Written by: Michael Den Boer on January 1st, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Hong Kong, 1971, 1972, 1978
Directors: Wei Lo, Bruce Lee, Robert Clouse
Writers: Bruce Lee, Wei Lo, Jan Spears
Cast: Bruce Lee, Yin-Chieh Han, Nora Miao, James Tien, Chuck Norris, Robert Wall
DVD Released: 2004
Approximate Running Time: 500 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen and 2:35:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: DTS Cantonese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Cantonese (Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon), DTS English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English (Game of Death)
DVD Release: Spectrum
Region Coding: Region 3 NTSC
Retail Price: $64.95
“The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.” – Bruce Lee
Big Boss: Cheng Chao-An (Bruce Lee) has recently arrived Thailand to live with relatives. He has also promised his mother not to fight anyone under any circumstances while staying with his relatives. Cheng Chao-An quickly finds a job at an ice-production factory and when two of his co-workers go missing after finding cocaine hidden in one of the ice blocks he decides to investigate this matter further.
Big Boss is a nice introduction for Lee and there a few scenes that showcase his talent as a martial artist. The first of his two standout fight scenes takes place at the ice factory when the Boss sends some thugs to take care of Cheng Chao-An. Lee would unleash in the sequence a brutality that is unlike anything in any of his other films. The second standout fight scene is the films finally when Cheng Chao-An goes confronts his nemesis Hsiao Mi (The Big Boss). Instead of immediately attacking each other the star each other down in a Sergio Leone slow build up that even features an ultra close up of the two warriors’ eyes. The film has its share of light hearted moments like when Cheng Chao-An meets his relatives he sits in the background making faces. Lee also camps it up later in the scene wear his is with some of the Big Boss’s men and prostitutes eating dinner. He ends up drinking too much which leads to him blacking out and waking up in the arms of a prostitute. The Big Boss has an eclectic soundtrack that features music cues taking from two Pink Floyd songs most notable the song “Time”. The build up in the beginning of the film were Cheng Chao-An refuses to fight because of a promise he made weakens the first half of the film and it fails to help build tension like it was intended too.
Fist of Fury: Chen Zhen (Bruce Lee) is over come with grief of the death of hi s recently deceased master that he tries digup his masters’ grave before finally being restrained. To further complicate the matter a rival school shows up at the funeral presenting them with a sign that translates to “The Sick Man of Asia” which doesn’t sit well with Chen Zhen. Not amused by their disrespecting his master Chen Zhen enters the Japanese school to teach them a lesson. What starts as a far fight erupts into an all out brawl as Chen Zhen takes on the whole school alone. Will Chen Zhen avenge his master before his enemies do him in or before the police arrest him?
Fist of Fury is a classic tale of China vs. Japan. Besides Lee undeniable talents as able to martial artists he is able to convey so much through his facial expressions and his eyes. Chen Zhen hangs his victims from lamp posts throughout the movie as a calling card to his enemies to watch out you might be the next one hanging from a pole. An early stand out action set piece is when Chen Zhen returns the insulting sign back to Japanese at their karate school. This scene is wear the film starts to take kick it into high gear as Lee show off his lightning fast skills. In this scene Lee would also introduce Lee a new weapon the nunchaku’s which he would be forever linked. Lee shows a more tender side of himself in a scene that takes place in a graveyard between Chen Zhen and Yuan Le-erh. It is during this scene that we get am chance to see a side of Lee rarely seen throughout his career. The films main action set piece takes place between Chen Zhen and Petrov the white Russian in which we are treated to Lee unleashing his Fist of Fury technique. In this film Lee also proves that he is more than just an action star as he handles with ease the more tender moments like when he lost his master with the more comedic moments in which he shows up in one of several disguises he wears. The martial arts in this film are simply outstanding as each fight tops the next.
Way of the Dragon: Chen Ching Hua (Nora Miao), has inherited a popular Chinese restaurant in Rome. She asks her uncle in Hong Kong for help when evil Mafia Boss (Jon T. Benn) tries to take over her business. An illness prevents her uncle from coming so he sends his friend Tang Lung (Bruce lee) in his place.
