as it offers Lee's character voice with the clearest audio and is still synched with his onscreen dialogue. The Mandarin track sounds less robust and a little noisier, often slipping out of synch with the lip movements. Unlike many Media Asia titles, Fist of Fury and the other Bruce Lee titles are not as readily available from general retailers in the United States but can be obtained from Chinese video dealers and online Asian DVD services.

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