*Originally written in 2003
Action movie performers typically don’t get much critical praise, yet every so often they will have a performance which transcends what they do or what the genre expects – think Stallone in Rocky. Bruce Lee was seen by some as a mere fighter, incredibly talented with fists and feet, but little else. They apparently missed Way Of The Dragon in which he gives a brilliant performance when not fighting, conveying a myriad of emotions. Lee wrote this film. Lee directed this film. All those movie critics are fools. For those who say the characters are clichéd or stereotyped, remember that this was made in 1972, the time when such stereotypes were being formed or in their infancy. A film is always of its time.
Tang Lung (Lee) is sent to Rome to help out some friends who need help to run their restaurant which has been getting hounded by gangsters. When he arrives he sees that local scum are trying to bully his family out of business, and he intervenes, proving to be a fierce, unstoppable fighter. As time passes Lee struggles to work out if violence should be used, while the bad guys increase in numbers. Eventually the bad guys send in Chuck Norris and in a twist, most of Lee’s family and friends are killed. Lee tracks the bad guys to the Colosseum, where he fights Norris in the best one on one fight in movie history.
As always, Lee deals with issues of racism, philosophy, violence, family, and self. The tourist sites of Rome remind Lee of the slums of China, which everyone avoids. His character is a haunted one and the tone is dark. ‘Wherever he walks, he will walk alone’ remarks one of his friends. Nora Miao gives a brilliant performance, as do Ping Ao-Wei and Chung-Hsin Huang. But Lee is the main draw, and he is breathtaking again. Few actors have had such an impact on cinema, on pop culture, and on modern life, in such a short time, as Lee has. Aside from the Norris fight, The fights outside the restaurant are excellent, and Lee’s ‘lamp kicking’ has to be seen repeatedly. Easily one of the best martial arts movies ever made, and one of the best movies of the 70s.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Way Of The Dragon!