The Way of the Dragon (1972)

wayofthedragon_1The Way of the Dragon [猛龍過江] (1972)
AKA Return of the Dragon, Revenge of the Dragon, Fury of the Dragon

Starring Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Wong Chung-Shun, Gam Dai, Unicorn Chan, Lau Wing, Jon T. Benn, Chuck Norris, Whang In-Shik, Robert Wall, Malisa Longo, Robert Chan Law-Bat, Chen Fu-Ching

Directed by Bruce Lee

Expectations: High, it’s Bruce Lee!


With The Way of the Dragon, Bruce Lee stepped into the role of writer/director along with the acting and choreography roles he had inhabited on his previous two Hong Kong films. As a result, The Way of the Dragon is much more reflective of Bruce Lee’s personality than his films under Lo Wei. Depending on your viewpoint, this could be a good or bad thing. For me (someone who enjoys the work of Lo Wei far more than other kung fu fans seem to), it was somewhere in the middle. I have always thought this was the least of Bruce’s films, and today’s viewing only solidified that for me. But this time, I think I understood why I’ve always been somewhat disinterested with the film.

Taking this film as evidence, it would seem that Bruce Lee’s relationship with Lo Wei was somewhat similar to Lo’s later relationship with Jackie Chan. Both stars wished to express themselves through more than just the traditional notes of what a martial arts film was at the time. Both stars immediately integrated comedy and martial arts in their films away from Lo. Jackie was obviously the more successful in doing so — does anyone know Bruce for his comedy? — but both stars clearly wanted to push the genre beyond what their initial director wanted to let them.

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Fist of Fury (1972)

FistofFury_1Fist of Fury [精武門] (1972)
AKA The Chinese Connection

Starring Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Tien Feng, James Tin Jun, Wong Chung-Shun, Han Ying-Chieh, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Riki Hashimoto, Robert Baker, Fung Ngai, Lo Wei, Jun Katsumura

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: I’m so excited.


Fist of Fury is arguably the best of Bruce Lee’s films. After the building storm of The Big Boss, Fist of Fury ups the action and delivers what just about every modern, Western viewer of The Big Boss wanted: a movie where Bruce Lee basically just goes around and kicks ass. The storyline here is little more than simple revenge, but it’s the way that Lo Wei and Bruce Lee explore this theme that makes it such an iconic, influential and important Chinese film. On the surface it’s quite the “Defending China against Foreign Invaders” movie, but it’s also a cautionary tale.

The film opens with some text, informing us that Bruce’s master and the leader of the Ching Wu school, Ho Yuan Chia, was poisoned. Ho was real person, a Chinese folk hero who rose to fame for besting foreign martial artists, such as a Russian wrestler. I imagine he was the inspiration for the Russian wrestling scene in The Boxer from Shantung. Anyway, Bruce returns home to find that his master is dead. Consumed with rage and grief, he claws at the dirt covering his master’s coffin. The only thing that stops his fury is a swift hit with a shovel to the head, knocking him out. His rage is furious and unstoppable, and he will stop at nothing to get justice for his master.

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Dragon Fist (1979)

dragonfist_4Dragon Fist [龍拳] (1979)
AKA Dragon Hero, In Eagle Dragon Fist

Starring Jackie Chan, Yen Shi-Kwan, Pearl Lin Yin-Zhu, Nora Miao, Hsu Hsia, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, James Tin Jun, Eagle Han Ying, Ko Keung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Chui Fat

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Way low.


Dragon Fist opens like many kung fu films do. After a kung fu tournament to determine the greatest martial arts school in the region, the Tang San Clan is named the winner. The celebration is cut short by the villainous arrival of the leader of the Champion Clan. He wasn’t able to make it to the tournament, so he declares Tang San’s win false until he’s able to best his Snapping Kick technique. Jackie’s master puts up a valiant attempt, but the Snapping Kicks of Champion Clan prove too much, and he is mortally wounded. And if you assume that the next plot point is that Jackie Chan vows to exact revenge on Champion Clan, in the name of his master, then you’d be exactly right.

But what’s really interesting about Dragon Fist is that it after this clichéd opening, it largely diverges from and subverts the traditional martial arts plot. Wang Chung-Pin’s script (his only screenwriting credit) is exceptionally well-written, giving us a group of interesting characters all with their own desires and motives for the things they do. Don’t mistake this for some deep arthouse drama, but it’s definitely got a lot more going for it than I expected a late-game Lo Wei film to have. Dragon Fist is the last film that Jackie Chan made for Lo Wei before his two-film loan to Seasonal, and it’s easily the best film that Lo Wei directed Jackie Chan in (not counting The Killer Meteors, which features Jackie but is actually a Jimmy Wang Yu movie).

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The Big Boss (1971)

thebigboss_3The Big Boss [唐山大兄] (1971)
AKA Fists of Fury

Starring Bruce Lee, Maria Yi Yi, James Tin Jun, Nora Miao, Lee Kwan, Han Ying-Chieh, Lau Wing, Gam Saan, Chan Chue, Ma La Lene

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: I’m so excited.


In case you’ve forgotten: Bruce Lee is badass. I’ve been eagerly awaiting re-watching this film for review, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s always been a favorite of mine, and seeing it within the context of the Shaw films released around it gave it a whole new spin. Maybe it’s not the best martial arts film if you hold it up against later genre entries, but Bruce’s charisma is more than enough to entertain and for its era this is pretty great stuff.

