BRUCE LEE: ULTIMATE COLLECTION
Review by Ed Nguyen
Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Chuck Norris, Robert Wall, Biao Yuen, Tong Lung, Colleen
Camp, Roy Horan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sammo Hung
Directors: Lo Wei, Bruce Lee, Robert Clouse, Ng See Yuen
Audio: English DTS 5.1, English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, English 2.0, Cantonese 2.0, Mandarin 2.0
Video: Color, widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: Interviews, out-takes, photo galleries, trailers
Length: 501 minutes
Release Date: October 18, 2005
kung fu is the art of self-defense."
whoosh, whoosh! Know what that is? It's
the sound of a martial arts master waving hello. Hiiiii-YA!
Know what that is? That's him saying hello!
Okay, so silly puns aren't my forte, but if a few corny lines annoy you,
then maybe kung fu films are simply not for you. However, if you have a healthy appetite for 70's-style
groove, goofy good-versus-evil dialogue, and squinty-eyed dramatic poses all in
support of some truly kick-ass, knock'em sock'em action, then all this (and
more!) awaits you the intrepid viewer in Fox's Bruce Lee Ultimate Collection set.
Not only does this set include five films from Bruce Lee's meteoric if
short film career, but it also offers photo galleries, interviews, out-takes,
and plenty more to satiate the appetite of the discriminating kung fu fan.
most everyone in movie fandom knows who Bruce Lee was.
For the unenlightened or uninitiated, Bruce Lee, the quintessential movie
kung fu star, was born Lee Juan Fan in November 1940.
He grew up in the streets of Hong Kong, first developing a keen interest
in martial arts in his early adolescence after being flattened by a street gang.
Lee trained for five years in wing chun kung fu, honing the amazing
agility and physical prowess which would later make him world famous.
moving to California in the 1960's, Bruce Lee opened several martial arts
schools to teach his own unique style of martial arts - Jeet Kune Do ("Way
of the Intercepting Fist"). Some
of his famous pupils during this period included such celebrities as James
Coburn and even Steve McQueen, the epitome of cool. Lee's skills earned him a recurring role on the short-run TV
show "The Green Hornet" as the hero's Asian sidekick, Kato.
Regarding the cinema as a potential means of further spreading the
philosophical message behind Jeet Kune Do, Lee even accepted minor supporting
roles in several Hollywood films (Lee already had some film experience, having
appeared previously in Asian cinema as a youth).
his relative success, Lee recognized that there were limited options in
Hollywood for an Asian actor. Returning
to Hong Kong, Lee finally got his golden opportunity, thanks to Raymond Chow.
As founder of the new Golden Harvest studio, Chow wanted to recruit Lee
to star in a couple of movies for his fledgling production company.
The subsequent collaboration between both men would prove mutually
beneficial. Bruce Lee's two smash
hits for Golden Harvest elevated him to superstar status in Asia and likewise
catapulted Chow's Golden Harvest into the top tier of the Hong Kong film
Bruce Lee Ultimate Collection set
proudly presents both of those Golden Harvest films. Also included are the fan favorite Way of the Dragon and the two posthumous Bruce Lee films Game
of Death and Game of Death II. While
all of these films have been available on DVD for some time, they have been
especially remastered here for superior picture quality.
Furthermore, new DTS audio remixes have also been created, ensuring that
these films have never looked or sounded better!
If you are a Bruce Lee fan or even if you're just curious to discover the
superhuman qualities which made Lee such an icon, check out this set, and read
on below for short descriptions about each individual film in the Bruce
Lee Ultimate Collection!
Big Boss (1971)
you want to fight, fight me!"
years of fruitlessness in the Hollywood system and television, Lee finally
attained his breakthrough success in the Hong Kong market.
