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Bruce Lee: Ultimate Collection

July 26, 2006

Bruce Lee: Ultimate Collection

Not too long ago, I was browsing the Barnes and Noble DVD section when I came across this. I was excited, I’ll admit it. Slapping the word Ultimate on the front of a DVD collection, especially one that has Bruce Lee in it, can really mean a lot. To me, DVDs are not to be bought often. They are better as a birthday gift or a christmas gift in my opinion, and with that a DVD collection can grow more steadiliy and strong. But even if it meant paying the full price of fifty dollars, I just felt I had to have this. The buyers remorse was brief. Yes, I feel bad about spending that much money when I could have gotten it for so much cheaper, but hey, it’s Bruce Lee. Lord only knows he would have jumped out from a bush and killed me while I was on the way home if I didn’t buy it, and a gift card covered most of it anyway.

The DVD collection covers five movies which are said to be Lee’s best. The movies included are The Big Boss (Fists of Fury), Fist of Fury (The Chinese Connection), Way of the Dragon (Return of the Dragon), Game of Death, and Game of Death 2. I already owned The Chinese Connection and Enter The Dragon, but none of the other four movies. But I had no idea that The Chinese Connection was the same thing as Fist of Fury. Either way, I’m still a little mystified at how Enter The Dragon was not included, but that was actually better for me, because I already owned it. In any case, Bruce Lee is only said to have made six movies, and now I have them all. With that, sitting down and watching these movies has become something of a really fun experience, and just as mystifying and awesome even after watching them time after time.

I have noticed that all of the films are generally very high quality, not only with visuals but also with sound. Apparently the quality has been enhanced twofold for this box set, and I’m only seeing a few problems here and there. One is how Bruce’s cat calls are a little out of synch with his mouth in some of the later movies. I don’t know if any of these such situations actually involved sound recording after the fact to go along with the footage, or if this is the way it always was, or if I’m just hallucinating, but if that’s the biggest problem with quality, this is a pretty solid DVD collection. Once again, I’m hazy as to why Enter The Dragon was not included. I’ll only complain so much because it meant I was getting more of my money’s worth, but it’s just absurd to not include such a classic. The special features are kind of interesting too. I haven’t checked all of them out, but what I have seen is some cool movie stills, edited and original movie trailers, some interviews with people on Bruce, etc. It’s all pretty good.

Anyway, as far as the movies go, some are absolutely great and some are only okay. If you do not wish to spoil yourself on some of the movies which you have not watched, don’t read ahead. But if you don’t mind and think you will probably be just as suprised upon seeing them, by all means, read right ahead. I don’t think me telling you what happens in these movies will really hamper your enjoyment anyway.
The Big Boss (Fists of Fury): 9/10

This is the first movie that Bruce Lee ever starred in, and it’s a doozie. Quite a knockout, for his first. And you can tell it’s his first too. Like his other movies, this screams seventies, but no one is really wearing bell-bottoms like in some of the later films. The writing is pretty good, but there are some deliciously bad parts that make the good parts better and are worth the laugh. Bruce himself plays well, but this is sort of before he began to gain dominance over his surroundings, at least as far as acting goes.

The premiss is classic. Kung-Fu expert Cheng is escorted to an industrial Chinese town by his uncle so that he has a place to work and raise money to help his sick mother. Some distant relatives already live there, and the family consists of what seems like ten male factory workers, a little kid, and a really hot cousin, who seems to have her eye on Cheng. Yeah, maybe they’re not actually relatives, I’m not sure, but it seems to me like everyone in the movie is supportive of Chengs relationship with the chick, so maybe the uncle is really more of an “uncle.” Anyway, Cheng has already taken a vow never to fight again for some reason, and a necklace of his seems to be the reminder. But his strength helps out in his new job, which apparently involves packaging and sending blocks of ice that look like they have surfboards in them which they don’t know are filled with cocaine.

But it just so happens that the management is a little shakey and abusive in this factory, and it also just so happens that problems start to arise just as Cheng arrives. So when people start disappearing and the boss acts as if it’s no big deal, the concerned workers start to take matters into their own hands.

