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Bruce Lee experienced amazing success with his two previous efforts in the form of Fist of Fury and The Big Boss; he capitalised on this newly earned level of power by taking on full control of his next big project. This time he would write, produce, direct and star in a new Hong Kong movie that for the first time ever, would be filmed in a European country at the city of Rome, Italy. So did Bruce’s newly earned power go to his head, or did he produce yet another martial art masterpiece?

Way Of The Dragon, The (Platinum Edition)
Movie
We are introduced to Bruce’s character - Tang Lung - as he arrives at the airport in Rome. Tang being both naive and a bit of country bumpkin, gets into all sorts of comical circumstances - a situation not helped by his inability to speak and understand the local dialect. Ranging from pestering a kid witless to attempting to order items from a menu and given six bowls of Campbell’s soup (each bowl being a different variety). At this point, Tang reminded me of a combination between one of Jim Carrey’s characters and Mr. Bean. Bruce certainly tries to inject humour into this movie.

It becomes clear that Tang is awaiting the arrival of his cousin Chen Ching Hua (Nora Miao) who isn’t impressed by his presence – she’s expecting a heroic uncle but Tang was sent instead. First taking him to the apartment, they eventually arrive at the family restaurant. Tang’s uncle is the owner of the restaurant and was responsible for arranging Tang to visit Rome to help resolve a situation that’s brewing. Essentially, the family business is under threat from the Mafia fronted by a terrible twosome of the boss (Jon Benn) and his apparent camp sidekick - Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers from the Simpsons if you like.

Anyway, Tang impresses everyone with his Kung Fu when he successfully scares off a few of the boss’s thugs. Tang then trains the restaurant employees in the basic traits of Kung Fu. The boss is somewhat disturbed by the new kid on the block, so pays the restaurant a personal visit with a ménage of his most mean heavies and goons. It goes without saying that good old Brucey has his way in a scene that was controversially destroyed by a 70’s BBFC, for his character’s simultaneous use of both Nunchaku to overcome the bad guys.

The rest of the movie is essentially a load of action-set-pieces plus the time between that attempts to link them together; though I have no idea why the family were stupid enough to fall for one of the boss’s more obvious traps. Look out towards the end for the fake coliseum set. Some amazing talent must have went into the design of the set to make it look like the fight sequences were filmed at the coliseum, but because of some unfortunate framing judgements, the background stands out as being a fake set. This is a little regrettable as it distracted myself at least from the on-screen action which is what a Bruce Lee film is all about!

Way Of The Dragon, The (Platinum Edition)
For the first thirty minutes there is absolutely no action. Instead Bruce capitalises on the location by filming a load of on-location scenes - attempting to develop the character. During this time he is constantly toying with the viewer by almost battling. I get the impression that Bruce was frustrated with Hong Kong cinema. After having a taste of the Hollywood system but getting nowhere over there, he had returned to realise how one dimensional and unprofessional their system was. It’s as if he took on this pet project as his own in order to have the control required to overcome the status quo.

I found it all too easy to pass judgement that this movie felt amateur in comparison to modern action movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, or perhaps The Matrix. It is not until I realised how much effort and skill went into achieving the action sequences that I changed my mind. Modern day fight sequences often fall back on wires, whilst a movie like this is almost completely real. When Bruce kicks or punches one of the many opponents, he is on the whole actually hitting them fairly hard. Bob Wall who played one of these opponents was known for his skill of taking such blows in his stride, and put up with really intense hits. Film isn’t the best of media to demonstrate Bruce’s skill, the strength from his moves came from speed and power just as he hits the opponent, and since this is over in a flash, the audience cannot appreciate it. In fact, his abilities at times appear absurd which is unfortunate.

Overall though, this is a great action movie. The acting can be a bit cheesy, the sound effects and soundtrack in general may put you off, and the action may look exaggerated, but it is an excellent production for the genre and time.

Video
The transfer is presented anamorphically and 2.35:1 framed. Way of the Dragon is now over thirty years old and the film used was likely second grade stock to keep the budget down. Considering the above, and the fact that the negatives alas suffered from a lot of damage through the years, I think Hong Kong Legends have done a great job restoring this movie to its current state. There are occasional scenes that aren’t of the same quality as the rest with excessive grain but on the whole it looks great. For those odd dodgy scenes all I can assume is that these scenes weren’t part of the original US release.

Way Of The Dragon, The (Platinum Edition)
Audio
Way of the Dragon was ahead of its time for many reasons, even though the movie was filmed silent, audio was one such reason. Bruce opted to pay extra to bestow his movie with its own especially commissioned soundtrack; this wasn’t a common occurrence for Hong Kong movies at this time (normally relying on stock material), and as a result Way of the Dragon stuck out from the rest. Hong Kong Legends have capitalised on this and made an extra special effort with by creating some newly remixed 5.1 tracks. The tracks are understated, concentrating primarily on the centre front with occasional surround use for outdoor scenes.