The two films he made for Golden Harvest helped to transform Bruce Lee
into a major star. The first film, The Big
Boss (a.k.a. Fists of Fury), was
also Lee's first film in a starring role.
the film opens, Cheng Chao An (Bruce Lee) has just arrived in Hong Kong to seek
steady employment. He is moves in
with his cousin Hsu and Hsu's pretty sister Chiao Mei, who both share a home
with friendly workers from the local ice factory.
Soon, Cheng himself becomes a worker at this factory.
The manual labor may be hard and strenuous but it seems to be an honest
however, can be deceiving. This
particular ice factory is disproportionately profitable beyond any legal means.
Ice isn't exactly a booming, money-making business, after all.
If, though, one where to smuggle "ice" in that ice, then there
could be a tidy killing in it.
enough, the local boss who owns the ice factory turns out to be not only filthy
rich but plain filthy, too. When
some innocent but too-inquisitive factory workers begin disappearing, tensions
rise among the remaining workers, who suspect foul play. Before long, Cheng himself uncovers the truth behind the big
boss's drug-smuggling operations.
bad Cheng has sworn a solemn vow upon his mother's locket not to fight or to get
into trouble. Well, that would
certainly make for a boring kung fu film, a Bruce Lee film with no fights.
Once Cheng's personal friends and maybe even a relative or two start
dying or mysteriously disappearing however, Cheng's pacific pact quickly becomes
null and void. Given the choice
between non-violence or eventual non-existence, Cheng boldly chooses the latter.
Honor must be upheld! The
deaths of friends must be avenged! Good
must triumph over evil!
unifying mantra of all kung fu films is surely "don't get mad, get
even!" So, once our man Cheng
decides that enough is enough, there be blood-splattering and bone-crushing
here, folks. Cheng knocks out cold
the hoodlums of the big boss and then ices the head honcho himself in an
of Fury (1972)
here to avenge my Teacher!"
(a.k.a. The Chinese Connection) opens
in 1908 with the death of Ho Yuan-Chia, master of Shanghai's Ching Wu School.
Ho Yuan-Chia was a local hero, preaching martial arts as a means of
physical fitness and pride for the Chinese people.
His tragic death brings all his students together to pay the final
respects to their revered Master.
one student, Chen Zhen (Bruce Lee), refuses to believe that his Master, in
previously good health, could have died so suddenly. Perhaps Ho Yuan-Chia was betrayed. Perhaps he was even poisoned or murdered!
Chen vows to uncover the truth behind his Master's death and, if need be,
to avenge his Master as his sacred and honorable duty.
traces the insidious and murderous scheme back to Hung Kiu School, a rival
Japanese school in the International Settlement of Shanghai.
Unfortunately, the Japanese wield considerable influence in Shanghai, and
their increasing and repeatedly violent attacks against the peaceful students of
Ching Wu School go essentially unchecked. Is
there no justice in this world?
yes there is, and its champion is Chen Zhen!
Suffice it to say that Chen sets aside his Master's philosophy of
non-violence and peaceful co-existence for some high-kicking, nunchaku-whipping
redemption. The Japanese owe a
major karmic debt to the poor Chinese, and Chen aims to collect.
He wipes out the Japanese hoodlums of Hung Kiu School, the head teacher,
and even a nigh-invincible Russian strongman.
Ultimately, Chen has a showdown with the mustached mastermind himself
behind Ho Yuan-Chia's death.
derives much of its dramatic tension from the Chinese people's long-standing
resentment of foreign interference, particularly Japanese and British interests.
Watch enough kung fu flicks (or follow enough Chinese history) and you'll
notice a definite trend depicting the Japs and the Brits as regular villains.