Just a heads up, there is a lot of killing in this movie, and it is very much a tragedy type of film, but there is so much ass-kicking that it’s worth it even if you don’t understand that this is just what Bruce always does. There is a lot more weaponry in this movie than your typical chopsaki flick. These guys go at it with chains, knives, shivs, poles, whatever is on hand. And this actually still keeps the fighting cool, even if the environment is more gritty and less natural. The storyline kind of trudges along, and the best martial arts comes in at the end when Bruce has started to ignore his vows and fight for justice even if it is dangerous. But even if it is a little slow, the story is interesting, and sort of a first.

This is Bruce Lee’s first film, so some things need to be established. What you will notice about Bruce at this point is he doesn’t have the utmost confidence like he typically does. A lot of what you see is him kind of sitting and thinking to himself, gee, why can’t I fight right now? But midway into the movie when his antique necklace is smashed, he starts to get angry, and the zoom-in on his angry face lets us know that someone is in for a world of pain. Then he says to his enemies who are picking on his factory worker friends, “come on! I’ll take any of you on!” And then he starts sleeping with women. That’s the Bruce we know. Of course, this is also the start of the mans career, so the story is classic and an indication of where the actor and martial arts specialist will go in the future. Once Cheng finds out about the drugs, and the killing, and the lying, we see that Bruce really does have a desire to help the common good and serve justice, and here his path is paved.
The best is saved for last, because the amount of martial arts in the last half hour or so is surprising even to someone who has seen the most relentless of chopsaki movies. And the final battle with The Big Boss himsef is phoenomenal. I won’t spoil too much, but it’s just fantastic. The Big Boss is a great movie. It’s a great martial arts movie even if theres a lot of blood, it’s a quickie, it’s a first, it’s a lot of fun. There are very few problems with the movie, and it is an interesting look at the beginning of Bruce Lee’s career, where things can only get better anyway.

Fist of Fury (The Chinese Connection): 9/10

This is really the paralell to The Big Boss in many ways. Bruce still looks very young here, but instead of the movie taking place in a modern setting, it takes place around 1900 or so in China. Bruce Lee plays Chen, the most skilled student of a renowned Chinese martial arts school, and he is very distraught over the recent death of his master. But of course, as you can guess, Chen has a hunch that his master was really murdered, and he’s furious. And as fate has it, the same Japanese school who is later identified as the culprits shows up and starts to poke the buttons of the schools inhabitants.

You see, to me that’s just a really bad idea. It’s a bad enough idea to get anywhere close to the building that Bruce Lee is in when he’s angry, and it’s worse to actually go into that building, poke him in the face a few times, and make fun of his friends. At that point, you know he’s going to kick some ass. You can see it in his eyes. That’s another new thing about this movie. You know how I mentioned before how Bruce Lee had not quite “established dominance” yet in The Big Boss? Well, he has that dominance here. The look on his face is just so obviously empowered and confident. Bruce knows he could take down anyone, and that look of confidence is great and really adds to the experience.

As far as the story goes, it’s kind of slow, but also very interesting. It goes along at a slow pace, but there are enough twists to keep in interesting, and you actually come to care about the characters by the end. The only problem is, there isn’t a whole lot of martial arts between the few big fights in the movie, and even those are short lived. Except the last few ones, which are very cool. That is obviously a staple of Bruce Lee movies; the best and most interesting battle always comes last. This time it’s with a guy who kind of looks like Michael McDonald from Mad TV, except with a beard. It’s a good’n.

Really, this movie is a vital part of the Bruce Lee library, even if the action is somewhat short lived. This is the last movie before the American industry sort of took him in and started making his movies on a bigger budget and bringing some American actors into the scene. That said, this is vintage Bruce Lee. And it is the only vintage Bruce Lee, so I find myself coming back to this movie time after time. Yes, The Big Boss could probably be considered vintage, but it is also his first movie, so it’s really not an in between kind of movie. You think of it as classic, but not quite vintage.

