Rated R for lots of violence, including blood and stabbing. But the big thing that seems to aim for an R rating comes from the completely unnecessary nudity that is in the first ten minutes of the movie. The protagonist accidentally visits a prostitute and that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie. It's done as a joke, but it involves full body nudity. Also, the movie is very 1970s homophobic. That stereotype is gross. R.
DIRECTOR: Bruce Lee
Do you understand how close I was to getting a break from blogging? I had finished my round of movies and was starting my TV watching...and then they announced the Academy Awards. So no break for me for a long time. But as part of that, I find myself writing about The Way of the Dragon when I should be writing about the Best Pictures. Seriously, I now have Sound of Metal on my To-Do list and I have to write about The Way of the Dragon.
This is a huge step back. I enjoyed The Big Boss, for all of its cornballery. I enjoyed Fist of Fury. It wasn't a perfect movie, but it was an improvement over the first film in the box set. But The Way of the Dragon really highlights the weaknesses of Bruce Lee's work. He kind of keeps making the same movie over and over again. With the case of Fist of Fury, there is an attempt, albeit slightly cheaply, to do something larger than the format. But The Way of the Dragon kind of finds safety in exploitation films and it just rings as blah. The Way of the Dragon is the same film: a group of gangsters is harassing the locals. The locals wish that they could fight back, so this awkward guy who knows Chinese boxing comes to town and beats everyone up. The bad guys get the leg up and Bruce Lee has to save everyone. With the case of The Way of the Dragon, there's even less story than normal. It actually has to repeat beats simply to fill in the length of a film.
So the movie is formatted in the case of: gangsters attack Chinese restaurant. Bruce Lee beats those guys up. They come back and try again. But this keeps happening over and over again. Like, so many times. Lee confronts the big boss, says that if it happens again, he's coming after him, and then the guy comes after him again. That threat becomes more and more empty until the final act. Why doesn't Tang Lung just beat up the boss? It's not like Tang Lung has a moral code. With The Big Boss, there was this arbitrary code of honor that the protagonist had to enforce. But the criminals keep on escalating the situation and the movie really stresses that Tang Lung gives these guys ultimatums. He is constantly beating guys up. Why does the big boss get a pass in this one?
I really have a problem with the twist. Maybe it was because I didn't see it coming and it was what the movie needed. But the twist doesn't make a lick of sense. Uncle Wang murders his entire staff of guys who are looking out for Uncle Wang. They are trying to force Uncle Wang out of a restaurant that he doesn't want to sell. So when Tang Lung disappears to go fight Chuck Norris, Uncle Wang (I mean, his name forshadows everything!) just stabs them all. What? I mean, I was waiting for an explanation for why he does this change of character in the final act. But apparently, Uncle Wang wanted to payoff all along. He wanted to live high on the hog in Hong Kong instead of struggling in Italy (Why is the movie in Italy?). There's a million ways to handle this moment without Uncle Wang becoming a straight up bad guy. I mean, why didn't he just take the money when it was first offered to him? Why did they call Tang Lung's uncle to get help from him to begin with? Also, you are totally allowed to sell your restaurant anytime you want. There's literally no law against that. Like, this jaw dropping moment totally helps the film if there is even a modicum of sense behind it. What if the Boss threatened to kill Chen? That would make sense. Sure, it would make the character more sympathetic and Bruce Lee wanted to have Uncle Wang get his comeuppance. But it succccckkkkkssss...
Finally, I'm going to do my favorite thing and take the unnecessary moral high ground. I think back to Diamonds are Forever with Mr. Winn and Mr. Kidd. There is a history to demonizing the homosexual character and The Way of the Dragon is remarkably shameless about this. Yeah, I get it. 1972. It was a different time. But there's nothing funny about Ho (yeah, I'm reading it too.) I don't think I can remember a more unlikable character. Golly, the movie is very uncomfortable with masculinity that it has to make this joke all the way through the movie. It's very one note and just makes this movie go from dumb to gross.
Maybe I just had expectations that Criterion would include the best of the best in this box set. I'm sure that there are people who swear by this movie, perhaps only because Bruce Lee fights Chuck Norris. But it is a really bad movie that I found myself yawning throughout. I wanted to like it, especially considering that the next movie is the excellent Enter the Dragon. But this feels like such a cheap movie and it is going to be this definite shift to get to a level of quality that is expected from Criterion.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.