Written by: Michael Den Boer on December 17th, 2006
Theatrical Release Dates: Hong Kong, 1975 (Death of Bruce Lee), Hong Kong, 1978 (Way of the Black Dragon)
Director: Chin-Ku Lu (Death of Bruce Lee), Billy Chan (Way of the Black Dragon)
Cast: Ron Van Clief, Charles Bonet, Phillip Ko, Meng Fu, Linda Ho, Carter Wong
DVD released: December 26th, 2006
Approximate running time: 90 minutes (Death of Bruce Lee) 92 minutes (Way of the Black Dragon)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame (Both Films)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono (Both Films)
DVD Release: BCI
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $14.98
Death of Bruce Lee: The Black Dragon (Ron Van Clief) is hired by a wealthy businessman who pays him $100,000 to find out who murdered Bruce Lee. Add to the mix a group of Bruce Lee disciples who vow to avenge those responsible for his death. Will the truth behind Lee’s untimely death finally be revealed or will it remain a mystery forever.
Death of Bruce Lee is the second film in a trilogy of films starring Ron Van Clief as The Black Dragon. The other two films are Black Dragon and Way of the Black Dragon. Death of Bruce Lee starts off with a premise that is all too familiar with marital arts fans the death of Bruce Lee. The film spends most of the first half investigating Lee’s death and it doesn’t take long before this becomes tedious.
Once the action starts is doesn’t let up and like all classic marital arts films this one ends with a spectacular finally. The start of this epic tale is Ron Van Clief who expands his repertoire this time around. What he lacks in acting skills he more then makes ups with his strong screen presence and hands of steel. Death of Bruce Lee may not be one of the better marital arts films out there, still it has enough ass whooping action to keep even the most die hard fans on the edge of their seats.
Way of the Black Dragon: Woman are being kidnapped and forced into a world of prostitution. The Black Dragon (Ron Van Clief) an Interpol agent investigating the crime syndicate behind the abduction of the young women teams up with Brother Chen a man whose wife is one of the girls that was adducted. When word gets out that the police are on to them the crime syndicate they decide to sell off all their prostitutes as mail order brides.
Way of the Dragon is the final installment in the Black Dragon saga. The films star Ron Van Clief is noticeably absent until about forty two minute into the film. The film spends more time spewing racist or derogatory words and beating women then its does focusing on a coherent plot or action sequences. It is nearly forty eight minutes before any serious action takes place and by then the film has already lost its way.
Veteran marital arts actor Carter Wong has the most prominent role in the film and every scene he is in he electrifies the screen. He face off with Ron Van Clief is an amazing sequence. He really shines in the films finale where Carter Wong shows why he is one of the best in the game with his quickness and high flying kicks. Ron Van Clief also does an admirable job during his action sequences. The action sequences are this films only saving grace and without them there is nothing of value let in the rest of the film.
Death of Bruce Lee and Way of the Black Dragon are both presented in a full frame aspect ratio. The back-cover for this DVD release mentions how this is the best elements available and that all original film elements have been lost. Both of these films are definitely cropped as is evident in their opening credits which are half way off the screen. The action feels way too cramped and there are many obvious shots where people are half way in the frame. Colors look faded and occasionally there is some noticeable bleeding. There is print damage that is almost present through out both features. These films where shot on a limited budget during the heyday of martial arts cinema in the 1970’s and while I never expected them to look flawless they do look pretty ruff around the edges. It is too bad that far too many of these martial arts films from this era have all been regulated to mostly sub par releases since no one saw fit to keep the original elements.
Both films come with one audio option an English dubbed audio mix which is presented in a Dolby Digital mono. There is noticeable hiss and problems with distortion and other noticeable sound defects. Dialog sounds a tad thin at times and music and effects sound robust.
Extras for this release include a T.V. spot and Trailer for Death of Bruce Lee. Both of these are presented in widescreen. Both films come with stills gallery which also includes some poster art. Other extras for this release include behind the scenes 8mm footage for Death of Bruce Lee and Way of the Black Dragon. Surprisingly this 8mm footage looks better then the transfers included for the main features. Death of Bruce Lee comes with about twenty-one minutes of 8mm footage and Way of the Black Dragon comes with about eleven minutes of 8mm footage. Both of these 8mm segments come with audio comments from Ron Van Clief and he is joined by George Tan who moderates the discussion. Each film also comes with an audio commentary with Ron Van Clief and both of these are moderated by George Tan. Ron discusses his long and varied career as a martial artist. Other subjects include Bruce Lee, Jim Kelly, The Black Dragon Films and how Ron was originally cast for the lead role in Black Samurai which eventually went to Jim Kelly. Ron is a joy to listen to as he has so many great stories to tell and George Tan does a superb job by getting Ron to answer questions that are more related to the films include in this collection.
BCI’s Ron Van Clief collection collects to of his more memorable films at a more then affordable price. The only downside to this release is the audio/video presentation which leaves a lot to be desired. The wealth of extras is a pleasant surprise that makes this release more enticing despite its shortcomings.