If anything, the movie is worth it for the final frame, pretty much the most badass five seconds ever contrived by mankind. I won’t say exactly what happens, but the screen goes black and you hear something, and you can’t help but giggle. What action there is in this film is just fantastic and very cool, and it’s a great movie, and not just a great kung fu flick. It actually has some character to it, and it is exciting to watch time after time.

Way of the Dragon (Return of the Dragon): 8/10

Anyone who has heard of this movie really knows the premiss. Bruce Lee visits Rome to help out some friends who are being harassed by a gang, some stuff happens, la dee fricken da,

BRUCE LEE FIGHTS CHUCK NORRIS.

Really, the rest of the movie doesn’t even matter when you think about it. When this came out in the early seventies, I can guarentee that all the people who went to see this movie only saw it for that reason. Yes, the rest of the movie is full of other pleasent and awesome surprises, but the entire movie leads up to the fight, and you know how it ends even before you see the movie, because it is a Bruce Lee movie. I mean, come on. Even then, the first time you see the fight scene, you are still blown away.

I probably saw this for the first time a little before every single person in America was telling jokes about how awesome Chuck Norris is. You know, like how he impregnates a woman every time he lifts a finger, or how his tears cure cancer or something like that. Well, he is awesome, that much is true. I saw Delta Force II, and christ, that ones really impressive. It doesn’t get more awesomely hokie and badass than that, as far as 80s action movies go anyway. But then I hear people arguing about who is better, Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris. It’s a difficult debate that rages on all the time. I’ve even found myself in a fair share of these arguements. I usually refer those people to this movie, but then they get all flustered and talk about how it wasn’t a real fight, and how in real life, Chuck Norris could kick Bruce Lee’s ass. If you want my opinion on it, it’s really a matter of versatility. Yes, Bruce Lee is stronger than Chuck Norris. I’m sorry, he kicks higher, punches harder, and jumps farther. But can Bruce Lee gun down fifty Iraqis with a submachine gun while swinging on a vine over alligator infested lava pools while having sex with a veluptuous woman?

PROBABLY.

If not, he could deffinitely nail thirty or fourty. Bruce Lee is better physically, but he doesn’t quite have the driving, aiming, or piloting ability that Chuck Norris might have. You just have to ask yourself, do those things really factor in to who is stronger? In my opinion, they don’t. That’s why I ordered that Bruce Lee poster that should be coming in the mail soon. That’s why I bought this collection.

At any rate, yeah, the movie is good. If the last battle was with a different person, the movie might get an seven, because the story is kind of slow and there is a lot of down time. But the action is great when it is around. There are some great fights between some foreighn fighters and Bruce Lee, and some of his flat out slickest moments ever are in this movie. But once again, a lot of the movie is spent sort of exploring Rome and such. That’s okay though, because there are a lot of comedic moments in the movie to make it worth it. But once again, they could have seriously just put the Bruce vs Chuck scene on a movie that was twenty minutes long and it would have still been good. That scene is the flat out greatest Bruce Lee fight scene ever. The only arguement you could make against that is that it is only the best one on one Bruce Lee fight ever. But that’s just being picky.

It’s a great flick, and it is really the first Bruce Lee “flick” there was. It’s got a pretty cool story, the same awesome Bruce we know and love, some cool comedy, lots of cool action scenes, and of course the classic ending battle. Call it a tad gimmicky, it’s still a classic.

You know what, while I’m at it, I’ll also cover the only Bruce Lee movie not included in the collection, Enter The Dragon. Even if it’s not included, I can’t pass this one up.

Enter The Dragon: 10/10

At this point in his career, Bruce Lee was really a larger than life figure. The movie very much reflects this condition, and you could almost describe it as a larger than life movie. While it may be a little hard to not point out flaws in the movie, this is truly the classic Bruce Lee experience. It is his most popular movie for a reason, and although it is a bit gimmicky in some respects, it encompasses everything good about martial arts movies and hits all the best chimes that it possibly could. And no one isn’t going to deny that it is a tad gimmicky, but it is nonetheless a classic and respectable film that really lives on.

