Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits
Fist of Fury
In the early 1970s, a kung-fu dynamo named Bruce Lee side-kicked his way onto the screen and straight into pop-culture immortality. With his magnetic screen presence, tightly coiled intensity, and superhuman martial-arts prowess, Lee was an icon who conquered both Hong Kong and Hollywood cinema, and transformed the art of the action film in the process. This collection brings together the five films that define the Lee legend: furiously exciting fist-fliers propelled by his innovative choreography, unique martial-arts philosophy, and whirlwind fighting style. Though he completed only a handful of films while at the peak of his stardom before his untimely death at age thirty-two, Lee left behind a monumental legacy as both a consummate entertainer and a supremely disciplined artist who made Hong Kong action cinema a sensation the world over.
The second dual-layer Blu-ray disc in Criterion’s 7-disc box set, Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits, presents Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection) in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Outside of the opening credits (which came from a 35mm interpositive) the 4K restoration was sourced from the 35mm original negative. The film is presented in 1080p/24hz high-definition.
The film looks very similar to The Big Boss in just about every way. Again it can have a yellowish/greenish tint to some things but I was expecting far worse. Whites have a warmer tone to them and never look white, but other colours manage to look decent enough, with blues manging to actually look blue instead of cyan. This tiniting still effects the blacks in a minor way, presenting some mushy looking ones in some low-lit scenes. Many night scenes have some really deep blacks but in these cases the blacks still overtake a scene and crush out shadow detail. Past that I was happy with the colours for the most part.
But again, like The Big Boss, I was just really struck by how sharp and detailed the image is. As I noted before in reviews for other Hong Kong films, I had grown so used to these lackluster VHS tapes or DVDs over the years that I’m always beyond stunned when the presentation comes off more clean and film-like (rather than video-like) and this is just another case where I just had a “wow!” reaction. I haven’t seen the film since I saw it on VHS (with its original North American title) so this again ends up being a real eye-opener. It looks unbelievably good with an incredible amount of detail and texture. Film grain is there and is rendered quite well and I didn’t point out any digital anomalies.
Outside of the colours and the black levels there isn’t much else I could really point out. It’s a solid presentation and far better than I could have expected.
This film only features three 1-channel monaural audio tracks: the original Mandarin and English dubs, both presented in lossless PCM, and then a Cantonese dub in Dolby Digital. I watched it primarily in Mandarin and then sampled the other tracks (more of the English one). Like the previous film the Cantonese tracks is the weaker one, coming off more distorted and edgy in comparison to the other ones. Of the other two the Mandarin one may be the better, as I thought voices sounded better with a bit more depth, though I could have been just distracted by the English dubbing, which, as expected, isn’t great (though I understand for many that is part of the charm). Sound effects in both, as well as music, sound pretty good, if a bit distorted at times. Gun shots at the end probably sound better in the Mandarin track.
Though I only sampled the other tracks, I didn’t detect any big differences between them regarding content as it sounds like the same score is present in all three. The English subtitles also don't appear to differ between Cantonese and Mandarin audio presentations.
Criterion ports over another of Mike Leeder’s audio commentaries that he had originally recorded in 2013 for Shout! Factory’s release of Lee’s Hong Kong films. Like the one recorded for The Big Boss, it sounds like he’s being recorded over a VOIP call, but past that it’s a decent (if incredibly laid back) track. He touches on the film’s production and Lee’s career up to that point (while also pointing out such soon-to-be-stars that appear in the film, like Jackie Chan) but what I found most beneficial was his contextualization of the story and its events. He talks about the real-life incident that inspired the film, even getting into who Lee’s character is probably based on, and the history of conflict between the Chinese and Japanese that shows through in the film’s story and its representation of Japanese characters. He also talks a little about the 1994 Jet Li remake, Fist of Legend, which I have yet to see. Pointing out Jackie Chan also leads Leeder into talking about the knock-off Lee films that followed Lee’s death (with Jackie Chan starring in some) and why they didn’t work. Sometimes it sounds as though Leeder may be stretching for material, so I’ll see how he holds up in the tracks for the other films (which I have not listened to prior to Criterion's release of these films), but so far he has been providing some great material around Lee and his films that would be beneficial to newcomers.
Moving on to the video supplements Criterion appears to be porting most of the material over from previous editions of Lee’s releases, including a number of archival interviews with the actors. There is an 18-minute one with Nora Miao who recalls her friendship with Lee’s brother, how she got into acting (just randomly responding to a casting call), and all of her appearances in Lee’s film, even explaining that Lee had a part for in Game of Death. That didn’t come to fruition but she was concerned that appearing to be tailing Lee on everything would damage her career so it sounds like she was questioning whether she should do it anyways. There are also two interviews featuring Japanese actors Riki Hashimoto and Jun Katsumura, running 12-minutes and 13-minutes respectively. Both offer their own perspectives on the production and talk about working with Lee and director Lo Wei. They also talk a little bit about the differences between acting in Japanese films and Hong Kong films and what pushed them into acting or to be better in the craft, like how a moment from The Wages of Fear pushed Katsumura. There’s also a 10-minute interview with Yuen Wah and his debut in this film and his work with Lee afterwards.
Criterion includes one new feature, which is another quick interview—running 10-minutes—with Lee biographer Matthew Polly. This ends up working as a bit of a summarization of the film’s production as well as a look at Lee's style of martial arts. Polly explains Lee’s acting style, which, at least in the case of this film, was somewhat based on the acting style found in samurai films, of which Lee was a fan. For those new to Lee’s films these interviews (found on all of the discs) offer great introductions.
Two Alternate Opening Credits are also included, one for the film’s alternate title, The Chinese Connection, and the other for the Japanese version. Katsumura mentions in his interview that the film didn’t get released in Japan until after Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon were huge hits, more than likely because of the anti-Japanese sentiment found in the film. The entire opening is included here and interestingly the opening title card differs, taking the focus away from the crux of the story (the death of the master) and making the film sound like its goal is just to represent the time period, I assume to maybe direct the anti-Japanese element found in the film to come across as “this is just how it was at the time.” The opening otherwise plays out similar before jumping into the actual credits.
The disc then closes with 17-minutes of theatrical trailers, four in total.
The set overall is pretty packed with material (two discs are devoted to supplements) but each film also gets a nice set of material.
Yet another solid disc in the set, delivering a strong looking picture and a nice set of engaging supplements.