Nothing is quite as stirring as the hometown hero, in this case Chen,
beating the living "Rising Sun" daylights out of these arrogant,
unwanted invaders. Not
surprisingly, Fist of Fury was a
whopping success in China, even more so than The
TRIVIA: Martial arts superstar Jet
Li starred in the 1994 remake of Fist of
Fury, entitled Fist of Legend.
of the Dragon (1973)
Lung, you've got guts. The man you
just saw will kill you!"
to the tremendous reception for his two Golden Harvest films in Asia, Lee had
the clout and capital to establish his own production company, Concord
Productions. Lee's next film Way
of the Dragon (a.k.a. Return of the
Dragon), which he also wrote and directed, would become Concord Productions'
this film, Tang Lung (Bruce Lee) is a seemingly simple country boy just arrived
in Rome from Hong Kong. Speaking
little English or certainly no Italian, he is like a fish out of water, and the
opening sequences of the film wring fine humor from Tang's comical struggles.
Lee essentially does a passable imitation of silent screen comedians
during these early scenes!
Tang Lung is greeted by lovely Chen Ching Hua (Nora Miao), who brings him to her
restaurant. Ching Hua has inherited
her father's restaurant, which lately has come under pressure and extortion from
a local crime syndicate. In fact,
Ching Hua's uncle has sent Tang Lung to Rome for the expressed purpose of
protecting Ching Hua and teaching those undisciplined criminal punks some
manners. Tang Lung may be a
hopeless na´ve in Rome, but he understands the language of fist-meets-face very
Nora Miao is a total knock-out, and Way of
the Dragon is practically worth watching just for her!
She also portrayed the love interest in Fist
of Fury and had a minor role in The
Big Boss, too, all films which helped her to become one of the leading
actresses in Hong Kong during the 1970's. But
I digress. This is a Bruce Lee
action flick, after all.
Ching Hua has her initial doubts about the silly farm boy Tang.
However, once Tang Lung breaks out his nunchaku and begins to feed them
to the local hoodlums each time they attempt to intimidate Ching Hua's
employees, she knows that her restaurant is in good hands.
Eventually, the local crime boss realizes that he needs to recruit
special help to get rid of Tang Lung.
Colt! See, Colt is "America's
best" and as played by seven-time U.S. champion Chuck Norris, he has the
chop suey goods to back up his reputation.
Folks, there can be nothing better in martial arts moviedom than a
fantasy match-up between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris, yet that is precisely what
we are served in the awesome Coliseum finale for Way of the Dragon. Watch
this fight and you can die content that you have witnessed martial arts heaven.
recruited to soften up Tang Lung for the kill are kung fu baddies played by
real-life Hapkido grandmaster Ing-Sik Whang and world karate champion Robert
Wall. With such imposing
opposition, Tang Lung has his work cut out for him if he means to defeat the
crime syndicate once and for all.
Lee fans generally agree that while Enter
the Dragon is Lee's most well-known film, Way of the Dragon is his best.
of Death (1978)
is better to die a broken piece of jade than to live a life of clay."
grasshoppers, Bruce Lee's rapid ascension to stardom did not go unnoticed by
Hollywood bigwigs. Not
surprisingly, Lee's next film was an American production, the kung fu
extravaganza Enter the Dragon.
Regrettably, this film was also to be Lee's final completed film,
released after his untimely death from cerebral edema.
is a sad irony to the fact that arguably the greatest martial artist of the
twentieth century would be done in by something as innocuous as a medication
reaction. Of course, conspiracy
theorists prefer to imagine that Lee was somehow poisoned or murdered by jealous
elements of the criminal underworld. These
speculations merely fueled Lee's elevation to superhuman legend, a cult status
further reinforced by the consequent flurry of exploitative martial arts films
made by a potpourri of inferior imitators (Bruce Li, Bruce Le, and Bruce Lei,
before his death, Lee had begun work on what could have become his greatest film
yet. In the original script
treatment, Lee was part of a small band of men on a rescue mission inside a
sacred temple. The goal was to
reach the top of the temple, but first Lee and his band of brothers had to
contend with some of the deadliest martial artists of the land.
Each floor of the temple tower was guarded by a succession of these
increasingly deadlier martial arts masters.
