Bruce Lee explodes onscreen in his second and greatest martial arts film role, that of iconic Chinese screen hero Chen Zhen. Set in Republican-era Shanghai in the city’s international district, this groundbreaking kung fu classic from Golden Harvest and writer-director Lo Wei begins with the mysterious death of Chin Woo Athletic Association’s headmaster Huo Yuan-jia. The students’ memorial service is crashed by representatives of a rival Japanese martial arts school bearing a placard that reads “Sick men of Asia,” prompting Chin Woo’s top student Chen Zhen to return the offensive gift while busting up the Japanese school. In reprisal, the Japanese return to attack the Chin Woo school. The conflict turns deadly when Chen discovers that his teacher had been poisoned to death by men working for the Japanese school. He kills them in a fit of rage. Now wanted for murder, Chen Zhen becomes a fugitive as he sets out on a one-man mission of revenge to kill all those responsible for Huo’s death. While not without its minor flaws, this film is enormously entertaining due largely to the charismatic screen presence and powerfully dynamic fighting performance of Lee. THE BIG BOSS was a warm up to this film that firmly establishes a whole new level of hard-hitting martial arts action never seen before in Hong Kong. Lee’s movements are fast, powerful, expressive, and efficient as he unleashes impressive fists, kicks and nunchaku handling with ease. Coupled with the actor’s distinctive, high-pitched growl and immense intensity, this is a one-of-a-kind performance that is in direct contrast to the flowery and often stoic Chinese opera, fantasy and forms-based fighting performances that had been the staple of Chinese martial films since the silent era. Golden Harvest’s lead action director Han Ying-chieh is credited with handling the fights but as Lee’s subsequent work on GAME OF DEATH and ENTER THE DRAGON later revealed, Lee clearly has considerable creative control over the fighting. The whole film is a showcase for Lee but Golden Harvest steps up with an above-average production populated by talented supporting stars and stunt actors including Nora Miao, James Tien, and future genre heavyweights Corey Yuen and Lam Ching-ying. Lead villains played by Robert Baker and Riki Hashimoto are no where near Lee’s equal but manage to be memorable opponents nevertheless. At a time when original film music in Hong Kong was a rarity, Joseph Koo deserves praise for scoring a wonderful original soundtrack with an unforgettable theme. Lo Wei, who is often maligned for his mishandling of Jackie Chan in a series of low-budget films after he left the studio, deserves credit for an excellent script that successfully tapped into the sentiment of young Chinese people at the time who were looking for a new identity following their parents’ experiences of being ground under the heel of Japanese Imperialism. Chen Zhen, a fictional character loosely based on a student of real martial arts expert Huo Yuan-jia, became an inspirational model for Chinese solidarity, pride and strength, much as Bruce Lee became a similar inspiration worldwide with this film’s subsequent international release under the alternate title THE CHINESE CONNECTION.
REVIEW: Fist of Fury (1972),
Bruce Lee • Corey Yuen • Fist of Fury • Genre: Kung Fu • Golden Harvest • James Tien • Lam Ching-ying • Lo Wei