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Film Review: Fist of Fury (1973)
March 3, 2017
The Bruce Lee vehicle Fist of Fury, which was mistakenly released in USA under the name The Chinese Connection, features the martial arts superstar in his second major leading role. Lee plays Chen Zhen, a hot-headed and skilled fighter who investigates the death of his teacher/sifu in Shanghai. At the same time, Chen boldly addresses the systemic abuse and oppression of the Chinese people by imperialist Japanese powers by acting as a lone agent of chaos and extrajudicial punishment.
Lee as Chen takes centre stage, instigating plot movement and set-piece showdowns while his grieving fellow Jingwu students do next to nothing about the death of their master and fail to react to the blatant provocations of the rival Japanese martial arts school. The rage and deadly power in Lee causes him to lash out in exciting and devastating ways. He defeats hordes of karate/bushido students in order to reclaim Chinese pride but also beats to death individuals who plotted in the poisoning of his sifu, unfortunately before he can get more information out of them. His friends, the police, and corrupt Japanese authorities scramble around to try and stop him but he eludes them easily. His only weakness is his sense of loyalty to his intended (Nora Miao) and to his master’s legacy.
In the many extended fight scenes, Lee’s cinematic charisma comes out in full force. His muscled torso, animalistic yelps and cries (which serve to distract his enemies and strengthen his core), and terrifying facial expressions make him seem especially dangerous. In contrast to his sloppier peers, the cartoonish villains, and one brutish Russian bodybuilder, Lee stands alone.
The cultural context of Fist of Fury is very much rooted in the history of the Japanese occupation of China. After centuries of Chinese dominance in Asia, Japan managed to gain control over the much larger nation and proclaimed their national superiority. The disgusting way they achieved this was to brand the Chinese as the “sick man of Asia” and treat them like dogs. Lee directly addresses this in the film, resulting in a restoration of Chinese masculinity as he states, “We are not sick men”. Another contextual element is who Chen’s deceased sifu is: Huo Yuanjia, a real-life martial artist who was known to have defeated foreign challengers in one-to-one combat and was also lauded for upholding Chinese nationalism and sovereignty. Although Fist of Fury is an entertaining enough Bruce Lee movie, its value lies more in it symbolically reclaiming Chinese pride in real-life and cinematic history.