New Fist of Fury
Almost five years after breaking all Hong Kong box office records with the instant classic Fist of Fury, his last collaboration with the late Bruce Lee, director Lo Wei got to work on a sequel. It would be the first major leading role for Lo’s latest discovery, a young actor who had been a stuntman on the original film but would soon be as massive a star as Lee. His name: Jackie Chan.
Shanghai, 1910. With the Jing Wu martial arts school in shambles and pressure from the Japanese armies to suppress a Chinese uprising after Chen Zhen’s martyrdom, Chen’s fiancée Li Er (Nora Miao, reprising her role from Fist of Fury) escapes to Japanese-occupied Taiwan to hide at her grandfather’s school. Despite her attempts to lay low, she runs afoul of karate master Okimura (Chan Sing, The Iron-Fisted Monk), who plans to take over all of the Chinese-run schools in Taiwan. Amidst all of this, a young aimless thief, known only as Ah Long (Jackie Chan), befriends Li Er after unknowingly stealing the nunchaku once yielded by the late Chen. Will he give into his fears, or will he learn the martial arts of Jing Wu and fight alongside Li Er against the Japanese?
Considered to be one of the few “official” sequels to a Bruce Lee film, and now freshly restored in two different versions, New Fist of Fury is the first spark that would eventually lead Jackie Chan to becoming the worldwide star he is today!
Arrow Video presents Lo Wei’s New Fist of Fury (one of the official sequels to the Fist of Fury) on Blu-ray in a ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc. Arrow includes two versions of the film: the original theatrical version and the severely truncated Cantonese/English re-release version, which cuts 40 minutes out of the film. Both versions feature 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes and are sourced from new 2K restorations.
The presentation for the theatrical version could be better, looking incredibly sharp and clean in some sections and mushy and murky in others. I don’t have notes about the restorations at the moment, but I suspect the reason for the sharp discrepancies comes down to the available materials and how they were handled when the shorter version was created in 1980.
Material exclusive to the longer cut looks very fuzzy and soft, with a significant loss in fine-object detail. Black levels also look milky, while shadow delineation is almost non-existent. I suspect this is because these sequences are sourced from a later-generation print, with the original negatives almost certainly tossed aside after the short version was created. This probably wouldn’t be too bad, but it also looks like Fortune Star (who performed the restoration) significantly reduced noise levels on this already dupey-looking footage in an attempt to hide what was probably an incredibly coarse grain. I get why this would be done, but this leads to a very waxy texture. Unfortunately, this applies to all 40 minutes worth of exclusive footage.
The shared material (and the shorter version as a whole) come out looking significantly better thanks to being sourced from the negatives, though some issues still pop up. Details are far sharper, and grain looks better, but black levels are nothing to write home about, with black crush sneaking in there.
That said, when everything comes together, the image looks relatively solid. Detail levels are incredibly high, color saturation looks excellent, and the picture has a decent film texture. Unfortunately, these moments end up being more the exception than the norm.
Going through the audio for this film proved to be incredibly overwhelming as there are six tracks spread between the two versions, all in DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono. That includes English and Cantonese tracks for both versions and two Mandarin tracks for the longer cut. I’m assuming the one Mandarin soundtrack is one that was made for home video (I don’t have the booklet yet, and I’m hoping it clears up why there are two), but no matter which you ultimately go with (and whatever cut you go with) they’re all problematic. The English tracks and the first Mandarin one may be the better options, though they’re still incredibly flat, and both, to no one’s surprise, are prominent dubs. The Cantonese tracks are probably the weakest, with the one for the longer cut sounding especially screechy at times.
It's going to come down to which is best for you.
The disc feels a bit sparse compared to some of the other offerings from Arrow’s recent spate of Hong Kong releases, though that may have to do with the film’s reputation; looking up information on the movie before my first viewing revealed it not to be one that many fans of the genre consider a favorite, or even good for that matter. Still, Arrow does what they can, and they start by offering two different versions of the film: the 2-hour original cut and an 82-minute re-release cut. The longer version has far more exposition and a handful of sub-plots featuring a wide range of characters, with Jackie Chan’s character kept to the wayside until probably the halfway point. As it was one of his first major roles, that isn’t too big a surprise, but following Chan becoming a huge box office draw years later, Lo Wei would recut the film—trimming 40 minutes!—to capitalize on his success. Various plot threads and characters (including their motivations) would be cut out to bring Chan’s character front and center, making him a clear protagonist instead of just another in an array of characters. At the very least, the film feels leaner, but it's a mess, rushing through what story remains, making less sense, and excising any inkling of a reason to care about what’s going on.
