The Way of the Dragon, 1972.
Directed by Bruce Lee.
Starring Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Paul Wei, Huang Chung-hsin, Tony Liu, Unicorn Chan, Chuck Norris, Malisa Longo, Robert Wall, Hwang In-shik, and Jon T. Benn.
Bruce Lee’s classic The Way of the Dragon gets Umbrella Entertainment’s “Films of Fury” treatment on all-region Blu-ray with a healthy collection of bonus materials. The film doesn’t seem to have been remastered for this release, but the visual quality is acceptable, and you could accept the hisses and pops on the audio track as little bits of nostalgia for those of you who grew up watching kung fu films in the 1970s.
Umbrella Entertainment, based in Australia, has continued its “Films of Fury” line with the third all-region Blu-ray in the series, Bruce Lee’s only complete directorial movie, The Way of the Dragon. Co-starring Chuck Norris in his first onscreen role, The Way of the Dragon was also the last of Lee’s films to be released during his lifetime.
The plot of this one is fairly simple: Lee plays Tang Lung, who has been sent from Hong Kong to Rome to help a restaurant that’s being menaced by a crime syndicate. The criminals want the property that the restaurant sits on, so they’ve sent some of their hoodlums to scare away customers and try to force the owner to give it to them. The staff starts learning karate as a way to defend the business.
Lee takes on the role of Tang as someone who’s a country bumpkin so unversed in the ways of city life that he thinks he has to squat over a toilet when going to the bathroom. The restaurant staff thinks little of him as he simply observes their tactics when he first arrives, but when Tang takes on a group of hoodlums by himself, they insist that he train them.
The ability of Tang and the restaurant staff to hold their own angers the local crime boss, who sends for a fighter named Colt (Chuck Norris) to end the resistance once and for all. Unsurprisingly, this leads to a final climactic fight to the death between Tang and Colt in Rome’s famous Colosseum.
Lee’s desire with The Way of the Dragon, which was released as Return of the Dragon in the United States, was to inject some humor into the traditional action movie formula by portraying his character as a fish out of water. He’s so clueless that he goes home with a woman and flees in confusion when she takes her clothes off. That sequence is a bit random and seems to serve only as an excuse to show Italian model Malisa Longo topless, but I’ll admit that as a teenage boy getting a chance to see an uncensored copy of the film, I appreciated the moment. As a middle-aged guy, I now find it to be a bit silly, as are Tang’s repeated visits to the bathroom early in the story.
However, you don’t watch a Bruce Lee movie for nuanced character moments. You watch it to see one of the greatest martial artists in history performing at the peak of his abilities. As Australian director Brian Trenchard-Smith says in the Trailers From Hell bonus feature on this disc, you have to wonder what else he would have achieved had he not died at a tragically young age. He was not only at his physical peak, but he was also beginning to hone his abilities as a director and screenwriter.
If you’re not familiar with Trailers From Hell, it’s a series that features various film folks introducing and then talking over trailers. In this case, Trenchard-Smith discusses not only his thoughts on Lee and the movie but also the places of both in film history. The trailer he talks over is one of three found on this disc; one of the others is a 4K remaster of the original trailer, which looks incredible. As far as I can tell, the movie wasn’t remastered for this release – it looks a bit faded, and there are a fair amount of hisses and pops on the audio track.
In addition, Umbrella tossed in two alternate versions of the opening credits when the film was called Return of the Dragon, along with a nearly two-hour documentary called Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks and 7.5 minutes of interviews with director Sammo Hung, actor/producer/director Simon Yam, actor Paul Pui, actor/producer/director/screenwriter Wong Jing, actor Flora Cheong, director and actor Clarence Fok, and stuntman Rocky Lai. All of them either worked with Lee or have relevant thoughts about him, given their connections to the Hong Kong film industry
Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks, directed by Australian filmmaker Serge Ou, charts the history of kung fu movies beginning with Shaw Brothers, described as “the Death Star of Hong Kong movie studios” during its heyday in the 1960s and 70s. The 1967 Hong Kong labor riots are featured here too, along with the heavy influence of such movies on Hollywood and American filmgoers during the 1970s. (As someone who grew up during the 70s, I can recall what a big deal kung fu movies were in general, and Lee’s legacy in specific.)
Hung reappears here, along with many others who were either connected to the Hong Kong movie scene or who have appreciated it from afar. Bruce Lee gets his due, of course, as do Jackie Chan and others who were able to travel the trail he blazed. However, Jet Li is missing, and the documentary doesn’t circle back to modern Hong Kong flms, which is curious since it came out in 2019. What’s here, however, is still worth watching.
A stills gallery rounds out the platter. There’s also a collectible postcard inside the Blu-ray case.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★