Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fist of fury

I picked up the Bruce Lee Ultimate Collection DVDs for $13.00, despite it's atrocious grey market cover design. Not because I'm such a huge fan of Bruce Lee exactly, although I'm enough of a fan of Way of the Dragon for it to be worth $13 to get a decent uncut copy of it. Add The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, which I've been meaning to revisit, and it was a solid impulse purchase.

Without the Bey Logan commentaries of the UK editions, not worth a dime more to me, but nothing I'm likely to find myself regretting as a purchase any day soon.

(The one for Way of the Dragon references Lee's reported habit of singing Guantanamera on set, which is one of those things I wish some behind-the-scenes footage would turn up of.)

My first viewing was Fist of Fury, and I must say I'm really not sure why these movies hold much interest to a modern audience.

Lee has inordinate charisma and obvious skill as a martial artist, but his acting is weak by nearly any standard, except perhaps his abilities with broad humor, which isn't showcased enough in this movie, although his recurring bits in silly costumes did make me think perhaps I'd like to revisit The Green Hornet.

His particularly fails at generating romantic chemistry with co-star Nora Miao, although thankfully that plot thread is dropped pretty quickly. I suspect the lack of spark was obvious either on set or in the editing room.

But even as a fan of things that hold an important place in history, which this certainly does, this feel stodgy to me. When compared to what was to come, in various cycles of martial arts movies, I'll take Jet Li or Donnie Yen any day, something I'm not prone to doing in most similar comparisons of a classic, influential icon and a modern star.

The movie itself, for anyone who has seen a decent number of martial arts movies of this period, could almost be used to define the median of quality and entertainment value of the genre at the time. Aside from the smashing of the "No dogs or Chinese allowed" sign and the freeze frame ending, there's little in the script or supporting cast to suggest that anything is going on outside a very routine martial arts movie.

Lee seems to have been a fascinating person, and there's enough tantalizing hints of what he may have done, although both Game of Death and Circle of Iron both strike me on the surface to suggest to me that Lee may have been going too far in the direction of preachy and away from entertaining.

That may be my own simple judgments getting the best of me. Picturing the broadly comic portrayals he could have given to the different parts taken over by David Carradine in Circle of Iron brings a smile to my face without even bringing up a specific enough memory to imagine it too vividly.

And that's how the game continues ad infinitum...

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