Fist of Fury (1971)

fistoffury

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Bruce Lee stars in this period martial arts that would become one of the most beloved and spin-offed films of his career.

Upon hearing that his martial arts teacher, Huo Yuenjia, had died, Chen Zhen returns to Shanghai for the funeral. In a state of agony, he is upset that his master is gone. Having not eaten for three days, he is convinced that his master’s death wasn’t accidental. At the funeral ceremony, members of the Black Bear Dojo, a Japanese school arrive with a sign that reads “Sick Men of Asia”. Wu, the interpreter for the Japanese, mocks his fellow Chinese and even goes as far as insulting Chen Zhen. The next day, Chen manages to go to the Black Bear Dojo and nearly defeats the entire dojo all by himself. After retaliation against the Ching Wu Academy, it is suggested that Chen leave Shanghai to protect the school.

Before “leaving”, he learns that cook Tien and housekeeper Feng had conspired in poisoning Master Huo for the Japanese. Chen manages to kill them with his fists and reveals the truth to Ching Wu head Fan before disappearing. Using the art of disguise, Chen learns that Suzuki has brought in a Russian fighter who has the same views against the Chinese. Chen decides to wage a one-man war but finds himself the target of an investigation from an inspector after Chen kills Wu, the interpreter. However, Chen only has one mission in life at this point: avenge the death of his master.

It is clear that while Jimmy Wang Yu’s The Chinese Boxer was one of the first to bring the rivalry between Chinese and Japanese martial artists on screen, it is clear that this is the film that broke the mold perhaps due to the popularity of Bruce Lee. This time, Lee plays Chen Zhen, who only has thing on his mind and that’s avenging the death of his master. What is interesting is that Lee shows acting skills by using various disguises throughout the film. In one scene, he can be seen posing as a nerdy telephone repairman to an old man handing out a newspaper to the Japanese. This clearly shows that Lee was more than just the martial arts hero everyone has loved over the years.

Interestingly enough, the film also shows Lee showing a soft side when it comes to fellow student Yuan, played by Nora Miao. While she doesn’t offer much give or take a few action scenes, Miao holds her own as does the late Tien Feng as Chen Zhen’s senior and somewhat “conscience” of the school, Master Fan while James Tien plays a fellow Ching Wu student who makes the suggestion that Chen leave Shanghai after his thrashing of the Japanese karate school. Japanese actor Riki Hashimoto and Lee’s student Robert Baker really do well as the villains of the film.

The dojo scene is perhaps one of the best scenes of the film. It is clear that while Han Ying-Chieh is credited as the film’s action director, there is a clear contrast between Han’s choreography and Lee’s. This scene shows Lee in top form using a barrage of kicks, throws, and his crisp handwork before his use of the nunchaku for the first time on-screen. The look on stuntmen such as Ng Ming-Tsai and Corey Yuen says it all when they see Lee unleash this weapon. Then comes the thrashing of another stuntman, Yuen Wah, whose character mocks Lee when he is refused entry, which leads to the famous sign “No Chinese or Dogs Allowed” being kicked by Lee in the air. While Lee’s style is more straight and powerful, Han’s resorts to the flailing style as seen by Ching Wu in training. Look for future action star Jackie Chan sparring with co-star Maria Yi in a training sequence just before Black Bear Dojo’s retaliation. Chan also doubled for Hashimoto in a critical scene where he did not use wires for a fall, impressing even the Dragon himself.

The film was given many “sequels”, two of which starred Bruceploitation actor Ho Chung-Tao (Bruce Li) as Zhen’s brother, a 1994 reboot, Fist of Legend, which starred Jet Li as Chen Zhen; a 1995 TV series that starred Donnie Yen in the lead role; and most recently, a sequel/revision of sorts to the 1995 series entitled Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, which brought Donnie Yen back to the role.

In any case, Fist of Fury is truly one of Lee’s best films overall with a chance to see him more than fight, but pull off some interesting caricatures with his disguises. However, this is a chance to see the Dragon as he was truly meant to be in the action department. One of his best films!

WFG RATING: A

A Golden Harvest Ltd. production. Director: Lo Wei. Producer: Raymond Chow. Writer: Lo Wei. Cinematography: Chan Ching-Kui. Editing: Peter Cheung.

Cast: Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Tien Feng, James Tien, Huang Chung-Hsin, Han Ying-Chieh, Wei Ping-Ao, Riki Hashimoto, Robert Baker, Fung Ngai, Lo Wei.

 

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