Think of the concept as a live version of the arcade game Kung
Fu Master or even a series of end-level boss monster encounters for a
surviving raw footage for these fight sequences is quite impressive.
After Lee's untimely death, this footage was re-edited together with
other out-takes and archival footage from Lee's earlier films to create Game
of Death. Unfortunately, this
was a bastardized film which bore no resemblance to Bruce Lee's original
concept. Not surprisingly, Game of Death was not very good, making up for a lack of Bruce Lee
by substituting a number of not-very-look-alikes and stuntmen to fill in the
sizable gaps in the less-than-airtight storyline. In at least one shot, a cut-out of Lee's face is even
superimposed over the face of a double! The
effect is, to be polite, hardly convincing.
Thankfully, the actual Bruce Lee fights, involving clashes with the likes
of Dan Inosanto, Hugh O'Brian and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, remain somewhat intact.
plot for Game of Death involves an
attempt by a crime syndicate to assimilate film star Billy Lo (Bruce Lee and
clones) into its fold. Always those
pesky crime syndicates! This time,
the mobsters want to own Billy, his girlfriend, and his money, too, but when
Billy expresses a difference of opinion, the syndicate boss decides to have
Billy killed for impertinence. A
bullet at point-blank range to the face untidily does the trick...or does it?
manages to survive, following a lengthy convalescence period (this would be a
short film, otherwise). In fact,
the facial injuries also provide a convenient excuse for the Game of Death filmmakers to pass off various pretenders as the real
Bruce Lee. Billy's death is
officially falsified, and afterwards Billy, incognito and in various disguises,
is essentially given free rein to go after the mob for "killing" him.
regarded as just another routinely executed kung fu film and not a Bruce Lee
film per se, then Game of Death is
fairly tolerable - not atrociously bad but not particularly memorable, either.
Truthfully, the film is most worthwhile for Bruce Lee's final fight
sequences, but otherwise, this James Bond-wannabe film is probably only for the
genre's diehard fans.
TRIVIA: One of Bruce Lee's doubles
in the film was Biao Yuen, an eventual star in his own right.
of Death II (1981)
cares if you're old? Only the
knows superheroes never really die. Since
Bruce Lee was essentially a real-life superhero, being dead for nearly a decade
didn't prevent him from "starring" in another new film, Game
of Death II, either.
film merely follows the formula set by Game
of Death. Lee appears only in
brief out-takes or discarded footage from his previous films, with a flimsy
story being constructed around these bits and archival clips.
Second-hand Bruce Lee is better than no Bruce Lee, I suppose.
Hey, Blake Edwards tried the same gimmick with 1982's atrocious Trail of the Pink Panther (assembled around out-takes of Peter
Sellers as Inspector Clouseau), and didn't Ed Wood do the same with Bela Lugosi
in Plan 9 from Outer Space?
Such fakery didn't work for either of those dismal films, and it doesn't
quite work for the imposturous and preposterous Game
of Death II, either.
avid Bruce Lee fans can reasonably skip this film without fear that the sky will
come crashing down. Stubborn
sticklers for punishment, though, will discover much that is enjoyably painful
in Game of Death II.
The voice actor for Bruce Lee is simply terrible.
The less said about the dreadful dialogue (and dubbing), the better.
Archival footage looks just like that, grainy and very much out of place
in the film; even worse, none of these clips involves any actual fight scenes
with Bruce Lee. The plot is typical
of kung fu filmmaking by the cookie-cutter method and serves little purpose
other than to string the fight sequences together.
The film is somewhat bipolar, too, as the first third of the film (the
part with most of the limited Bruce Lee clips) has very little in common with
the remainder of the film. At least
some of these clips are excerpts from Lee's earliest film roles as a child, a
rare treat for his most avid fans. To
be fair, Game of Death II does have
plenty of fights, so while it is little more than a generic kung fu flick, it is
never dull for long.
story briefly concerns Billy Lo/Li Chun Chang (Bruce Lee and clones), a skilled
practitioner in the artistry of Jeet Kune Do.