(Since the cuts differ substantially, the films are presented through two separate video files rather than seamless branching.)
Even if I can’t say I was terribly fond of this cut (and I’m going to go out and say I didn’t find the longer cut all that bad), I’m glad it’s here, if only for the accompanying audio commentary by Brandon Bentley. This one is squarely focused on this cut, Bentley explaining why the film was trimmed down so significantly. He will point out what was trimmed (including establishing shots!) and why he feels this “anemic” version kills the film's momentum, even if he isn’t a big fan of the original cut. This then leads to him talking about the troubled working relationship between Wei and Chan (bringing up Fearless Hyena II, which I am now not looking forward to when I visit Criterion’s upcoming Jackie Chan set) and the wave of Bruce-ploitation films that followed Bruce Lee’s death. Despite bringing that topic up, he doesn’t feel New Fist of Fury falls into that category, even if it features some of the familiar tropes of that subgenre (images of Bruce Lee are even cut into the film).
I found it a solid track on its own, even if Bentley’s attempts at humor rarely hit. Still, Arrow goes one further and adds another audio commentary, this one featuring Hong Kong cinema experts Frank Djeng and Michael Worth talking over the longer cut. Impressively, they don’t repeat much from Bentley’s track outside of touching on the Wei/Chan relationship and the mysteriousness behind the actress who plays the villain’s assistant, whom none of the commentators can find any information about. Differences between the two versions come up, but since Djeng has not seen the shorter version (he has no desire to), their conversations around them are limited to Worth pointing out cut scenes and Djeng mentioning why he feels their absence would hurt the film. And though it’s clear the two don’t consider the movie top-tier Wei or top-tier Chan (or top-tier anything), they do defend aspects of it, which Bentley didn’t do, the two admiring that Wei decided not to go the route most Bruce-ploitation films went (which was on a wave of nostalgia) and instead develop a whole new story and make an actual continuation to Fist of Fury, even if this means there is far more exposition than action. I also enjoyed when Djeng interjects random bits of knowledge, like explaining why earlier Hong Kong films were shot in Mandarin and not Cantonese and why Cantonese soundtracks weren’t a thing until later. The little things like that always make me appreciate Djeng’s tracks.
One other thing that gets mentioned across both tracks is another sequel to the film made around the same time, Fist of Fury II, starring Bruce Li. Bentley goes into more detail about this film in a 7-minute visual essay entitled New Fist, Part Two Fist, explaining the general plot line (with some footage taken from a very rough-looking source) and comparing it to New Fist. He also mentions how the films could co-exist, though some events in both films make that hard.
Closing that off is a small gallery of photos and posters, followed by the Cantonese and English trailers for the film. In another nice little touch, Arrow has also put together an 18-minute Chen Zhen trailer reel featuring trailers for films that are either sequels to or reboots of the original Fist of Fury. This includes a trailer for Fist of Fury itself, alongside Fist of Fury II (in better shape than the footage used in Bentley’s essay), Fist of Fury III, Fist of Legend, a Fist of Fury reboot starring Donnie Yen, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, and Fist of Fury: Chen Zhen. The limited edition also includes a booklet, though I do not yet have a copy.
In all, it’s not the usual quantity I would expect from one of Arrow’s Hong Kong releases, even missing what would feel like an obvious addition: an exploration of the Bruce-ploitation films that followed Bruce Lee’s death (Criterion did have one in their Bruce Lee box set). Yet, despite that, the release still delivers an adequate overview of the film as a follow-up to the first Fist of Fury and as one of Chan’s earlier starring films.
It is a bit of a ho-hum edition, with features that aren’t as comprehensive as some of Arrow’s other Hong Kong releases and a presentation that is a mixed bag at best.