Shout! Factory continues its celebration of the one and only Bruce Lee by offering fans their chance at one of two double feature DVD sets that feature some of the best international entertainment starring Lee. With the newest 40th anniversary release of “Enter the Dragon” around the corner, Shout! Factory gives fans their own Bruce Lee fix with new releases of some of his most iconic movies.
Among them is “The Way of the Dragon” (also known as “Return of the Dragon”) one of the best action films ever made, starring Lee as Tang Lung, a young man who visits Rome to help his Uncle Wang, a restaurant owner who is being harassed by a local mob boss. When Tang arrives to survey the situation, he discovers that Wang is under aggressive manipulation by the local gangsters that are keeping him under taps. Tang steps in and shows the racist and violent thugs that Wang’s family won’t sit by and watch him become a victim of their harassment. Featuring one of the best moments in Lee’s film repertoire, Tang does battle with the thugs in the alleyway of the restaurant and shows them what one man force he is and how his uncle is now under his protection.
Tang uses the opportunity to teach his Uncle’s workers how to defend themselves, but soon things escalate to the point where Tang’s own life comes under welfare. Lee gives a spirited and mind-blowing performance as this humble hero who walks in to trouble, and refuses to back down when he sees his innocent uncle’s livelihood in jeopardy. The first half of “Way of the Dragon” is a fine mixture of action, and the occasional bouts of comedy which are thankfully used to display the awe inspired moves by Lee who wows literally everyone with his lightning quick rebuttal to the gangsters. This inflicts a chain of assassination attempts at Tang, until the finale where Lee has his historic confrontation with fighter Colt, in the Colosseum. This is the introduction of Chuck Norris who engages Lee in an excellent final fight that works as a pay off for a brutally entertaining. You have to enjoy how the fight is almost refereed by a lone cat watching in the corner as the man do battle, and Lee flexes his muscles, showing how much of a force of nature he can be, even to men like Norris who is lucky enough to lose to the man.
The 1978 “Game of the Death” marks the last film for Lee, in which most of the footage was shot before Lee’s untimely death. In an effort to salvage the project, the studio took the footage and completely altered the original plot of the film to suit the footage that would allow the director to work around Lee’s final work. As a film it’s only memorable by virtue of the fact that Lee died before completing the movie, leading to scenes where his body double walks around in a cycle helmet. To add to the distracting absence of Lee, most of the time his character is on-screen, he is obscured by large glasses, disguises, and brief footage from past films spliced in. It’s incredibly awkward and often times jarring. It’s very reminiscent of the episode of “The Simpsons” where the director for the “Radioactive Man” movie terribly spliced footage of Milhouse together and tried to pass it off to directors. The film feels less like an ode of respect, and more like a studio’s last effort to sap money out of Lee’s career, and it’s a shame since the movie itself is at least a solid thriller. Before we were awash in a sea of Bruce Lee clones. Lee completists need apply.