Fist of Fury (1972)

Now You Hear This!  I Will Accept Punishment For the Lives I Took!

I told you it was coming.  Don’t act like I didn’t.  After watching two Chen Zhen-based movies, I felt like it was necessary to complete the series (at least so far as I care too) by watching today’s movie; the first Chen Zhen movie and the basis for Fist of Legend that I reviewed already.  I was also inspired to watch this movie because it stars quite possibly the most famous actor in the genre and I think I’ve only ever seen one of his movies before and a movie based on his life.  No better time than the middle of the resurgence of my love for the martial arts movie genre – that had been lying dormant for some years now – to review today’s movie.  And so I bring you my review of Fist of Fury (also known as The Chinese Connection), written and directed by Lo Wei, and starring Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Riki Hashimoto, Robert Baker, Tien Feng, Paul Wei, Feng Yi, Hwong Chung Hsin, and Han Yin-chieh.

Chen Zhen (Bruce Lee) returns to the Jingwu martial arts school to marry his fiancée, Yuan Le-erh (Nora Miao), to find that his master Huo Yuanjia has died of some illness.  Soon after, some Japanese martial arts students show up at Jingwu to taunt the Chinese students, calling them weaklings.  Chen Zhen does not take this well.  He shows up at their school and beats them all down, including their sensei.  In retaliation, the Japanese attack Jingwu and demand that they hand over Chen Zhen.  Chen Zhen goes into seclusion temporarily as he figures out his next move.

I didn’t expect it, but I was pretty disappointed by this movie.  It’s exactly the type of movie that so many other things have mocked in the past.  It’s like watching Kung Pow!: Enter the Fist if the movie wasn’t in on the joke.  The movie is abound with odd choices in cinematography that have been mocked for so long.  Things like quickly jutting the camera in on people’s faces to show their surprise, over the top performances, oddly timed music stings, terrible dubbing, and lots of unnecessary hand gesturing.  The story of the movie was not altogether different from Fist of Legend that I already reviewed, but with all the unintentionally goofy things going on around it, I couldn’t really take it seriously.  It was the same stuff as the remake.  It hates Japanese people, it’s about revenge, and it’s about punching people in the face.  But the action was also pretty lackluster.  I feel like I still definitely want to give Bruce Lee a chance, but nothing he did in this movie impressed me for anything other than his speed.  The fight choreography really wasn’t that impressive.  Wanting to make the character superhero-esque, he defeated most of the enemies with little more than a strike.  Jet Li did a much better job in his movie, especially in the part where he was fighting the Japanese sensei.  Bruce Lee did it because the Japanese made fun of him and, though he won the fight pretty handily, he did have a few moments when he didn’t seem like he was the dominant one.  When Jet Li did it, he did it to find out if the sensei could’ve beaten his master when he was in good health, and the way he performed in the fight showed him to be the clearly dominant one.  All of the rest of the fight scenes were far inferior in this movie as well.  Bruce Lee has style and speed that is impressive, but they just weren’t technically complicated enough to impress.  And with some of the action, it was just ridiculous.  The superhero things that Chen could do weren’t limited to simply beating people in one strike.  He was also able to lift up a rickshaw with a person inside it as an intimidation tactic and turn two people into mannequins as he was spinning them around before throwing them at their compatriots.  They probably thought these things were cool and impressive back when the movie came out, but they just seemed goofy to me.

As was already hinted at, none of the performances in this movie manage to impress.  Bruce Lee was able to perform all of the stone-cold ass-kicker requirements, but the acting parts seemed over his head.  Take, for instance, when he had to cry over the coffin of his departed master.  He spazzed out so hard that it was not just over the top, but laughably so.  Even some of the stone-cold ass-kicker parts didn’t work because of how thin the line between confident badass and asshole is.

I found Fist of Fury sadly disappointing.  I can forgive the goofy and clichéd cinematic techniques that are so common in older Asian movies if the martial arts are super cool, but they weren’t that impressive either.  Bruce Lee is really fast and pretty good at being a badass, but the choreography of the fights wasn’t that impressive when compared to some other martial arts movies I’ve seen come out since this one.  This movie isn’t a bad movie but, given the choice, I’d stick with the remake, Fist of Legend with Jet Li.  The stories are very similar, but the action is much better in the remake.  Fist of Fury gets “To think, I was going to ask you to be my wife…” out of “I feel dizzy; so dizzy.”

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