Review: Fist of Fury (1971)


Bruce Lee Fists of Fury 3

starring Bruce Lee, James Tien, Jackie Chan (Stuntman)

Directed by Lo Wei

Fight Choreography by Han Ying Cheng

Fist of Fury came out the following year after The Big Boss, and proves to be a much better film in every conceivable way, finally showing the skills and talent that would define Bruce Lee for all time in a way that The Big Boss never could…

Bruce Lee plays Chen Zhen, a popular chinese hero who has been the subject of a few films, with a new one with Donnie Yen in production as we speak. The story begins with Chen’s return home after finding out that his Master, Ho Yuan-Chin, is killed while fighting the currently occupying Japanese, who stage matches to pit their karate to Chinese Kung-fu. Chen arrives just in time to attend the funeral, and there his emotions, like it will the entire film, get the best of him, and he throws himself on the casket, where the current headmaster of the school does the most cast-iron ballsy thing I’ve ever seen, knocking Chen out with a shovel. And I’ll bet no Japanese fighter thought to try that, because over the course of the film they’ll fail with everything else.

At the Master’s wake the next day, all goes peaches until a group of Japanese from the nearest Cobra Kai-wait, wrong film. But Martin Cove showing up would have been some kind of awesome. Anyway, the bad guys from the nearby Evil Dojo tm show up with a sign for the school that reads “Sick Man of Asia”. Now that is straight up gangsta, and requires ass-kicking on an epic level. Their rep Mr. Hu does this and slaps Chen not once-not twice-but three times! Chen was already pissed he got laid out by a shovel, and now this douche shows up and has the intestinal fortitude to slap him!

Bruce Lee Fists of Fury 1

This leads to the now classic fight as Chen shows up to kick ass and fight their Master, to see if he was really good enough to kill Master Ho. Oh he’s not. Not even close. Chen said he was the worst of the students, and I suppose from the standpoint of showing restraint and forgiveness, he’s right, but he did misrepresent himself, and I’m sure those fighters would’ve done much better had they known how good he really was. Cue laugh track here. After hearing about the beating his boys took, Master Suzuki, a giant eyebrowed dude, orders his men to go to the Chang Wu school and destroy it. Chen then shows the dangers of discrimation by beating down two Japanese guys who want him to crawl like a dog to get into some park or something, with no idea that doing so would immediately cause them to have emergency dental surgery performed on them to remove several perfectly good teeth. At the same time the Japanese attack the Chang Wu school, in a battle that is well done, much better than any non-Bruce fight in the Big Boss. Han Ying Chen does a great job of choreography this time out, and especially of using it to up the tension of the scenes. My only beef with this scene is at the end of this, when the Japanese master orders everyone to stop fighting, and they do. I would have thought that this would be the perfect time to get some cheap shots in if I were the Cheng Wu school. Chen shows up, evidently pissed that he wasn’t there to kick more butt, and feels horrible about it.

Soon Chen discover that the cook and servant were the traitors, poisoning the Master’s food right before the fight. You’ll notice the servant is played by the same guy who played the main bad guy in The Big Boss. Chen kills both men with punches so powerful that it evidently thrusts their innards into a pocket dimension.

This puts Chen on the run, foraging and living in the nearby forest, while Master Eyebrows spends the nights entertaining his new friend Mr. Petrov, who looks strikingly like either Ronald Macdonald or John Holmes. Of course this scene shows off the requisite naked woman. Following this scene leads to one of the most ill advised acts in history, as Mr Hu-you remember, the ass that kept slapping Chen at the wake-is captured by Chen for information, and Chen finally shows he learned something more from his Master other than killing proficiently, and lets Hu live, and Hu repays this act of generosity by trying to stab Chen in the back, and of course reflexes take over and Chen sends Hu into the next world, ensuring his brand of stupidity will no longer affect the gene pool any longer.

Next Chen goes all Mission Impossible here wearing disguises to spy on the bad guys in a scene both implausible and funny at the same, primarily for that reason, and I think the Lo Wei knew this too. Chen watches Ronald Mcd-I mean Petrov give a demonstration of his skill at hammering nails in boards with his hands and bending steel. Which is fine if your Bob Villa, but not so much if you fight guys named Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee Fists of Fury 2

Chen goes to the Japanese dojo, unaware that most of the students left to kill off the Cheng Wu school. Stupidity runs rampant again as Chen tries to get the remaining students to leave peacefully, but they don’t, and Chen breaks arms, crushes heads and impales guys with their own weapons. He arrives to find Master Suzuki’s top guys, including Petrov, ready to take him on, and after he double taps the first guy in the nuts, turning him into the Lead Henchwoman, takes on Petrov in a good fight until Chen goes super speed on him, and dispatches him easily. The last fight between Chen and Master Suzuki is surprisingly weak compared to the fights before, mainly because it is very short.

(Note: At the moment Bruce kicks Suzuki out of the dojo, sending him through the wooden doors, Bruce noted that the stuntman he had been watching that day who did that was going to be special someday, because of the way he conducted himself and just seemed to have that something in the eyes. That stuntman? Jackie Chan.)

Meanwhile, the entire school is wiped out but for the Headmaster and a few of the students who drew the long straws and got to go looking for Chen Zhen. Chen is forced to turn himself in, but in a final act of defiance runs right at a group of soldiers with guns, and they fire, and thus ends the film.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) For his last film with Bruce, Han Yin Cheng does a great job this time out, even in the non-Bruce Lee fight scenes. I’m sure Bruce himself had a lot to do with that, but this contains one of the best, most classic fight scenes of all time.

STUNTS: (7) Better than the Big Boss by leaps and bounds. You could tell they were able to hire better stuntmen this time out, and with Jackie Chan being one of them, there’ s no way it could be as bad as the Big Boss. While no real large scale stunts here, the stuntmen act the punches and strikes well, and throw themselves about fairly convincingly.

DIRECTION: (7) Once again, much better as the fight scenes are well framed and move just as well. The story has better drama and characterization as well, and Lo gets the most from his actors. Truthfully, he got lucky with this one.

STAR POWER: (10) Unlike the Big Boss, this features Bruce fighting, fighting, fighting. More Bruce is never a bad thing, and this movie gives you your Bruce Lee fix. He does a much better job with the acting, except for the laughable romantic scene midway through the film.

FINAL GRADE: (9) A great film that defined everything that fans loved about Bruce Lee. Good fights and decent drama make this a winner. Only the final fight brings the score down a bit.

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6 Responses to “Review: Fist of Fury (1971)”

  1. “We are not sick men!” Excellent review Mike.
    I remember watching this movie as a kid at the local drive in.

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  2. LOL Bob Villa. Cool blog!

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  3. Personally I think this is hands down the best Bruce Lee movie ever…I remember watching it on VHS and almost shat myself when he kicked the Japanese sword into the air, pulled the bad guy down and the sword went right through him….FUCKIN GREAT MOVIE! Also I almost cried at the end. GREAT GREAT MOVIE, AND GREAT REVIEW!!!

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