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The Way of the Dragon (1972) - Bruce Lee's best film shows humorous personality of Lee himself

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

FILE PHOTO: A Poster of THE WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972).  ©Golden Harvest
FILE PHOTO: A Poster of THE WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972). ©Golden Harvest

The Cantonese title Maang5 Lung5 Gwo3 Gong1 (Dir. Bruce Lee; 1972) is aesthetically fully controlled by the leading actor Bruce Lee (32 yo; 1940-73) himself, and it's the largest box office hit in Hong Kong among all Bruce Lee action martial arts films.

Although his actually completed Hong Kong films of 1970s are only four films such as The Big Boss (1971); Fist of Fury (1972); Way of the Dragon (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973). His featured films formed the new wave of 1970s' Hong Kong Martial Arts Kung Fu movie genre after the 1960s' Shaw Brothers Studio's Mandarin Costume Play Martial Arts films of King Fu and Chang Cheh.

The best Hong Kong producer Raymond Chaw (1927-2018) found the best leading form and style of filmmaking of that era. It made Hong Kong film an international brand in this field. He said 'his aim of filmmaking is to entertain people' at Tokyo International Film Festival in 2012 when I directly heard of his message to audience out there. Art film was not his concern. I perfectly agree with him.

Besides this, Akira Kurosawa and Zatoichi series apparently influenced their martial arts genre films, and then they had developed it to more supernaturally exaggerated complex wired actions, actual martial arts-skill based actors and brutally realistic tendency of violence.

As the result, they actually exceeded Japan cinema in terms of visual appearance. The extremely super-realistic actions and extreme exaggerations of violence are an aesthetic tendency of Hong Kong filmmakers on how they absorb other cultural background film practices. This degree of freedom of form and style on cinematic expression is quite attractive for anyone even under the highly individualist-capitalist ideology.

This film tale established the comically organised Kung Fu action film genre for the later generations. Bruce Lee actually played a cool protagonist who only mechanically beats antagonists for bloody revenge in several films without this one. The never settle down protagonist, a bumpkin Tang Lung saves Italian Restaurant owner Chen Ching-hua from land property-sharks and their employed Karate champ Colt played by Chuck Norris (1940-).

What we have to mention here is that this film was not Chuck Norris's debut film at all.

The Wrecking Crew (1968) was Chuck Norris' film debut as an uncredited role. His best one is also this film in terms of the fighting sequence at Colosseum. In fact, they did not play any actual Kung Fu fight out there, that was dealt by studio shooting separately.

The opening sequence typically shows new genre style and Bruce Lee's comical acting taste while Tang Lung waiting for the arrival of Chen Ching-hua at the airport. He's totally disoriented on the lobby, at the foreign restaurant when he interacts with Italians in different ages and occupations. It established his comical personality as an ordinary person. It something attracts audiences psychologically.

Besides this, Bruce Lee's role Tang Lung intends to avoid killing anyone during all fight scenes in this film. This psychological tendency is obviously expressed in his acting and facial performance even after he kills Colt who refuses his mercy during the Colosseum battle.

FILE PHOTO: A Still Image of THE WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972).  ©Golden Harvest
FILE PHOTO: A Still Image of THE WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972). ©Golden Harvest

Viewing a Bruce Lee film at Hong Kong cinema is a special cinematic experience for fans and professionals. I actually enjoyed the 2015 remastered Blu-Ray version of this film screening at cinema. Only one con is that cinematography failed to keep control on its depth of focus, a focus puller issue is severe during viewing of shots of this film. I don't think Tadashi Nishimoto did professional cinematography for this film. Focus flaws are pretty obvious and it makes restoration harder than classical silent films which professionally dealt with their depth of focus. Unfortunately, focus issues cannot be improved by post production.

In conclusion, this film is not only the best film of Bruce Lee for his wife and loyal fans in terms of aesthetic full control by Bruce himself, but also it established the comedy Kung Fu action genre for Hong Kong filmmaking and the next generations. It showed Bruce Lee's comical and humanistic personality as the leading role for the first time. Made his role more humane, more attractive like Jackie Chan (1954-).

FILE PHOTO: A Poster of THE WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972).  ©Golden Harvest
FILE PHOTO: A Poster of THE WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972). ©Golden Harvest


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