Full Disclosure: Film Detective were kind enough to allow us viewing of the digital elements of “Fist of Fear…” for the purposes of this review, since the release of the Limited Edition Blu-Ray and DVD have been delayed indefinitely due to the ensuing worldwide pandemic. Pre-orders are still open and Film Detective are ensuring copies to consumers when they’re given the green light to continue manufacturing.
There’s a hilarious segment in “The Simpsons” episode “Homer Badman” where Homer is interviewed by tabloid reporter Godfry Jones who promises to redeem his image after he’s accused of groping a young girl. Jones expectedly exploits Homer for the sake of ratings, editing the interview to make Homer look bad. But the editing is so awful that it’s an obvious hack job, and you can’t help but laugh at the sheer shamelessness of it all. The same can be said for “Fist of Fear, Touch of Death” the sheer height of Brucesploitation that takes scraps from Bruce Lee’s career and repurposes, re-edits, and splices footage in to just a god awful faux-documentary/sports drama.
“Fist of Fear” is one of the most notorious of the Brucesploitation sub-genre films. It’s one of the many that, when Bruce Lee died, rather than honor his legacy, just took what it could from his past, and tried to bank off of his enduring popularity. Along with the many wannabes that included Bruce Li, Bruce Le, Bruce Lai, Bruce Lie, Bruce Liang, Bruce Leung, Bruce Thai, and Brute Lee (to name only a few; seriously), studios took anything from Lee to turn in to a movie. “Fist of Fear” takes an old drama from Lee as a young man, an unrelated Sword fighting film known as “Forced to Fight,” and poorly doctors and horribly dubs Lee interviews to present the facade of paying tribute to Lee.
In reality, it’s all nothing but a small group of filmmakers anxiously trying to remind us of why Lee was so great, all the while speculating cheaply about his death. Ron Van Clief’s character discusses working with Lee, and discusses how Lee was “possibly” murdered by an enemy who inflicted the “Touch of Death.” Said Touch was a prolonged body blow that inevitably killed Lee. The speculation amounts to nothing but low brow conspiracy theories, all the while Van Clief and Fred Williamson try their hardest to convince us that they’re the next big martial arts marvels waiting in wings by virtue of knowing Lee.
The movie (I use the term loosely) is so scattered and drifts back and forth between sub-plots, formats (one moment it’s a documentary, next it’s a crime thriller!), and even pads the run time with over forty minutes of Lee’s “Thunderstorm” to concoct some silly meta-sub-plot about a young Lee who chooses his love for martial arts over being married. In all seriousness, “Fist of Fear” is cheap, shameless, embarrassing, and excruciating, not to mention seems to have no idea what made Lee so magnetic, in spite of trotting out references to him every single second.
If you’re a collector or fan of Brucesploitation or anything Bruce Lee, “Fist of Fear, Touch of Death” is right up your alley. Your mileage may vary if you’ve never seen it, as it’s as painful as having lemon juice doused on infected paper cuts. The Blu-ray (will eventually) includes “That’s Bruceploitation” by Daniel Griffith from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, a 30-minute featurette that features interviews with producer Terry Levene, director Matthew Mallinson and writer Ron Harvey. Stars Fred Williamson and Ron Van Clief also get together to discuss and remember the shoot of the film.
Williamson has no delusions about the kind of movie he made, thankfully. There are also a slew of interviews with the surviving cast (produced by Prince Henry Entertainment Group founder Frazier Prince). Finally, there’s the original theatrical trailer, and a great, extended, Spanish-language version of the trailer included. The Limited-edition Blu-ray copies will feature a special liner note booklet written by Justin Decloux and Will Sloan, hosts of The Important Cinema Club podcast.