Bruce Lee Double Feature: The Big Boss/Fist of Fury Lo Wei

Bruce Lee Double Feature: The Big Boss/Fist of Fury Lo Wei
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With his time as a mainstream action icon tragically cut short, it doesn't take much space to collect the works of Bruce Lee. Most likely due to a lack of materials available, Shout Factory has put together an atypically bare bones package that crams the martial arts legend's first two star vehicles onto one disc, feature-free. Unfortunately, the original audio is still not available, so we're stuck with the horrible English voiceover, which completely alters the tone of the films. The dubbing is so apathetic and translation so spotty that it's impossible to take any of the drama seriously. This is especially glaring in The Big Boss, which takes its sweet time to get to the point: Lee's lightning-quick limbs. With over half the run-time taken up by a mediocre plot involving exploited workers in a factory used as a drug pushing front, the handsome star's physical introduction is milked to the max. Luckily, Lee proved early on that he radiated charm and had a commanding presence. It's a shame we don't get to hear his performance; he was an animated actor and it's unfortunate we're stuck with a farce that undercuts his obvious efforts. What we're left with is a strange form of lethargic mocking of a particularly melodramatic brand of acting until the universal language of violence takes over. When Lee finally unleashes his rage in the climactic battle sequence, it's… really not that great. His movements are fluid, but the fight choreography looks too staged to feel dangerous and nobody stands a chance against Lee's flawless skills; it's kind of boring to watch. Luckily, where The Big Boss shows its age, Fist of Fury holds up. In his second big outing, Lee plays a character that intervenes in a conflict between a Japanese martial arts school and the Ching Wu School, where he studied. Hunting down his master's murderers, Chen (Lee) breaks his discipline's passive stance and beats the royal crap out of everyone who poses a threat. But violence begets violence, so his actions set off a brutal gang war that sees a good portion of the cast wiped out in the ensuing carnage. In contrast to his approach in Boss, director Lo Wei doesn't wait to set Lee loose in Fist; he's a hard-assed killing machine in no time. A large part of this aggression stems from racial tension — at one point, a park with a "No Dogs or Chinese" policy, which is only really concerned with enforcing the latter, sets Lee off on an indignant rampage. It's fun to see another country's take on retributive wish fulfillment, since it's long been such a mainstay of American cinema. Doing some hammy disguise work, Lee gets to stretch his comedy muscles in Fist as well, and he's an expressive physical performer who improved very quickly from film to film. While it'd be nice to have a few special features and language options, even without subtitles, if that's a sticking point, this Bruce Lee Double Feature is an efficient way for martial arts fans to acquire some essentials. (Shout! Factory)