The plot is actually seems pretty typical, but in reality, there wasn’t too much like this at the time. An entrepraneur named Han is holding a martial arts tournament on his island off the coast of urban China, where he already has a martial arts school of his own. The festivities are enjoyed by many people from many places, and the guests are pampered to the utmost, treated to fine dining, luscious surroundings, and women too. But under the surface, Han is a villain. He makes and smuggles drugs, enslaves people, and is even a full out cold blooded murder. Lee plays a martial arts expert who’s sister just happens to be dead by the hand of Han’s croonies, so he obviously jumps at the opportunity to join the tournament and help to bring Han to justice.

Lee himself is of course spine tinglingly badass. Some of his lines are priceless. The “boards don’t hit back” line is classic. He still does amazing things, and he is still out front in the majority of the movies most exciting fight scenes. The anger on his face after he deals the final blow to O’Hara, Han’s lead man, is so great that I keep my video copy of the movie fast forwarded to that part at all times. The other characters are believable if not a little unlikeable. Williams and Roper are the two American fighters who end up being the best buds of Lee during the movie. You need to keep in mind that this was actually an American movie, so it has Bruce talking in English for the first time. Is this good? Yeah, I think it is. I might chuckle a little when he says “mawshull awtist,” but it’s good to hear his actual voice as opposed to any dubbing. But the downside to the fact that this is a major movie with a high budget is that major actors are included as well. Yes, John Saxon may be a good actor, but he is no martial arts expert, and this fact is exemplified by an utterly laughable double kick near the beginning of the movie when a small team of ninjas tries to take him down while he is out playing golf. Typical American actor, right? Thankfully, his character, Roper, is fairly likeable and has some good lines and a good set of ethics to drive his character, even if he is a compulsive gambler. Williams is the stronger character of the two, and he is played by Jim Kelly, an actual martial arts expert. He is much less gimmicky of a person for how gimmicky his character is, but he has actually won some martial arts awards and had his own school at one time. He also featured in a 70s movie that I’m dying to see.

His role as a black martial artist is a little novelty though. Instead of being a serious master of his trade, he is made out to be more of a prankster and babe magnet, which is fine. It’s more badass that way, but it is noteworthy that his character might not be able to be taken completely seriously.

There are a lot of other characters in the movie, most of which are actual martial arts experts. Even some of the shorter scenes feature people who are skilled in the arts, and they all have different styles to boot. That said, the action in this movie is almost unparalelled to this day. Some of it may not be extremely exciting, but it’s very realistic and very rugged. Like every Bruce Lee movie, people die in this one. Lots of people. But the action is never meaningless, and there is always an objective to push the movie forward, although sometimes it doesn’t seem to be revealed to the viewer until a later time. Either way, every moment of the movie means something, because it all leads up to action or sneaky mischief on the part of Lee, so nothing ever gets dull. That is a quality that is not really present in any other Bruce Lee movies. I guess the fact that this is an American movie did help it out somewhat in that respect, because the directing, story, and imagery are all superior to prior Bruce Lee movies. Granted, Bruce Lees experience with the American industry was short lived but ultimately worth it, because this is what it produced.

The story is very good, but once again, to fully appreciate this movie, you have to understand that it was made in the early 70s and things are bound to be a tad gimmicky and stereotypical. It is vital to take in this movie as it is presented, and the story needs to be treated as such too. Almost every scene can really be appreciated in some way, due to action, story progression, or even just a witty remark. There is a reason this is a classic, and it is the quintissential Bruce Lee experience. If you are going to pick this up, make sure you get the special edition, which comes on either VHS or DVD. These editions include more great scenes that were cut from the final edit of the movie, as well as an informative and cool interview of Bruce Lee on his career and life in general. This is an essential to anyone who likes action movies.

