Fist of Fury (1972) / Action-Thriller
aka The Chinese Connection
aka The Iron Hand
aka School for Chivalry
aka Jing wu men
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence
Running time: 107 min.
Cast: Bruce Lee, Miao Ker Hsiu, Fan Chun-hsia, Maria Yi, Robert Baker, Fu Ching Chen, San Chen, Ying-Chieh Han, Riki Hashimoto
Director: Wei Lo
Screenplay: Wei Lo
Review published February 5, 2011
A quintessential kung fu flick, and it should almost go without saying that, when dealing with Bruce Lee (Enter the Dragon) films, it's worth going out of your way to find an uncut, restored, well voiced version, as choosing among the many poorly translated, ear-splittingly dubbed, chopped-up pan-and-scan releases will likely mar your enjoyment greatly. It can also get confusing, as U.S. distributors released in this theaters and on video as the accidentally titled The Chinese Connection, a title more appropriate to the drug-smuggling story from his first film, which in turn received the title of Fists of Fury. Recent releases have tried to remedy this by re-titling his first and second films to The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, respectively.
Bruce Lee plays Chen, a Chinese student of a great martial arts master who is murdered mysteriously (though officially ruled as caused by pneumonia) in Japanese-controlled 1930s Shanghai. Roads lead to a rival Japanese school as the culprits. Bullied by the Japanese, the Chinese school capitulates, but Chen isn't going to let his teacher's murder go unavenged, so he strikes out on his own to seek righteous justice at the ends of his fists and feet.
Although an international success, Fist of Fury plays mostly to its original homeland crowd, with its Chinese underdog vs. Japanese oppressor story, tossing in a villainous Russian ally (Baker) to boot. The downtrodden overcoming the overt racism of their oppressors is a universal theme, which helps the film in international markets, as it's easy to root for the underdog when they are clearly powerless.
Wei Lo's script and direction aren't exactly the film's strongest of points, as the dialogue (at least as translated) is not terribly sophisticated, and, while not without style, some of the dramatic moments do tend to come off as a tad bland. However, there's no question that the film comes to life, and in a big way, whenever Lee enters the screen, particularly when he unleashes his trademark brand of exciting martial arts style (a pre-stardom Jackie Chan performed some of the stunts), moving fast and with great choreographed strength to pummel all those foolish to step in his way.
Despite the endless copycats and more advanced techniques in martial arts cinema choreography, Fist of Fury still stands up pretty well today, but that fact can on;y be attributed to the formidable presence and dynamic energy infused into the basic plot by the burgeoning superstar Bruce Lee. If you're a fan of his, or of early martial arts films in general, you've no doubt seen this multiple times. If you're unfamiliar, it's as good a starting point as any.
©2011 Vince Leo