Review: Fist of Fury (1972)

Fist of Fury was Bruce Lee’s second film in Hong Kong, after The Big Boss made him a superstar across Asia. It’s a much bigger film, shot with a larger budget and higher production values by the same director, Lo Wei. It follows the story of fictional character Chen Zhen, a junior student at the Jing Mo school run by real-life martial arts master Fok Yun Gap (Ho Yuan-chia in Mandarin). It’s been remade and referenced many, many times since the original film, by several of Asia’s top actors or martial artists – notably by Jet Li in Fist of Legend, Donnie Yen in a TV series called Fist of Fury, Jackie Chan in New Fist of Fury and Stephen Chiau in Fist of Fury 1991. Surprisingly, the latter two were also directed by Lo Wei, who must’ve figured he was on to a good thing.

The story begins with Chen Zhen’s return to his school to find his master dead and the funeral in progress. He’s obviously heartbroken, even having to be knocked out at the side of his master’s grave to put an end to his hysterics. Shortly afterwards, the eulogy for the master is interrupted by some Japanese fighters from a rival school, who arrive to heap insults upon Jing Mo and the Chinese in general. This sets up the film’s pro-Chinese theme, set as it is in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. It doesn’t take long for Bruce to take his revenge and begin to unravel the circumstances of his master’s death.

It’s the revenge that makes this film famous, too, because it’s then that the fight scenes begin. Though the choreography is credited to both Bruce Lee and Han Ying-Chieh, the majority of it was done by Bruce and displays his speed and power to considerable effect. Bruce tends to dispose of his opponents with single kicks or punches and displays the fluid, wary presence that so may actors have tried to replicate since. There’s a small who’s-who of HK martial arts actors and action directors in the film and eagle-eyed viewers may be able to spot Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah in a couple of scenes. The director, Lo Wei, is also in the film as a sympathetic Chinese detective.

Lo Wei’s scripting and direction of the rest of the story isn’t as interesting — I find that his films generally aren’t as dynamic and interesting as those of some of his contemporaries, but it’s more than made up for by the action scenes, which tended to be directed by the action directors themselves. There’s a love interest, played by Nora Miao, but she doesn’t seem to have a lot to do here. There’s also a couple of scenes where Bruce cunningly disguises himself, which are great fun to watch and seem to indicate that he had quite a bit more potential as an actor than we got the chance to see in his unfortunately short career.

Hong Kong Legends have kindly packed the DVD full of extras, too. There are a pair of recently recorded interviews, one with Max Lee and one with Tony Liu, which give a little more insight into what shooting the film was like. There’s a full-length English audio commentary by the ever-present Bey Logan who gives us background information on the minutiae of the film and its actors. Several photo galleries and trailers are included, and there’s an illustrated biography of Bruce Lee with an English voiceover as well.

The video is the best I’ve seen of this film (as good as or better than the HK disc I’ve got from a recent box set release, and far better than the dubbed DVD previously available in Australia). Both Cantonese and English dubs are available, and there are good English subtitles as well.

Fist of Fury is definitely worth seeing for fans of action cinema and Chinese movie history who’ve somehow managed to avoid seeing it already. See it, along with Bruce Lee’s other films — there’s never been an action star who could match his presence on screen.

10 imitators that can't match the original out of 10.
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