VCI Home Video // 1982 // 78 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 13th, 2005
I don't know where VCI dug this one up, but they should have left well enough alone.
With no opening credits, no establishing scenes, and not a single piece of exposition, Steel Fisted Dragon begins. Some thugs set fire to an old woman's house for no discernible reason and escape while the woman dies an awful death. Big mistake. She happens to be the mom of a very powerful guy who knows lots of kung fu and kind of looks like Bruce Lee (Steve Lee).
Driven to kill the goons who perpetrated the deed, our hero goes on a chop-socky spree, beating the Dijonnaise out of any foe unlucky to cross paths with him. Aided by his semi-attractive girlfriend and a sidekick with a profound developmental disability, this whirling, kicking, chopping machine of vengeance tears through a criminal underworld headed by a sinister gangster whose name may or may not be "Eunice."
Steel Fisted Dragon is a film that can only be judged on a so-surreal-it's-funny basis. From the opening "scene" on, this is an experience best soaked in with open cans of paint thinner strewn about the living room.
The movie literally makes no sense. None. Here's what I managed to cobble together from the ADHD-style editing and hackneyed narrative: This guy's mom is torched for no reason other than to agitate him; the boss runs some kind of girl-smuggling operation and leers at his ladies through Apple IIE monitors; the goons are warned about pissing off the vengeance-seeking kung-fu master, and heed this warning by raping and killing his sister; and then lots and lots and lots of repetitive hand-to-hand combat ensues. Lots of it.
Everything on display here is grade-Z kung-fu schlock. The dubbing is phenomenally atrocious; Steve Lee's voice-over comes courtesy of a grizzled detective from Scotland Yard, "Eunice" mumbles all of his dialogue as if his mouth were stuffed with tube socks, and Lee's poor mentally challenged sidekick was voiced by someone who was either drunk or hypnotized and commanded to act drunk.
To go along with the painful voice track there's an equally painful soundtrack. The music coordinators must have run out of ideas because much of the film is scored with other movie soundtracks. If you pay attention during one long, boring scene that finds Lee walking around a warehouse, you'll be able to detect some subdued Star Wars music.
"Okay, an old-school kung-fu flick with horrible voice acting and a nonsensical plot. What else is new?" you may ask. Well, when it comes to the actual kung-fu fighting, I wish I could tell you there was something new, something that must have caught the attention of VCI to motivate them to unleash this excrescence on the public. But no. Aside from one cool scene where Lee rips a bad guy's eyeballs out, the action sequences are strictly paint-by-numbers, with a whole lot of weird sounds emanating from the fighters:
WOOOOOOOOO!!!! YOOOOOOOOOOWWWWW!!! HAAAAAWWWW!!!
But if you happen to dig this kind of stuff, Steel Fisted Dragon will deliver it to you! Nearly the entire final third of the movie is straight-up fighting (padded by a few instances of the same scene showing up twice).
To add insult to injury, this is one awful-looking movie. VCI surprisingly transferred it to a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, but the source print was just way too damaged. Colors are all over the place, flaws pop up frequently, and some darker footage is nearly opaque. The Dolby Digital mono track is almost as dismal. Just previews for extras.
An impenetrable, incoherent mess and an assault on the senses in the technical department, Steel Fisted Dragon is a flick only for those of you who want something to lambaste on a Saturday night. Actually, in that capacity, it's not too bad.
Guilty on all counts. Someone put this Dragon down.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated R