Widely considered by enthusiasts to be arguably the definitive example of the cinema of martial artist Bruce Lee, Fist of Fury makes it's return to DVD in a great new 2-disc special edition courtesy of the ever-reliable Honk Kong Legends label who are earning somewhat of a reputation as the Santa Claus of kung fu flicks. Although undoubtedly one of the most prominent eastern cultural icons of the twentieth century, it wouldn't be far from the mark to say that the films of Bruce Lee still to this day remain somewhat of a cultish, acquired taste. Despite the fact he is an instantly recognisable figure to 99% of the population, chances are most people will not have ventured any further into his career than his talismanic central performance in Robert Clouse's Enter the Dragon. That his cinematic legacy is more taken for granted than actually appreciated by all but the more astute cinephiles is a great shame, as Lee's pre-Dragon Hong Kong career yielded a brief string of hugely enjoyable action romps of which Fist of Fury stands as possibly the finest. Cutting to the chase, nobody watches a Bruce Lee movie for the intricacies of plotline, and that's just as well as you won't find any here. The story is as thin as tissue paper, a straightforward revenge actioner that takes us from A to B via the simplest route possible, allowing ample time for Lee to kick Eastern ass in his own distinctive fashion. The basic premise of the movie takes place in turn-of-the-century Shanghai, where Lee plays Chen Zhen, a Chinese martial arts wizard whose mentor dies in suspicious circumstances. Bullied and harassed by the injustices of the Japanese-led society, Chen uncovers a sinister murder plot perpetrated by a rival Japanese Bushido school against his own people, and sets about a one-man revenge mission to avenge the injustice. Whilst a modern-day audience may well find the premise and approach of this characteristic brand of cinema somewhat amateurish and faintly ridiculous, in truth that's really half the fun of a Lee movie. The movie takes us to an almost cartoonish land, where everything is over the top and outlandish and, as a result, enormously enjoyable. Here for example, is firmly a land where the old adage 'never trust a man with moustache' is taken to its literal limit. All the stereotypically evil Japanese sport some degree of villainous facial fluff, from the follicular showboating of an enormous Phileaus Fogg handlebar, through to the dubious charms of the postage stamp variety as championed by Adolf Hitler. The villains are presented in as much of a caricature as their sinister moustachioed appearance would indicate. Every Japanese citizen to a man is portrayed as downright evil, callous and ruthless in their persecution of Chen and his Chinese accomplices, who just want to get along. The baddies even rope in a Russian kung fu expert, an Art Garfunkel look-alike with (you've guessed it) a weighty American Chopper moustache whose only purpose is to be established as a villainous hard nut who might give Bruce Lee a kicking. Hence we see him leering on a stripper, getting wrecked on Sake, and then bending a giant iron bar like it were plasticine with the power of his mighty hands. He's kind of a seventies Ivan Drago, and he's hysterically brilliant. Of course he has nothing on Chen Zhen who is portrayed here as an almost Herculean example of indestructible toughness. Chen thinks nothing of brutally taking out an entire school of trained martial artists like it's a walk in the park. His mentor's star pupil, Chen's skill is in the 'fist of fury' of the title, which is essentially the ability to give someone a right old thump in the bracket so hard they spit a bit of red food colouring out of their mouth and drop stone dead. The effect is somewhat diminished by the fact that Lee, in his prime and shredded to bits, does battle on the whole with a host of rotund middle-aged adversaries who look like they would be out of breath running for the bus never mind mixing it with the mariachi of martial arts himself. Chen also proves to be a master of disguise, infiltrating the Bushido lair with a string of disguises so inept that they would make A-Team's Faceman blush. We see him cunningly undercover as a rickshaw driver, an old beggar and a phone engineer which fool everyone, despite the fact that it should be apparent to all but Stevie Wonder that it's blatantly just Bruce Lee in a pair of thick rimmed glasses or a fisherman's hat. Of course this is all just the aperitif to the real meat which is the martial arts action. Lee, over thirty years on, remains the sultan of this genre, and he certainly doesn't disappoint here. This is as much down to his distinctive and original mannerisms as it is to any actual combat (albeit impressive). He looks positively psychotic as he unleashes himself throughout the film's many action sequences, hunched over and shaking with a ferocity that makes you think the little fella is about to explode at any second with the sheer power of kung fu. Accompanying this perfectly are his otherworldly shrieks, which sound somewhere between deadly rage and broken coffee percolator. A crazy blend of the unintentionally hilarious and the amazingly impressive, Lee shows why he is cemented as the most important cultural icon of the martial arts movie. Whether his acting skills are questionable or not, he can't fail to captivate and entrance the viewer, hooking you into the story however hokey and uninspired it may be. And thank god the BBFC have relaxed their stance on the presence of nunchuks in cinema, as the previously edited scenes of Lee twirling them around like a madman and mercilessly dispatching foes left right and centre are absolutely phenomenal in their intensity. Some may see this film as tame by today's standards, and the development of new technology and greater budgets may make Fist of Fury films seem to an extent a simplistic and twee look at times gone by. Look beyond this initial culture shock, and what is revealed is an absolute hoot to watch. It may not be Shakespeare, the actors may chew up the scenery and mug like silent film stars, but as a document of it's time, and an example of an important genre in film history this is one of the best. Martial arts fans will lap this up, but those with a general interest in exploring something that falls outside the conventional barriers of general entertainment really should give this a go as an excellent example of how Bruce Lee's legacy is so richly deserved.
Our Review Ethos