Bruce Lee comes to Rome: a fish out of water, but also to aid a restaurant under attack from some nasty brutes who want to steal the business for themselves. Bruce Lee’s third theatrical feature, and his first as director – Clearly the man liked to work hard and accomplish a lot in his career. The Way of the Dragon is an extension of all Lee sought out to accomplish in his cinematic work.
Lee has slowly been injecting humour into his performances, and this is perhaps Lee at his most comedic. An early scene with Lee ordering food from a staff member that doesn’t understand him seems like something lifted from a Charlie Chaplin movie – largely played out in silence (but with music to back up the light tone). The irony here is that Lee had distinct confrontations about the level of comedy in his previous two films with director Lo Wei (The man-shaped hole in the wall from The Big Boss springs to mind). And whilst there is nothing on the level of mind-bendingly stupid; there is still a goofy nature to some of the material here: how it is played and even the music in the background. The film then suffers from a balance issue of the serious versus comedic.
The fish out of water schtick in Rome eats up a lot of screen time before the action plot even kicks in. When it does we find Lee in familiar territory. His character is new on the scene, so bad guys are crushing in on some good guy friends of his and Lee is the answer to their problems!
The above goofiness is where the film differs from the Lo Wei ventures. The fighting also here seems to be much more of a lesson in fighting and fighting style as opposed to actual natural fight scenes, the light tone of them even gives way to something more brutal in the finale.
That may sound like a criticism, but its also part and parcel of the reason why some Lee fans herald this as his crowning achievement. It is interesting that each film has merit when it comes to claiming any of the films as Lee’s best (well, except Game of Death maybe).
I don’t know if the comedy extends to the fashion wore by some characters or if the 70s were just a really bizarre time – but here it is in all its glory (not to mention some interesting hair styles).
The fighting displays that we get are really impressive. An alleyway nunchaku scene stands out simply for how well Lee utilises the weaponry. This film might actually have on display some of Lee’s best technique and style. But it’s also hilarious at the same time and he balances jaw dropping moves with laugh out loud consequences for the villains.
Blu-ray, sadly, does not do any favours to things like background set paintings in older films like this (the final colosseum set piece in particular!) or Chuck Norris’ body hair for that matter (and Lee makes sure to get a handful of that at one point).
Speaking of the colosseum fight: This is where the film takes its deadliest of tones. From the men finding each other, to the warming up before the fight and then the impressive display of style. It’s at complete loggerheads with every other fight in the film which had such a tongue in cheek nature. Okay, to be fair the final fight has a kitten as bystander and umpire, and every time Norris falls over he seems to be accompanied by the sound of a one-man bandstand falling over, but the scene is definitely meant to be much more serious as it is essentially a fight to the death. It’s to Lee’s credit that the final scenes here come off so well. The scene practically sells itself, but it seems it would have been better fitted to a more serious film.
Despite the polish the film has been given, The Way of the Dragon seems to suffers from a lot of noise and out of focus blur. This will mostly be down to the nature of the film itself, and like other Bruce Lee movies released by Arrow Video, it’s the best we have.
Two feature commentaries: Frank Djeng & Michael Worth – Both filmmakers and martial arts experts; this is a lively conversation across the film.
Brandon Bentley – Bentley has a welcome return again for this Arrow series in his usually fact ridden and pleasant tone.
The Way of the Camera, a documentary looking at Lee’s filmmaking and fighting method in his directorial debut, featuring interviews with Golden Harvest producer Andre Morgan, martial arts experts Michael Worth, Jon Kreng, Andy Cheng, Frank Djeng, David Yeung, film historian Courtney Joyner and actors Piet (Peter) Schweer, Jon Benn and John Saxon
Meet the Italian Beauty, a newly filmed interview with star Malisa Longo. A 26-minute interview with the Italian actress who featured in the film. She discusses her background and experience on the film. Interesting to hear from a bit player on what Lee was like with them on and off the set.
The Scottish Soldier Meets the Dragon, a newly filmed interview with on-set observer John Young. This is almost 20 minutes long and is largely about a guy who met Bruce Lee via a friend from the film. SO not even someone Lee worked with. This seems like a stretch of an excuse to create an extra, but it’s still actually quite fascinating.
Newly recorded select scene commentary by ‘thug’ actor Piet Schweer. One of the taller thugs in the film that gets his ass handed to him by Lee multiple times in the film – this is a interesting as it is one of the fighters form the film from multiple scenes that are discussed with moderator Michael Worth.
This is actually a pretty decent set of extras minus a full-on retrospective documentary. The smaller interviews, even from bit players are still interesting to hear and the commentary work is first class.
This set also comes with a second disc of extras that were not available up review, but they include:
DISC 2: THE FINAL GAME OF DEATH (BLU-RAY)