Game of Death: 5/10

To be fair, it’s hard to expect a Bruce Lee movie to be good if he wasn’t alive during most of it’s making. But even then, Game of Death really disappointed me. Bruce Lee died midway through production, and the fact that the people finished it sort of puts a pain in my stomach. The movie is done so poorly that I almost can’t see it having been better if he was alive during most of it. I guess I was expecting doubles, yes, but I was expecting much more actual Bruce Lee than there was. Like, maybe a few more action scenes.

Whatever. I can only really expect so much given those facts. I don’t want to say too much except it is truly a horrible movie. What seems to have happened is, Bruce Lee died and to compensate for the fact that the primary character is just gone, they signed on a bunch of second rate American actors to make it all better. NO. These actors are horrible, and if they were there when Bruce was, they would only detract from him. The entire prospect of them being there is still ridiculous, and Chuck Norris is even credited in the opening credits. That was enough to let me know the entire movie was BS, and a complete disrespect to Bruce Lee. Chuck Norris was NOT in this movie. A sample of Way of the Dragon was in fact used at the very beginning of the movie (poorly, too!), and apparently they felt Mr. Norris should be given credit. I trust he has killed some of the higher ups by now for disrespecting him by putting him in this thing, and also for disrespecting Bruce Lee himself.

I tried to watch it. I really did. But their attempts at hiding the fact that Bruce Lee isn’t around is almost as horrible as the likes of movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space. The funny thing is, I love bad movies. I would eve go so far to say that I ADORE bad movies. I live to stay home on Sunday nights and watch bad flicks from the fifties and sixties, maybe a Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff flick. Attack of the Killer Shrews is renowned as one of the best bad movies ever, and it might be my third or fourth favorite movie ever. It may not be completely serious or respectable, but you will never find me smiling more during a movie. Even with all that said, I hated this. Or at least most of what I saw of it.

I turned on the movie and proceeded to watch it with a friend. What I noticed right through the first scene is that the stunt double that is meant to be Bruce Lee isn’t really so much a stunt double. He’s in every scene, and he’s supposed to be Bruce Lee all the time. They hide his face underneath sunglasses, or most of the time by just showing the back of his head instead. I found this funny, but I was expecting it to be only the case for some of the scenes, while others might have Bruce Lee himself. Nope, that’s not the case. All but one scene in the movie has the double, but I’ll get to that one scene later. In one of the first scenes, the double is sitting in a chair talking to a businessman. He is shown in the chair, but because the directors found it necessary to show his face, some old footage of obviously different quality is shown instead, just of Bruce Lee’s face. But in one shot, a photo of Bruce Lee’s face is simply superimposed over the stunt doubles head. The effect is flubbed so horribly that we laughed pretty hard. Because I do love those kinds of shots. Once again, I live for bad movies.

But it got me thinking. Do I want to see a bad Bruce Lee movie? No. No I don’t. To even pretend that someone else is Bruce Lee is sacrilegious and to do that sort of shot is too. This is not the kind of movie I want to see, as a Bruce Lee fan. So I proceeded to fast forward through the movie, looking for scenes that actually had the Bruceinator in them. Some other stuff happened in the movie that really doesn’t matter. I guess Bruce Lee get’s shot in the face, which you and I both know isn’t even possible (his face deflects bullets anyway). Also, there was some heart pounding motorcycle scene which I had no desire to really watch. And so I found myself looking at a shot of Bruce Lee himself in a yellow suit, full body, so I knew it was him for real.

The last scene is amazing. It’s what makes the rest of the movie worth it. If it wasn’t there, the movie would just get a one out of ten. But it is, and it’s one of the best action sequences I have ever seen. It is a string of three fights, and all of them are absolutely astonishing. The first fight is an amazing nunchuck battle which features some of the best weapon handling I have ever seen. The next scene is Bruce Lee fighting a Judo expert, and it is one of the few rare times you will see Bruce get knocked onto his back (and he doesn’t take that one lightly!). But the final scene is what is worth waiting for. It is a fight against special guest Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

Yeah, you heard me.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

That's Lew Alcindor Kareem Abdul Jabbar, somewhere up in the stratosphere.