Learning of the mysterious and sudden passing of his old Master Chin Ku,
Billy begins to investigate the circumstances around his Master's death.
Perhaps Chin Ku was betrayed. Perhaps
he was even poisoned or murdered! Wait,
didn't Bruce Lee make this movie already? In
any event, Billy falls victim to foul play himself.
Didn't he already perish in the previous Game of Death film, too? Well,
if James Bond can do it, so can Billy Lo; after all, you only "die"
brother, Bobby (Tong Lung), decides to learn his brother's craft of Jeet Kune Do
and to take up his brother's search for the truth. The clues lead to a Palace of Death, run by a maniacal
master, Lewis (Roy Horan), with an unhealthy appetite for blood and raw meat.
He even feeds the flesh and bones of his defeated challengers to his pet
is Lewis really the villain, or is he merely a pawn, or is he entirely innocent?
And what role, pray tell, do the mysterious Fan Yu temple and even more
enigmatic underground Tower of Death play in the ever-convoluted web of
intrigue? Who is the true
mastermind behind the demise or disappearance of so many martial arts masters?
of Death II
may not have a lot going for it (and certainly has nothing in common with the
first Game of Death), but this James Bond-wannabe film admittedly makes
for a goofy-fun popcorn action flick. The
film is best enjoyed as a Hong Kong kung fu film and not as a canon Bruce Lee
film. In fact, its lesser reliance
on random Bruce Lee footage than Game of
Death makes this "sequel" a more narratively cohesive (if still
outrageously silly) film. Best of
all, the film's climactic showdown is admittedly quite exhilarating and well
worth the wait, offering a fitting conclusion to this DVD set.
Lee died too early, just as he was approaching his prime.
Happily, thanks to his influential Hong Kong films and Enter
the Dragon, too, Lee's legacy remains alive and well, the Game
of Death films notwithstanding. Few
icons are as synonymous with a particular film genre as is Bruce Lee with the
martial arts genre. One might
reasonably argue that all the top martial artists today still try to emulate the
one true Dragon. As Elvis Presley,
James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe before him, Bruce Lee has transcended a premature
demise to achieve immortality as a true icon of worldwide pop culture - more
than just a man but a true legend in the eyes of his multitude of fans.
He may be missed, but thanks to film compilations such as the Bruce
Lee Ultimate Set, his place in cinematic history will always be preserved
film in this collection has been digitally remastered.
Generally, the films have a bright appearance with good definition and
crisp colors. If you own one of the pathetic third-party discs floating out
there for any of these movies, now is the time to discard it and to convert to
the path of righteousness.
all the films are pristine, though. While
The Big Boss displays an excellent
image quality, Fist of Fury suffers
from some mild emulsion scuffing. Way
of the Dragon looks worse, with a decidedly soft image quality throughout
the film and also some signs of emulsion damage.
picture quality in the Game of Death
films varies. The newer scenes look
just fine, whereas the older archival clips appear grainier and faded.
Game of Death II is just grainy
all around with poor definition during shadowy scenes.
The transition between new and old footage (sometimes within the same
scene!) can be quite jarring, too, but what do you expect?
movies in this set are offered in Cantonese, Mandarin, or English.
Excluding the two Game of Death films, these films were made without sound and then
post-dubbed afterwards. For that
reason, there is no "gold standard" track here.
The purist will probably prefer the Asian soundtracks, although these are
prone to regular pops and crackles and do not sound particularly cleaned up.
For what it's worth, the Asian soundtracks tend to devote more effort to
over-the-top music cues and Lee's trademark animal cries during his action
scenes. Neither Game
of Death film comes in anything other than English (DTS, Surround 5.1, or
the most fun, try sticking with those crazy English-dubbed soundtracks!
