Saturday, 27 November 2010

Bruce Lee's Birthday

Last February while in Amsterdam I got an idea that Bruce Lee's birthday was going to be somehow significant. At first we were going to have a bigparty with my friend about the subject, but it didn't work out because of our differing schedules. Nothing too significant happened to me this November 27th, so I thought I might just write a few words on what Bruce Lee means to me. Of course I'll be also taking a look at all his films, both in the text and as I'm writing this (I'm re-watching Way of the Dragon. You can never see too many times any film which features Chuck Norris dying).

Bruce Lee was not only a star, but a fighter, sportsman, mentor and the man who brought kung-fu to the West. Nothing in cinema hasn't quite been the same after him, in good and bad. His moves have been copied and parodied to the death and all he has achieved may not seem that impressive today. But this was a man who made push-ups with just his fingertips. Bruce Lee certainly isn't a legend because of the quality of his films, but because of his charisma and mean fight-moves, many of which are even too fast to be captured on film cameras of that time. He's also the first asian matinee idol in the west, which helped cross stupid race-barriers. On the other hand, he also might have created the myth that all asians of all sizes know kung-fu. So give a little, take a little.

I am too young to remember Bruce back in the day, so he has always lived as a legend long since passed in my life. I developed an interest to him and the school of ass-kicking cinema at the time I was in Junior High School. The combination of ass-kicking with hilarious bad dubbing was made available of the video cencorship law getting banned at that time and VHS cassettes of his films getting released at long last. Enter the Dragon was even showed on Finnish television, and I saw the film for the first time. I don't recall whether it was cut or not on TV, but as I rushed to buy the DVD of the film, I remember it certainly being so. There were scenes with people just readying for a kick and the scene then suddenly cut to the villain being dead on the ground. Needless to say, I was outraged.

One of the biggest times for Bruce-admiration for me was when I was in the Army. At the time my hongkongese friend had given me a painting of Bruce to hang on my wall. I rewatched Enter the Dragon on a new, uncut DVD, and admired how such a little guy could defeat all the burlier, more dangerous men. I felt it represented also me in the group with bigger guys. I also watched the films made after Bruce's death for novelty value. I was amazed how good the actual Bruce-footage still seems and how the filmmakers didn't even bother too much to try to get anything near the quality of that footage.

I haven't thought about Bruce Lee for a while, let alone seen his films. So I'll just write about what I can remember, which is usually a pretty good indication of what is good in films.

The Big Boss (Tang shan da xiong, 1971)
Director: Wei Lo

Bruce's first film is the one that has been the longest since I saw. But as I recall the story of a worker fighting his way along evil bosses for the oppressed workers, was a total borefest. Not enough fighting and too much pointless plot. It's like watching softcore pornography.


Fist of Fury (Jing wu men, 1972)
Director: Wei Lo

The second try from Wei Lo has also a too slow-moving story, but at least the action is kickass enough this time around. Lee's fight with "the Russian" Robert Baker in the Chinese garden is particularly cool. Lee is playing Chen Zhen in this one, who is a legend in China for standing up for the japanese oppressors. It has a few juicy racial tension-scenes, yet the ending feels a tad pathetic. May still be the best of Bruce's Hongkong films.

★★★ 1/2

Way of the Dragon (Meng long guo liang, 1972)
Director: Bruce Lee

One of the most legendary of Bruce's films as he fights Chuck Norris in this one. Legends of the film started circulating in Junior High so I got a VHS copy of the film. However, seeing as I watch it again as I write this, it isn't as good as my memory serves. It takes 30 minutes for the first real action scene and before that the pointless plot is slow and full of cringe-worthy humour.

Yet once Bruce gets hold of a pole or nunchakus, things starts picking steam. His fight-choreography is top-notch and it's the only reason to watch any of these films. It helps that Lee himself directed the whole film. Lee once again rises on big money-makers and gangsters like a little guy should. And needless to say, every scene with Chuck Norris is awesome, from the unauthorized use of The Man with the Harmonica to his mean moves.

★★★ 1/2

Enter the Dragon (1973)
Director: Robert Clouse

This one is the coolest. I love the greatness and the essential stupid-cool of making this actually plot-wise a Bond movie with fighting instead of shooting. The cornerstone of Lee's stardom, philosophy and fighting abilities. It's so sad he never got to even try to top this. As it is, it stays lofty on its mountaintop. This is filled with great 70's actors, compelling plot-moving and memorable kick-ass fights. Every superhero movie ever made should take note on the final battle with Bruce and the evil Mr. Han. I also love dearly the ZAZ-penned parody of the film, A Fistful of Yen from the Kentucky Fried Movie. But that's a story for another time.


Game of Death (1978)
Directors: Robert Clouse, Sammo Hung, Bruce Lee

A truly macabre piece of using the last footage of Bruce Lee - this makes Ed Wood look downright considerate and tactful. A number of stupid plot-twists and bad Lee-filling material has to be gotten through - not to mention actual footage from Bruce's funeral! - to get to the good, meaty part of the fights in the Tower. These were the only ones Bruce himself shot before his death. Yet even those are cut short, unlike Lee originally visioned them. This is pretty horrid to be even watched while drunk.

Game of Death II (Si wang ta, 1980)
Directors: Sammo Hung, Corey Yuan, See-yuen Ng

The sequel has even less actual Lee-material, but it is actually its strength. Rather than having to wirite the plot around surviving material, the film kills Bruce early to leave his brother to go on an actual adventure. It's all good fun, but rather unmemorable.

★★ 1/2


Bruce is one of the toughest names for a man there is. Yet even if there are the likes of Bruce Willis, Bruce Dickinson, Bruce Wayne, Bruce the shark, Lenny Bruce and Bruce Campbell, Bruce Lee is and will always be the toughest for me!

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