I was a little skeptical at first, and I originally thought that there could possibly be another actor by the same name. Nope. I dropped that idea pretty quick when I actually saw him. For all of you who aren’t familliar with the man, he is basically a black giraffe who is really good at basketball. He towers over Bruce. He must be at least seven feet and a few inches tall. He really is the man when it comes to basketball, if there ever was one. Sort of like Michael Jordan before he actually came around. And his gigantic stature and tremendous range make for a very unique fight that is a classic to watch. Yep, the last twenty minutes of this movie are a real doozie, and even though the rest of the movie is crap, it’s all worth it in the end. And the fact that Bruce Lee doesn’t talk through any of it at all makes it all the more mysterious and classic.

So yeah, the movie itself is horrible, but once again, it’s okay because of the last scenes. This movie is worth buying just for those scenes alone, and I find myself coming back to the movie just so I can fast forward to the end for the awesomeness. I guess this is okay in the collection just because it’s got that content. I’m glad I have the movie anyway.

But I am also confident that Bruce Lee will someday rise from the dead and kill the people who made this movie.

Game of Death II: N/A

I decided to not even give this one the time of day. It was made after Bruce Lee died, which is just ridiculous, honestly. To start a movie and finish it after the key player is gone is one thing. But to not even try to pretend you care about the actors integrity and just make a movie starring him after he’s dead, well that’s just absurd. And as far as the story goes, Lee dies midway into the movie anyway. Word to the wise for all movie directors and script writers; don’t kill of the main character if he is going to be the incentive for people to go to the movie.

I’ve heard he isn’t even in this one for more than five minutes. I skipped to the end, pretty much, and I saw some fight scenes at the very beginning too. The ending fights were pretty cool, but it’s just not Bruce Lee at all, because he just isn’t there. The cheap disguising is done for the double once again. The only worry I have here is that he actually is in a few fight scenes that I missed because I didn’t even bother to fast forward through this one so much as just skip the scenes. I suppose I will have to go back and check for that kind of thing eventually. But once again, I’m too pissed at Game of Death to really give this one a full watch. I think it would pain me too much. We’ll see. But I refuse to rate it even if I do watch it, because it just isn’t a Bruce Lee movie. The only reason this is worth having is because it is considered a Bruce Lee movie, even if it isn’t.

Well, there you have it. I’m very glad I bought the box set, because I got two fantastic movies that I didn’t own before, one I did own before, and a movie with a supremely badass fight sequence in the end. And it’s all in high quality with great sound, some special features, and trailers, etc. It’s a good movie experience. Once again, I don’t really get the entire Game of Death thing. It’s my opinion that they should have just made a movie full of all of the mans rare footage including the fight scene, just so that peoples time wouldn’t be wasted. I can only give this the score I’m giving it because Enter The Dragon isn’t in it, and that’s the quintissential Bruce Lee movie. But that did work out better for me, I suppose. But if you buy this box set and a copy of Enter The Dragon, that’s a 10/10 purchase. So if you are interested in Bruce Lee and wouldn’t mind paying some dough for this, that’s a good way to go.

I guess I have many idols in my life that I look up to, but Bruce Lee is one of the really truly special ones. Besides the fact that the man is supposed to be one of the nicest people you could ever meet, just watching him on these films is amazing. And he wasn’t just a gimmick. The man really was a martial arts expert, even if people tell you the movies make him out to be stronger than he really is. That’s just a flat out lie. When it comes to Bruce Lee, what you see is what you get. When you watch The Big Boss or The Chinese Connection or Enter The Dragon, you are watching evolution. This is the example that any human being concerned with physical ability should look up to in some way, because this kind of skill, strength, and finess is not a great feat just for a specific industry, but is also a leap forward for mankind. There will probably never be a man like Bruce Lee again, and that is okay. I am content watching these films and knowing that he lived a happy life and is still an inspiration to us all.

Have a nice day, motherfucker.

"Have a nice day, motherfucker."

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