Judge Gordon Sullivan's favorite martial art is kung-fu watercolors.
Our reviews of Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection (Blu-ray) (published August 7th, 2013), Bruce Lee Ultimate Collection (published December 9th, 2005), and Game of Death (2010) (published February 15th, 2011) are also available.
An action-packed double feature starring martial-arts sensation Bruce Lee!
Fewer media legends have made as big an impact as Bruce Lee. Even fewer have made such a huge impact through so little work. Though Lee had family connections to the Hong Kong Opera and was involved in movies from a young age, his legacy in America—his enduring popularity as the face of martial arts and kung fu movies—is founded on only five films made in two years, plus his appearance as Kato on The Green Hornet. Of course these five films look like an even greater achievement than they are because for a long time the issue of international distribution was a tangled one. Though Lee was undeniably popular in the 1970s, the lion's share of his fame came post-mortem, and when Enter the Dragon was a huge hit, distributors saw a means of cashing in. They released earlier films as "sequels," often giving them new titles, thus almost hopelessly confusing Lee's filmography. Luckily, the age of DVD straightened many of these problems out (if you ignore gray and black market retailers) and all five of Lee's major kung-fu flicks are available in various editions. With this release, fans can own two of Lee's later films—The Way of the Dragon and Game of Death—on a single release. It's perfect for the budget-minded kung-fu fan.
The Way of the Dragon follows Bruce Lee to Rome, where he helps an uncle resist the influence of the mafia on his restaurant. In Game of Death, Bruce Lee is a rising star who won't be intimidated by a syndicate-connected agent. When they threaten his life and his girlfriend, Lee must defeat a series of foes.
If we're being honest, Bruce Lee was cut down in the prime of his life, with Enter the Dragon as his only real masterpiece. That's not to take away from his skills as a martial artist, or even as an actor/director. Rather, saddled with low budgets and dodgy genre formulas, Lee was poised to break out after Enter the Dragon, which perfected a certain kung-fu formula. Who can say where he might have gone after that? Nobody knows, but both of these films show where he was before his untimely death.
The Way of the Dragon spends its first third introducing us to Rome and Lee's character. There's essentially no action during this part as the rest of the film is set up. However, once the ball is rolling, it's basically action scene following action scene for the next hour. Both pieces are interesting by themselves, but they never feel entirely integrated. The non-action startup makes fans wait too long for Lee to kick ass, while the action scenes follow along so quickly after one another that there isn't much development of character or plot once things pop off.
It's hard to call Game of Death a proper Bruce Lee movie. Almost two hours of footage were completed before Lee died, but rather than abandoning the footage, it was re-edited with fresh footage (featuring stand-ins) and the plot completely changed. In a weird way the film prefigures later video games, as Lee essentially has to fight boss after boss while progressing through a series of "levels." The hokey nature of the re-editing and seventies-era clichés make this film less interesting than it might have been had Lee finished it himself.
Both films are included on a single disc in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios with anamorphic transfers. These were not big-budget features with high production values, nor were the negatives given particularly great care once they were completed, so the fact that these films don't look outstanding is not a surprise. There's a bit of print damage and the image isn't always as stable as I'd like. Detail seems to be affected a bit by the compression necessary to fit both films on a single disc. With that said, these transfers are okay; both features look filmlike, with good grain and nice color saturation. Audio options include stereo and surround version of the dubbed English language tracks for the film. They sound fine, though limited by the technology of the day. There are no extras.
No matter how poorly some aspects of these films have aged, viewers can count on Bruce Lee to bring the ruckus, and that's what this disc is all about. No matter how ridiculous the plot, how flimsy the backdrop, or how ludicrous the opponents, Bruce Lee is still Bruce Lee. He can move so fast the camera barely seems to register it, and his physique is one of the most perfect ever captured on film.
As a budget release for cash-strapped fans of Bruce Lee, this release of The Way of the Dragon and Game of Death hits the spot. There are almost certainly better releases of both films out there, but the low price and convenience of this disc will no doubt tempt some fans. It's also a great way to get into Lee's films for the neophyte. However, those with a serious interest in Lee's filmography will want to seek out better presentations and more extras than this disc offers.
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