The Boss sends thugs to take care of Tang, as he quickly disposes them all. When a gunman is sent to take care of Tang in Chen’s apartment Tang thrashes them with his Kung Fu. Chen tries to impress Tang with the wonders of Rome. More Assassins are sent in to get rid of Tang, luckily he brought along his nunchakus to crack their skulls. Chen worried wants Tang to leave for his own protection. Tang fights on even though he is out numbered, he refuses to give up. The final showdown takes place in the Roman Coliseum between lee and Chuck Norris.
Way of The Dragon would mark Bruce Lee’s debut as director and it is his only completed film that he had total control. Lee with new films would more and more comedy into the mix and in Way of The Dragon he would find the perfect balance between action and comedy. Lee would add more weapons for this film to his arsenal like throwing darts that he would use to disarm gunmen and of course he would bring along his trademark nunchakus. Lee’s grace and power are evident in his visionary fight choreography. A standout fight takes place in an alley behind Chen Ching Hua restaurant as Tang Lung shows four thugs the ancient art of Chinese boxing. The Duel between Lee and Chuck Norris is breathtaking in its execution as the long build up adds to the tension. It is appropriate that they two gladiators are fighting in the Roman coliseum. Neither man is willing to go down easy nor as they do both take a beating in what shape ups to be one of martial arts greatest duels. Unsatisfied with the work of director Lo Wei, who had directed Lee’s first two, films for Golden Harvest. lee would insist on directing his next film Return of the Dragon and through his writing, acting and directing he would deliver his most rounded character of his career.
Director’s cut vs. U.S. version: Way of the Dragon contains about 8 ½ minutes of footage that is missing from the U.S. release Return if the Dragon. The biggest cut takes place early on in the film when Tang Lung is hungry after arriving in room so he goes to a restaurant to eat while he waits for Chen Ching Hua. Another scene that was completed cut from the U.S. release takes place right after Tang Lung meets the prostitute. She takes him to her place and when she returns topless he runs away. There is a brief moment when Tang Lung goes to the backroom and a customer who walks in right after him. In the U.S. version this brief scene is missing and the customer who was in the bathroom with Tang Lung exit has also been cut. Most of the other cuts are humor based and all of the action and violence appears to be intact in the U.S. version.
Game of Death: There is a syndicate that is blackmailing celebrities with the threat of losing their lives if they don’t give the syndicate part of their action. Billy Lo is their latest victim and they have also been harassing Lo’s girlfriend Ann Morris who happens to be a singer. When Lo refuse to cooperate the mob hire a hit man to kill him and when the hit fails Lo fakes his death as he plans his revenge.
Even Robert Clouse who expertly directed Lee’s Enter the Dragon cannot save this abomination know as Game of Death. Two actors hired to fill in for Lee one would do the acting the other primarily the fight scenes. They both lack the charisma and martial arts scenes were poorly executed. The film even employees another actor to play Hakim in the beginning of the film while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar plays this character later in the film. So many things are wrong about this film like the use of cardboard cutout of Lee’s head and the fact that only 1/3 of his actual Game of Death footage is used while we are forced to sit through almost ninety minutes with a fake subpar Lee look alike. Billy Lo’s death strangely mirror’s Bruce’s son’s Brandon’s death that would happen sixteen years later as Brandon like the Billy Lo would both fall victim to guns that had live ammo instead of blanks.
Conclusion: The opening credits for Big Boss, Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon are reminiscent to the opening credits in the Man with no Name trilogy. Big Boss, Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon are all brilliantly created martial arts films that all transcend the genre. This box sets only misstep is the inclusion of the horrible Game of Death that should have been left unreleased and the best way to watch the Lee shot footage is via the film Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey which edits together all the existing footage which amounts to about forty minutes. I wish that Spectrum would have included this footage instead.
“Empty your mind. Become formless and shapeless like water. When water is poured into a cup, it becomes the cup. When water is poured into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee
Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon and Game of Death are all presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves their original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It is immediately obvious watching these transfers that Spectrum had better source material to work with as the colors are vibrant and flesh tones look natural adding to these transfers eye candy. The black levels are solid throughout and grain is kept to a minimum. There is some minor print damage that has more to do with the source material and not the transfers. These transfers are virtually free of scratches, nicks and artifacts except the film Game of Death. The Big Boss and Fist of Fury far best of the four titles included as they exhibit the sharpest detail overall. The Game of Death which also happens to be the most recent of the four films included is still an improvement over Fox’s region 1 DVD, still it is the worst looking transfer of the four. Its lack luster transfers could also have something to do with the fact that Game of Death is pieced together from several different sources and film stocks.
The following audio options are available for Big Boss and Fist of Fury. Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks that both are in the film’s original Cantonese language. These audio tracks for these two films are the two cleanest of the four films included in this set. The Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks are pretty much the same with the DTS offer a slightly fuller audio experience. There is no sign of distortion or hiss through these audio mixes. The dialog is always easy to follow with the action and music adding some extra kick to the mix with their throbbing pulsing. English subtitles that are easy o read and follow have been included for Big Boss and Fist of Fury. Korean subtitles have also been included. The following audio options are available for Way of the Dragon. Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks that both are in the film’s original Cantonese language. There are portions of English dialog throughout the playback of Way of the Dragon. This audio track like the others is relatively clean as the action comes through load and clear. The dialog at times sounds tiny compared to the music and sound effects; still it is easy enough to follow. The DTS audio mix fares a little better then the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. English subtitles that are easy o read and follow have been included. Korean subtitles have also been included. The following audio options are available for Game of Death. Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks that both are in the film’s original English language. The dialog at times sounds muffled and there is some minor hiss and distortion present throughout. The sound effects and music cues far a little better in the sound mixes for Game of Death, still overall it lacks the punch the other films audio mixes has. English and Korean subtitles have been included that are easy to read and follow.
This box sets main extra is included on the fifth DVD it is a documentary “Bruce Lee: The Man and The Legend” that was made shortly after Lee’s death by Golden Harvest. The film starts with the news of Lee’s death before proceeding to his funeral procession. The films then shifts to a bio about Lee from birth to his untimely death before returning to were the film started at his funeral. Overall it is a moving tribute to a fallen icon that offers a lot back ground detail into the life Bruce Lee. Hard core Lee most likely have heard most of what is being told in this documentary, still when it was released “Bruce Lee: The Man and The Legend” was one of the first documentaries to explore the legend of Bruce Lee which also adds to its appeal. Bruce Lee: The Man and The Legend, is presented in a letterboxed widescreen that retains its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Unfortunately it hasn’t been given an anamorphic enhancement and the colors look faded at times. The stock footage suffers from scratches and artifacts while most rest of the documentary only has minor print damage. The dialog appears to have original been made for Cantonese audiences and part of the film is in Cantonese with no English subtitles available. Some of the participants speak in English and an English narrator translates most of the Cantonese that is spoken. The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital Mono. There is some minor hiss and distortion throughout, still nothing that ever interferes with what is going on. No English subtitles for this film only Korean subtitle have been included.
Each of the four main films comes with similar extras on each of their individual DVD’s. They each come with their original and a newly created for this release theatrical trailers as well as trailers for the other three films in the set. Other extras include Bruce Lee stills photo album and Bruce Lee photo slide show each DVD includes still and slideshow gallery. The Big Boss DVD comes with an additional extra entitled Celebrity interviews which is a brief collection of interviews with Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Wong Jing and Tung Wai. All the participants speak in English expect for Tung Wai and no English subtitles have been provided for this extra. Other extras include eleven minutes of unseen outtakes from Bruce Lee’s Game of Death footage. Rounding out the extras is a 34 page booklet in Korean that comes with poster art and still photos of Lee. Spectrum’s Bruce Lee collection comes in a book like tome that house the five DVD’s on hubs. Also included as part of the design of the book are eight black and white photographs that are alternately placed with the DVD’s giving the package a book like feel? Overall Spectrum’s stylishly designed case is a beauty to behold. Before Bruce Lee came along western audiences had no clue what martial arts were. Since his death no one has been able to the capture beauty and intensity that he personified on the screen. Bruce Lee’s legend grows not because pre-mature death. His star continues to shine because while his contemporary’s films feel dated his work has a timeless appeal to it. Spectrum gives Lee fan’s a chance to see his films in beautifully re-mastered versions that return them to their former glory, highly recommended.