Starring: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly
Director: Robert Clouse
The mother of all martial arts movies, this one was the first that broke into the mainstream for Bruce Lee, and shows of his incredible charisma and energy.
Lee is tasked with entering a tournament on a mysterious bad guy’s island in an effort to infiltrate the drug trade that is going on there. The island also houses the bad guy who caused his sister to kill herself to avoid rape. He’s joined there by other colourful characters who intend to enter the contest, who have varying levels of honesty and integrity, as well as martial prowess.
The film is absolutely delightful. It feels a lot like James Bond films of the same era, in it’s setting and plot, and especially in the characterisation of the main villain, who is both diabolical and comical at once, and comes complete with fluffy Persian cat and a room made of mirrors. The sound effects in the fight scenes and the dodgy dubbing are hilarious, but genuinely add something to the film, later becoming iconic elements of the kung fu film. And the fight scenes are truly energetic, exciting and wonderful.
But at heart it’s Bruce Lee’s film. He’s the living, breathing, heart of the film. He’s not a huge figure, in fact I was surprised by how slight his frame was, but he has so much presence in this film. He’s absolutely fascinating to watch, and I found myself really loving the scenes that focus on him, and his calm determination, his physicality and also his sense of honour. I found myself drawn into the life of this film, enjoying the ride and loving the old school, melodramatic colour.
And also, I felt so sad that Bruce Lee died so young, and left us with so few films.
See It If: the ultimate early kung fu film, be prepared for great fight scenes, massive cheese and colourful characters.