Only the English tracks are offered in DTS, but what better way to enjoy
a martial arts flick than with bone-crushing, finger-stomping DTS?
On the other hand, listening to a DTS track of a remastered (but
laughably bad) English dub is like watching a meticulously restored version of a
colorized silent film running at the wrong projection speed.
Choose your poison.
each soundtrack is worth a listen, as no two for the same movie are remotely
similar! In fact, even the scores
for the Cantonese, Mandarin, and English soundtracks can be so entirely
different that they change the fundamental tone and storyline of the film.
Subtitles are available but regularly have nothing in common with the
English tracks, whose dialogue goes way off into left field somewhere.
Talk about lost in translation! Experiencing
each film to the fullest is like getting two or three films in one.
Try listening to the English audio with the subtitles on for a totally
an aside, what is the deal with all the hippity-hoppity music permeating through
martial arts films today? These
films simply don't sound right unless they are accompanied by 70's era groove
and funk. And that's exactly what
we get here, thank goodness. On the
lighter side, the score for Way of the
Dragon is rather amusing in manner reminiscent of Henry Mancini's Pink
Panther theme. Also be sure to
check out the Ken Adam-style opening and closing title sequences for Game
of Death, with a score by none other than noted 007 composer John Barry!
would generally debate the labeling of any Bruce Lee set as an "ultimate
collection" if Enter the Dragon
is excluded. That omission aside,
this set still remains a fine gift for any Bruce Lee fan. Each disc in the set comes with its unique selection of bonus
DVD for The Big Boss contains the
film's action-packed original trailer and a very slick, new trailer, too.
There are also twenty movie stills and a slideshow presentation of
essentially the same stills. Director
Tung Wai appears in a quick interview (2 min.) describing how impressed he was
in his first meeting with Bruce Lee. Lastly,
there are trailers for City Hunter, The Young Master, The
Iron-Fisted Monk, and Prodigal Son.
The folks who made these trailers understand which side of their bread is
buttered; these trailers concentrate exclusively on action and contain zippo
plot synopsis. It should also be
noted that most of the trailers on these five discs are for films starring
Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Biao Yuen, or Chow Yun Fat.
selection of extras on the remaining discs follows the same format as on The
Big Boss DVD - two trailers, photo gallery of about twenty stills,
slideshow, interview(s), and lastly trailers.
The only differences on the Fist of
Fury disc are that the interview (9 min.) is with a stunt man (Yuen Wan),
and the featured trailers are for Mr.
Vampire (with undead kung fu masters!), Royal
Warriors, Winners and Sinners, and
Hand of Death.
the DVD for The Way of the Dragon, the
interview (7 min.) is comprised of segments with actors Sammo Hung, Simon Yam,
Paul Pui, and Flora Cheong-Leen as well as directors Wong Jing and Clarence Fok
and stuntman Rocky Lai. Everyone
recalls anecdotes about Bruce Lee or aspects of his screen persona which made
him a superstar. The trailers are
for My Lucky Stars, Legacy
of Rage (starring Bruce Lee's son, Brandon), Spooky
Encounters (more kung fu vampires!), and Operation
the Game of Death DVD, there are
trailers for In the Line of Duty 4, The
Postman Fights Back, Warriors Two,
and Battle Creek Brawl. Interviews
have been supplanted on this disc by out-takes (10 min.), including bloopers and
alternate takes, from the extant Tower sequences footage for Game
of Death. These out-takes are
probably the best bonus features in this DVD set.
To see more of these sequences edited in Bruce Lee's original intentions,
be sure to track down a copy of the excellent documentary Bruce
Lee: A Warrior's Journey.
on the Game of Death II DVD, trailers
are offered for Hong Kong 1941, Eastern
Condors, Duel to the Death, and Knockabout.
And again, instead of interviews, there are over two minutes of more
bloopers and out-takes from Bruce Lee's original Game
of Death footage.