Way of the Dragon (Return of the Dragon) (1972)
Way of the Dragon (Return of the Dragon) (1972)

Genre: Martial Arts Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.

Release Date: August 14th, 1972 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Bruce Lee Actors: Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Nora Miao, Paul Wei Ping-Ao, Wang Chung Hsin, Robert Wall, Ing-Sik Whang, Ti Chin, Tony Liu, Malisa Longo

 


 

C

hen Ching Hua (Nora Miao) previously inherited a prosperous restaurant, which is now regularly tended to by her kind Uncle Wang (Wang Chung Hsin) and the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing Ah Quen (Ti Chin). So, when a big syndicate offers to buy the land, she refuses. But they won’t listen to reason, instead opting to hire thugs (who disappear as soon as the authorities arrive) to loiter around the property and scare away customers. As her money dwindles, Chen grows fearful of losing her frightened employees and, ultimately, her business. But her uncle’s friend, Tang Lung (Bruce Lee) from Hong Kong, arrives in Rome to assist her. She’s dubious of his hidden talents, but he’s confident in his abilities.

When hordes of goons shuffle in and out of the establishment, picking fights with the angry but defenseless restaurant staff, Chen is given an ultimatum – to answer the request to sell by that evening. Lung gives the bullies a taste of their own medicine, but it merely provokes greater numbers and more formidable fighters to descend on the building. But the evil boss’ (Jon T. Benn) intimidation tactics rapidly lose their persuasiveness as Lung manages to avoid repeated assassination attempts. This calls for the purchase of real mercenaries, including Colt (Chuck Norris), the best warrior from America, accompanied by his towering student Bob (Robert Wall) and a Japanese karate master, played by Ing-Sik Whang (he’s said to be a Korean hapkido master on the poster art).

From the start, spunky xylophone-infused music inspires a humorous tone, like that of Jackie Chan’s late ‘70s features. Under the writing, direction, and producing of Bruce Lee, “Way of the Dragon” allocates time for plenty of levity, as his lead character embarks upon a comical acclimation to the city – involving trading forced expressions with Italian beauty Malisa Longo in an exercise of loosening up, and gradually warming up to disapproving love interest Chen. The fight sequences themselves are also tinged with comedy, especially when villains are overwhelmed by Lee’s initial techniques; when they feign toughness during duels with the master; and when the employees are grossly unready for his physical demonstrations.

As further examples of lightheartedness, just as Lung is about to engage in what promises to be a riotous Chinese boxing routine, Wang barges in to announce that dinner guests need to be served. Similarly, just after a gang of ruffians have ousted the customers and tossed around threats, Lung bumps into the leader – the extremely effeminate and ridiculous Mr. Ho (Paul Wei Ping-Ao) – but then apologizes and parts ways. Serious altercations present themselves, too, commencing with the joint’s holdup while Lung goes sightseeing, and when Chuck Norris makes his now famous initial appearance – but the comic sequences feel more abundant. The film does, however, begin with some extremely weird opening title graphics (and music full of chanting, which attempts to strike up enthusiasm through heavy percussion), but this is likely the nonsensical imagery added for the American release (under the title “Return of the Dragon”), with its expectedly bad dubbing.

Like “Enter the Dragon,” the mention of firearms puts martial arts effectiveness into perspective, though Lee is also keen on showing the disarmament tactics of unarmed men combating unprepared, gun-toting hoods. He even smiles at his enemies before doling out amusing retribution. And as for the story, it’s a lifeless setup for action, with simple people becoming easily confused and trapped, paired with a distinct absence of death that betrays the severity of the encounters. Meanwhile, Lee’s fighting style lacks the flamboyance and creative props of later martial arts endeavors. But in a lot of ways, it’s much more realistic. Still, his maneuvers possess a speed and a powerful screen presence that are nicely augmented by Lee’s charisma, evident through multiple showdowns and a memorable final fray (with lots of commendable stretching and warm-ups, plus bizarre shots of a tiny kitten who trades zooms with Norris and Lee) in the iconic ruins of the Colosseum.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10