Sunday, January 15, 2012

#517. The Chinese Connection (1972)

Directed By: Wei Lo

Starring: Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, James Tien

Tag line: "Bruce Lee claims his revenge through death and beyond"

Trivia:  Because of the movie's racial content and personal disagreements, Bruce Lee quit working with Lo Wei after this movie

What's there to say about Bruce Lee that hasn't already been said? More than an action star, more even than an icon, Lee was a legend, and the handful of movies he made prior to his untimely death in 1973 remain, to this day, the standard by which all other kung-fu films are measured. 

Chen (Lee) pays a visit to his former martial arts school in Shanghai, only to learn his beloved master has died. Left devastated by the sudden loss of his mentor, Chen suspects foul play, and turns his attention towards a rival Japanese school situated nearby. Sure enough, a contingency from the Japanese school, accompanied by their interpreter, Wu (Ping-Ao Wei), shows up shortly after the master's funeral to challenge the Chinese to a fight. To add insult to injury, the Japanese also come bearing a gift: a demeaning sign that reads “Sick Men of Asia”. Remembering their master's teachings, the Chinese refuse to be drawn into a ruckus, but Chen will not allow this insult to go unpunished. A champion fighter, Chen visits the Japanese school to give back the sign, and proceeds to single-handedly beat down every student there. Suzuki (Riki Hashimoto), the master of the Japanese school, orders his students to torment the Chinese until they turn Chen over to them. But capturing Chen may prove difficult, seeing as he's vowed to seek out those responsible for his master's death, and won't rest until he can exact a little punishment of his own. 

The martial arts sequences scattered throughout The Chinese Connection (aka Fist of Fury) are explosive, and Bruce Lee is the reason why. After strolling into the Japanese school to return their insulting sign, Lee's Chen issues a challenge of his own, offering to fight anyone willing to face him. He easily defeats his first two opponents, only to find he's suddenly surrounded on all sides. Far from panicking, Lee slowly removes his shirt and, with determination in his eyes, proceeds to kick a whole lot of ass. He moves quick as lightning throughout this entire scene, polishing off one foe after another with the greatest of ease, but there's more to the character he plays in The Chinese Connection than his skills as a fighter. Lee's Chen also exudes a self-confidence that borders on cockiness, and whenever he's on-screen, it's damn near impossible to look away. 

To realize what Bruce Lee means to The Chinese Connection, one need look no further than a scene that occurs shortly after the one above, a scene that 
Lee himself doesn't even appear in. The Japanese, still smarting from the beating they've been dealt, show up at the Chinese school looking for Chen, and when they don't find him, it kicks off an all-out brawl between the students of each school. The fight's a good one, with plenty of action, but the sequence is missing Lee's energy, his personality, and instead feels like a melee you'd find in any other kung-fu film. It's Lee's very presence that lifts The Chinese Connection to a higher level, and his charisma that carries it far beyond the standard fare.


D'Angelo said...

Great wrap-up. One of my favorite movies. I'd love to know more about the feud between Bruce Lee and Wei Lo

Dave B. said...

D'Angelo: Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment!

While it doesn't contain anything specific regarding Lee's objections to the racism in THE CHINESE CONNECTION, the Book HONG KONG ACTION CINEMA, written by Bey Logan and published in 1995 by The Overlook Press, does contain the following (on page 29):

"It was during the making of FIST OF FURY (aka THE CHINESE CONNECTION) that tensions between director and star exploded into angry confrontations. 'After he'd given everyone their basic instructions for the scene, (Lo Wei) liked to listen to the racing on the radio', alleges Lam Ching Yung. 'He'd be sitting in the director's chair, getting all excited over his horse winning or losing. Finally, Bruce storms over to him "What are you doing? Okay, everybody go home!". In fact, we didn't wrap, but he made his point!'"

Hope this sheds a little light on it for you (kinda humorous, too).

Thanks again for the comment, and have a great day