Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Way of the Dragon"(1972)d/Bruce Lee

We haven't even gotten to the big yearly day of L-tryptophan intake, and I've already irresponsibly slacked most of the month away, but I assure you, folks, it's only because I'm busy beating on your mother's uvula with me yahzick.And so we come to the very first Bruce Lee review here at the Wop, skipping over Big Boss(1971) and Fists of Fury(1972) just to get to his third film; the global box office record breaking 'fish out of water' martial epic as written, co-produced, overdubbed, directed by, and starring the Little Dragon himself.Hell, he even helped compose the soundtrack with Joseph Koo.Is there anything that Lee, the single most familiar martial arts icon in the world(don't listen to these 98 pound weakling sand-grilled nerds with their played out Chuck Norris crap on the interwebs tubes), born Lee Jun Fan in San Francisco on November 27th, 1940, couldn't have accomplished, had he not suddenly perished on that fateful July 20th in 1973?From a martial artist's perspective, few things get the adrenaline flowing like one of Bruce's cat-like kiais that accompany his powerful techniques, almost too fast to be caught on camera, if you can believe that, and though kung fu movies have long since evolved into a more intricately choreographed ballet of brutality, Lee remains no less impressive with age, some forty years down the line.For his directorial debut, which was released in the U.S. as Return of the Dragon in 1974 to cash in on the success of his Enter the Dragon(1973) effort, Bruce enlisted the skills of Hapkido grandmaster Whang Ing-Sik, heavyweight kickboxing champion Bob Wall, and his sensei, eighth degree Tang Soo Do black belt and middleweight karate champion, Chuck Norris, in his acting(ahem) debut.Rounding out the cast here are Lee regulars, Nora Miao, Wei Ping Ao, and Bruce's lifelong friend, Unicorn Chan.
Insert risotto allo zafferano con petto d'anatra here.
Tang Lung(Bruce Lee) arrives in Rome(I swear this had no bearing on the Wopsploitation rating) to aid his friend's niece, Chen Ching Hua(Nora Miao), whose restaurant has been singled out by local mafiosi who've been using intimidation to try and force her to sell out to them.Chen, expecting one of her uncle's lawyers instead, is initially unimpressed by the naive bumpkin from the country, who's wary of banks and having difficulty with expressing himself in Italian and English to the point that he can barely order food or resist the advances of local prostitutes.At the restaurant, the workers clumsily practice karate out back to pass the time, since the gangsters continually frighten off potential customers, and even they don't think too much of Tang at first, or see how this small yokel could possibly improve their predicament.That is, until the thugs show up to do some more bullying in his presence, forcing him to take them out back, and humble them with his Chinese boxing.All comers are quickly immobilized by the the little man's fists, feet, bo staff, and dual nunchaku, from the obligatory soul brother to the Roman version of Wolfman Jack, amidst the cheers of his former detractors and skepticism of the unfortunately named Uncle Wang(Wang Chung-Hsin).The mob boss(Jon Benn), not a man easily swayed by speed-of-light spinning hook kicks, gets his flamboyantly garbed, effeminate lieutenant, Ho(Wei Ping-Ao), to send a gunman to dispatch the restaurant's new hero, but Tang nullifies his gun with wooden throwing darts and breaks his neck for his efforts.Tang warns the boss that he'll get serious if the thugs don't leave his friends alone, to which the boss responds by sending a message that he'll have Tang killed if he doesn't leave Rome pronto.Tang is unwavered by the criminal's empty threats, of course.
When wielding nunchaku in Rome, Tang Lung(Bruce Lee) knows the importance of malocchio.A good wifebeater doesn't hurt either.
The earlier gunman, now sporting a nifty neckbrace, is sent to Chen's apartment to snipe Tang, but receives more comeuppance from the proud Chinese.Chen gets kidnapped by the goons, but Tang and the boys quickly arrive on the scene to rescue her, with Tang jump kicking a ceiling light(!) and cracking his massive knuckles in the boss' face to illustrate his previous point.Ho calls on two of his friends, an American(Bob Wall) and a Japanese(Whang Ing-Sik), both of whom are martial experts, to handle the syndicate's problems, but their language barrier escalates into a fight that's only broken up by the arrival of Colt(Chuck Norris), the karate champ from America that happens to be the other American's sensei.Tang and company are lured to the country nearby to the Roman colosseum by Ho, where they are set upon by the two foreign experts, neither of which proves much of a match for Tang.While Ho goads him to give chase, the other workers exhaustedly fight the two karatekas until Uncle Wang surprises them with a knife to the kidneys, explaining that the boss had paid him well for his treachery.At the ancient arena, Tang encounters Colt instead of Ho, and the two men warm up together, achknowledging that they will battle to the death, with a small feral kitten watching in the wings.At the outset, Colt's powerful strikes overwhelm the small fighter, who increases his own quickness and fluidity to best the American, breaking his arm and one of his legs in the process.When Colt refuses to give up, Tang snaps his neck, sadly draping his gi over his battered, lifeless body out of respect, turning, and once again giving chase to Ho, who tries to sneakily escape.Meanwhile, Uncle Wang, who's shanked up all his nephews for cash, tries to shiv Tang, but gets shot along with Ho by the angry don, who arrives by car, only to see that his latest plan is another failure.Before he can shoot the tiny Chinese bane of his criminal existence, the authorities arrive and take him into custody.At the graveyard, Tang and Chen pay their last respects to their dead friends before the young man bids her adieu, finally returning home.Waaaaaaaassssssssaaaaaa!!!
"Your-ah Chinese Boxing is ah-squashing the ravioli!", says Chef Boi Ahr Di(Wang Chung-hsin).
It should also be noted that Yuen Biao also makes an early cameo here as one of Bruce Lee's whipping boys.Lee would go on to star in Enter the Dragon with Nora Miao again, ironically, his last completed motion picture before dying the same year.Unicorn Chan, who also appeared in Fists of Fury with Lee, would also meet a tragic end in a 1987 car accident in Malaysia, while Chuck Norris would again play a villain in his next movie, 1973's awful Slaughter in San Francisco, which is often packaged as a starring role for the wooden Irish/Cherokee actor of little renown, instead of the terrible Don Wong vehicle it really is.Norris wouldn't get his marquee turn until four years later with Breaker! Breaker!(1977).Lee's only directorial effort is an even-handed affair, with nice cinematography and excellent pacing that leave one pondering what he would have gone on to do should he have lived a longer life.On the scale, Way earns three solid Wops, and deserves its place on woprophiles' shelves as an exciting kung fu exercise and cult classic.Recommended.
...And with four rapid-fire kicks to the facepiece, Bruce Lee makes a Chuck Norris joke out of Chuck Norris.


Kev D. said...

"Chinese boxing?"

I think I've seen this movie one million times.

"In the country... YEEEEEeeeeEEE!"

beedubelhue said...

"Eh? It's a Rolls!"

Me, too.

"You don't know what Chinese spare ribs are? Let me show you, maaaan!"


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