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!

threestar


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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Dragon Lord (1982)

DragonLord+1982-54-bDragon Lord [龍少爺] (1982)
AKA Dragon Strike

Starring Jackie Chan, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Suet Lee, Mars, Tien Feng, Paul Chang Chung, Tai Bo, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Anna Ng Yuen-Yee, Cheng Mang-Ha, Wu Jia-Xiang, Fung Fung, Ho Gaam-Kong, Whang In-Shik

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Moderate, but hopeful. I’ve somehow avoided seeing this until now.

twohalfstar


Every review of Dragon Lord written years after release probably calls it “the transitional film,” but I don’t care. Dragon Lord is Jackie Chan’s transitional film, bridging the gap between his early wuxia/kung fu comedy period and the death-defying stunts that would define his later work (and career). The end fight of Dragon Lord is really one of the first glimpses of the Jackie Chan that everyone knows, i.e. incredible choreography that seamlessly integrates the environment, crazy stunts that make you gasp and good ol’ fashioned fightin’. It’s just that Dragon Lord, being the transitional film, isn’t all that great on its own.

The main reason is that its story is a disjointed mess. So when I read that they began shooting the film without a script, and only a slight story gestating in Jackie’s head, it made perfect sense. A good portion of this movie is unrelated to the other parts in terms of story, so it’s best to try and watch the scenes for what they are instead of what they aren’t. For instance, there’s an extended sequence of Jackie and his buddies playing Jianzi, an Asian shuttlecock game played without hands like soccer. Being a Jackie movie there’s tons of fun choreography mixed into the game, and it’s an interesting scene to watch just on a human movement level. Does it relate to anything in the story, though? Nope, not really at all. But it does have the distinction of inspiring Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer, so that’s something.

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The Young Master (1980)

youngmaster_1The Young Master [師弟出馬] (1980)

Starring Jackie Chan, Wai Pak, Yuen Biao, Sek Kin, Lily Li Li-Li, Whang In-Shik, Lee Hoi-Sang, Fung Hak-On, Fung Fung, Fan Mei-Sheng, Tien Feng, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Pumped. This movie is great.

threehalfstar


Every thing that happens in The Young Master all comes back to one simple act of deception. We all make choices in our lives every day, sometimes even unconsciously. While driving, a quick flick of the wrist could cause a massive pileup. At the least, this would ruin a few people’s day, at the worst it might take their lives and your own. The choices we make define us as people, and a choice made purely out of greed for money is usually never a good one (unless you’re in an ’80s movie like Cocktail, but that’s beside the point).

In the case of The Young Master, this deceptive choice causes lots of strife for those around this character doing the choosing, but as a movie it allows for scene after scene of great, comedic martial arts action. It all starts on a fairly serious note, though. The Young Master opens with one of the best lion dance sequences ever put to film, and the following 30 minutes or so are devoted entirely to furthering the characters and the dramatic elements of the plot. This foundation is necessary to cement the moral point of the film. Once this is in place, Jackie is let loose and The Young Master hits its stride, sailing effortlessly to its conclusion.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: The Young Master (1980)

The Young Master [師弟出馬] (1980)

Starring Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Tien Feng, Feng Feng, Wei Pei, Shih Kien, Lily Li Li-Li, Hwang In-Shik

Directed By Jackie Chan


Dogged for years by contractual obligations and careless mismanagement of talent, Jackie Chan finally broke free of the substandard Lo Wei cycle of pictures in 1980 and began his long-term partnership with Golden Harvest. Chan was able to impart at least marginal creative input into the Lo Wei films, separating himself somewhat from the pack, but it was only after finding total freedom with The Young Master that the public first got a glimpse of his unique take on kung fu films, done “The Jackie Chan way”. No longer would we be forced to waddle through total misfires like The Killer Meteors, or face frustration by “almost there” glimmers of hope like Spiritual Kung Fu. No longer stifled by studio politics, Jackie was able to create a film on his own terms, finally unleashing the storehouse of talent that would pave the way for one of the great bodies of work in martial arts cinema.

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