Like watching the later, Lo Wei-directed Jackie Chan films, watching The Big Boss after having seen Lo’s Shaw Brothers films was a new experience. I’ve always thought the film was somewhat slow, especially in its first hour, but now I know this is par for the Lo Wei course. He’s much more about metered plotting than blasting out action, and The Big Boss is a great example of this. And honestly, it’s a very well-paced film during this section if you relax a bit from your Bruce Lee bloodlust. He’s gonna kick the shit out of plenty of dudes, just hold your horses.

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Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin (1978)

Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin-2Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin [蛇鶴八步] (1978)
AKA Arts of the Snake & Crane, Shaolin Kung Fu

Starring Jackie Chan, Nora Miao, Kam Kong, Kim Jeong-Nan, Lee Wing-Kwok, Lau Nga-Ying, Miao Tian, Lee Man-Tai, Miu Tak-San, Tung Lam, Wong Gwan, Liu Ping

Directed by Chen Chi-Hwa

Expectations: Moderately high.

On the general scale:

Just in terms of action:

Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin opens with an incredible martial arts display by Jackie Chan, first showing off his solo staff work and then battling two staff wielders while armed with a sword and baton. This five-minute intro alone is better than To Kill With Intrigue, but let’s do our best to forget that film and focus on the greatness before us. Jackie’s staff work is incredible, and the mock fight offers up a great way to whet your appetite for the film at hand. These kinds of pure martial arts displays didn’t survive into the modern era of kung fu film (unfortunately), so it’s a real treat to see Jackie strut his stuff so cleanly and without distraction. Even if the film offered up nothing more than this intro, it would still be a notable early Jackie release. I’m not saying anything bad about the overall quality of the Lo Wei period in Jackie’s career (OK, maybe I am), I’m just trying to illustrate just how much I loved the intro.

The film kicks off proper as we fade into the story of eight masters coming together to pool their talents and create the hybrid kung fu style, The Eight Steps of the Snake and the Crane. They entrusted the book of this style and the Badge of the Nine Dragons (an emblem denoting the leader of the entire martial arts community) to their appointed leader, who, after a quick martial arts display and fight, vanishes along with the rest of the eight masters. Dun dun duhhhhh! The martial world is in frenzy mode, and we are introduced to Jackie’s character on the bank of a snowy river, attacked by some ruffians who believe he holds the precious book. Turns out he does have the book, but he quickly dispatches with these petty villains. 10 minutes in, and already two martial arts displays and two fights (and they’re all good). If you’re sensing a pattern emerging, you’re correct… and the hits just keep on comin’.

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New Fist of Fury (1976)

NewFistOfFury_GoldenSwallow_SC36New Fist of Fury [新精武門] (1976)
AKA Fists to Fight

Starring Jackie Chan, Nora Miao, Chan Sing, Henry Luk Yat-Lung, Yi Ming, Suen Lam, Lau Ming, Cheng Siu-Siu, Hon Siu, Han Ying Chieh, Chiang Kam, Liu Ping

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate.


New Fist of Fury opens with Lo Wei helping Nora Miao and the remnants of the Ching Wu school to flee Japanese-occupied Shanghai, by way of a boat to the also Japanese-occupied Taiwan. That might seem like it’s not the best place to find refuge, but Nora Miao specifically wants to go there to show the Japanese what for. There they meet a delinquent thief (Jackie Chan) who mistakenly steals Bruce’s nunchaku, thus getting himself wrapped up in the middle of a Chinese vs. Japanese martial arts struggle.

During my super passionate Jackie Chan years, I always did my best to avoid his early films. I got burned a couple of times and there’s nothing worse for a budding, teenage JC fan than wanting to kick back and watch Jackie kick ass only to kick back and watch Jackie in a two-minute cameo. So I mostly stuck to what I knew was great and left it at that. I do remember seeing New Fist of Fury before, but that’s about all I remember about it. Clearly it didn’t scratch that undying Jackie itch back then. But now I am a different person, and I realize much better what to expect out of different directors and martial arts periods, so I’m able to appreciate these early films for what they are instead of what they aren’t. New Fist of Fury is never going to be Armour of God, so there’s no reason to be disappointed when it’s not.

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The Invincible Eight (1971)

TheInvincibleEight+1971-85-bStarring Nora Miao, Tang Ching, Angela Mao, Paul Chang Chung, Lee Kwan, James Tin Jun, Lydia Shum, Pai Ying, Patrick Tse Yin, Han Ying Chieh

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderately high. I’m eager to see the film that launched Golden Harvest.


Sometime in 1970, Shaw Brothers executives Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho left the company to start up their own. They hoped to create a studio that would breed creativity instead of stifle it like they felt the Shaw Brothers did, and thus Golden Harvest was born. Many others defected from the Shaw camp as well, and on this film some of the notable people include director Lo Wei and martial arts choreographers Han Ying-Chieh and Sammo Hung. This focus on creativity isn’t so much in evidence in The Invincible Eight, but it does show itself over the studio’s history. And it was ultimately this focus that also allowed Golden Harvest to woo a young Bruce Lee away from a potential Shaw contract, writing martial arts film history when, later in 1971, Lo Wei directed the classic film The Big Boss.

With the short history lesson out of the way, I can now focus on The Invincible Eight. I had high hopes that this film would continue along the path of Lo Wei’s previous film Brothers Five, delivering creative, incredible martial arts action well ahead of its time. It succeeds in being entertaining, and being a fun wuxia film, but innovative it really isn’t. The Invincible Eight feels like it was made by a newly formed, upstart studio, as every single aspect of the production is a step down from the Shaw films from the same era. The film has tons of positives in its corner, but it’s hard to get past the fact that it would’ve been a lot more thrilling had it been made under the Shaw banner.

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