Extras
This being Hong Kong Legends we are treated to a large collection of classy extras with quality rather than quantity in mind. In this Platinum two disc edition the second disc is dedicated to extra features. But before moving on to that disc it’s worth mentioning the couple of extras on disc 1. Firstly, Robert Lee (Bruce Lee’s brother) has a short segment introducing the movie, which is a nice addition though possibly frustrating on repeat viewings. Then there’s a commentary from Bey Logan and Jon Benn. Bey starts the commentary and is in control from the onset. He quite clearly knows a lot about this movie and feeds fact upon fact to the viewer all the way through. Jon joins in 20 or 30 minutes into the commentary and supports Bey occasionally, but for the most part Bey is practically interviewing Jon. I recommend this commentary highly - even more so than the interviews on the second disc.

After placing disc 2 into the drive there’s an interesting introduction from Hong Kong Legends giving a several minute summary of Bruce Lee and Way of the Dragon. The main menu is split into four areas: Interview Gallery, Promotional Archive, Information Archive and The Hong Kong Collection.

For the Interview Gallery we have the choice of listening to Bob Wall, Pat Johnson, Hwang In-sik and Robert Lee. All of these are excellent in-depth interviews that on the whole cover that person’s involvement in the movie plus their take on Bruce Lee. Bob’s interview lasts 34 minutes and he mainly talks about the amount of work that went into preparing for his part opposite Bruce. Pat provides more information about Bruce when he was in America such as his long running friendship with Steve McQueen - this interview lasts 27 minutes. Hwang (who was a little difficult to understand) talks about martial arts and how Bruce Lee influenced the audience of the time (lasting 15 minutes). And finally, Bruce’s brother Robert talks about family life explaining how Bruce grew up trying his techniques in the streets and getting into trouble.

Way Of The Dragon, The (Platinum Edition)
The Promotional Archive doesn’t appear this impressive since there’s only the original 4 minute 30 theatrical trailer and a 1 minute 30 modern day Hong Kong Legends trailer. But there’s an additional option that leads to an extra page of trailers including an exceptionally rare UK theatrical trailer that was only ever shown in Odeon cinemas. Then there’s a teaser trailer plus a TV spot that only previously existed in their owner’s personal collection after the negatives were destroyed. Well done to Hong Kong Legends for finding these. Additionally we have a professional looking Hong Kong Legends TV spot to promote one of their many Way of the Dragon DVD releases.

Since Hong Kong Legends distribute other Bruce Lee classics, we have high quality DVD trailers for The Big Boss, Fist of Fury and Lee’s final movie, Game of Death. To complete the section there’s a production photo gallery containing a selection of colour but mainly black and white photos.

With the Information Library there are lots of pages of information. Way of the Dragon Film Notes for example, is a collection of over 50 pages of information provided by The Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee Association, offering factual information about the production, what happened beforehand and the results. Then there’s an 8 minute black and white test screening featuring Lee demonstrating his skills to Hollywood execs. I for some reason found this video to have a weird feel to it; I guess I’m not used to watching actors carrying out screen tests. To end the section there’s biographies for Bruce Lee (52 pages), Chuck Norris (11 pages), Bob Wall (16 pages) and Nora Miao (10 pages).

Finally The Hong Kong Connection section contains interviews from Chaplin Chang, Lau Wing and Louis Sit; again they talk about a variety of subjects that relate to Bruce Lee. Chaplin who talks for 25 minutes covers his time as Lee’s only cameraman to film the sequences in Rome – I can tell he was well respected by Bruce for his skills. Lau is interviewed for 45 minutes, though unlike the rest, this is subtitled. Lau covers his involvement in The Big Boss, Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon. And to end, the interview with studio executive Louis lasts for 11 minutes and covers how he met Bruce Lee, Bruce’s planning on-set, and the strained relationship between Producer Raymond Chow and Bruce Lee.

Way Of The Dragon, The (Platinum Edition)
Overall
I honestly wasn’t that impressed by Bruce Lee before reviewing this DVD. Given my age, I never got to see his movies on the big screen. After trying out this wonderfully produced DVD for Way of the Dragon, I am interested in seeing more of Lee’s - unfortunately - limited biography of movies.

It’s a terrible pity that Bruce Lee died so young. He was way ahead of anything that resembled competition at the time. He could have given Hong Kong cinema in general a massive boost with audiences that would have normally ignored the genre.

Hong Kong Legends is always a sign of quality much like Criterion. It is for that reason that this DVD is likely to be the definitive Way of the Dragon release. Bear in mind that this release is completely uncut; Way of the Dragon was cut in so many countries for various reasons making it even more special. If you’ve made your mind up that this is for you then make sure you go for the Hong Kong Legends edition.


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