"Shout Factory's Bruce Lee Legacy Collection
Blu-Ray/DVD 11 Disc Combo Set"
Shout Exclusive until Dec 31, 2013 Included in this 11 disc set (4 Blu-rays, 7 DVDs, including 3 DVDs of pure bonus content)
"The Big Boss" 1971/RATED R/
1 HOUR 40 MINUTES
"Fists Of Fury" 1972/RATED R/
1 HOUR 47 MINUTES
"The Way Of The Dragon" 1972/RATED R/
1 HOUR 39 MINUTES
"Game Of Death" 1979/RATED R/
1 HOUR 39 MINUTES.
Aspect Ratio For Each Film: 2:35:1
This review will focus on the films and a brief look into the sets' exhaustive features.
This year marks the 40th Anniversary of one of the more exciting and visually stunning action films in the career of a man that was cut way too short. I'm talking about the legendary Martial Artist and charismatic budding superstar, the late Bruce Lee and that film was Warner Bros. "Enter The Dragon", which is still and rightfully so, regarded as one the greatest martial arts films ever made. Before "Enter The Dragon" made him the legend that he now is and cemented his legacy, Lee had made three and a half (if you include the actual filmed portions of "Game Of Death, which I will discuss later on) that were major hits overseas and then became really popular here once they were imported by Columbia Pictures for American audiences.
Starting with "The Big Boss" aka. "Fists Of Fury" (U.S. Title), Lee stars as Cheng, a young farmer who brought to Shanghai to work at a factory with his cousins after a bit of trouble in which he has to wear a jade charm around his neck to keep him in check. Soon after, members of the family start do disappear without a trace from the factory after the discovery of drugs being shipped in blocks of ice. Chen's temper and suspicions start to get the better of him after a "sudden" promotion at the factory that include the "The Big Boss" behind everything. A lethal confrontation for his survival and the surviving members of his family, Chen takes on "The Big Boss" to put an end to everything. The film was a big hit with American audiences and soon went wild for Lee's excellent follow up.
"Fists Of Fury" aka. "The Chinese Connection (U.S. Title) Lee returns as Chen Zhen, a former student of a beloved teacher who has died under mysterious circumstances. Enraged as to why no one knows how, why and by whom his beloved instructor died, Chen and his temper's suspicions lead to a rival Japanese Martial Arts school that is looking for their school to close and put an imprint that their style is vastly superior to theirs. Angrily, he confronts the school and it's instructors putting a major hurt and sending a message that soon endangers his friends and his true love in the process. Eventually, he does find out who's behind it and immediately prompts his plan for revenge and put an end to the Japanese stronghold which includes a confrontation with a massive Russian Martial Artist and the leader of the rival school that features very memorable moments.
By the time, "The Way Of The Dragon" aka. "Return Of The Dragon (U.S.Title) was released, Lee was a star and pretty much was given carte' blanche to do any project he saw fit and after disagreements on his prior two films with director Lo Wei, Lee decided to write, direct and star in this film. The film is easily the lightest of the bunch in terms of its' tone despite some fun moments of action including one of the more unforgettable fights in movie history. Lee stars as Tang who's sent by his Uncle Wang to Rome to help a young resturanteur (Nora Miao) who's being harrassed by the Mafia into giving up her business or give them a percentage of it. With the Mafia sending their clumsy goons to harrass them, Tang disposes of them easily to the surprise of young woman and the staff, who he takes under his wing to teach them how to defend themselves. The Mafia soon ups the ante in hiring three of the best Martial Artists in the world that include "Enter The Dragon's" Bob Wall (the film's memorable villian, O'Hara) and legendary action star Chuck Norris to challenge him. The fight is one of the greatest filmed on screen in the Roman Coliseum is visual spectacular and the real great highlight of the film.
After Lee's untimely passing after the premiere of "Enter The Dragon" in August 1973, "Game Of Death" was in the principle stages of filming. What was shot was the brutal fight with Hall of Fame Basketball star and legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which was recreated visually in "The Warrior's Journey" documentary. The film was dead for several years until producer Raymond Chow decided to bring it back to life using he footage that was shot and integrating a lookalike along with a revised, reworked screenplay to complete the film and cash in on his popularity like alot of martial arts films had been doing with actors named "Bruce Li" or "Bruce Lie" as I call him. The film revolves around Lee, a movie star named Billy Lo, who's being extorted by a Mob syndicate to pay them and ultimately work with them. He refuses. He puts his girlfriend Ann (Colleen Camp) and his life in danger and after faking his death, Billy. Comes up with a plan to finish the syndicate, but there's a major snag to it. Billy has to go through different levels battling one opponent after the other to get to the leader. The fights are brutal and vicious and are the lone major highlight of the film which is terribly uneven and most of the characters aren't your typical Lee opponents that you would call intimidating except for Jabbar, who was perfectly cast by Lee himself before his passing.
Each film has very strong attributes and good visual fights, the best one in opinion is still "Fists Of Fury" because the story is very compelling and Lee really shines above the material that at times is a little clunky in parts. "The Way Of The Dragon" is very enjoyable for what it is: light, playful fun with a great and memorable fight. "The Big Boss" is easily the more vicious and action oriented of this original group that is very dark and at times a little too bloody for his films. "Game Of Death" is easily the worst of all of them because they tried to cash out on Lee's legacy and with what had been a brilliant conception by Lee but ultimately became a badly misguided mess.
The picture quality really varies and remember these films were shot way before the digital revolution and it does show its' age.The best of the bunch is "Fist of Fury" by far an upgrade over the original Fox DVD that was mastered off the laserdisc non-anamorphic presentation. The worst really has to go to "The Way Of The Dragon" which looks a little too soft at times than its' DVD counterpart with "Game of Death" not too far behind. The best aspect is definitely the fact that all the films are presented in their original aspect anamorphic ratio and the sound is very good as well. Not potent, but serviceable with "Game of Death" being the best bringing out John Barry's percussive score to life (check out the "Bike Fight Sequence" and that thundering percussion and brass)and "The Big Boss" not too far behind that one with Peter Thomas' fun, hip 70's mod score shining through.
A list of the plethora of Special Features that are included in this massive set.
DVD Disc One: Bruce Lee: The Man, The Legend (Running Time: 1 Hour 22 Minutes) The actual title of this 1973 film is "Bruce Lee: The Man And The Legend", made in the wake of the shock after Lee's untimely death. This Hong Kong documentary takes a rather detailed look at Lee, seen here mostly as an almost quasi-martyr for some undefined "cause", but it is unintentionally ironic at least a few times. The fascinating footage of Lee's Hong Kong funeral opens the film and as a portentous narrator intones about the "dignified rituals of the ceremony", Lee's widow is barraged by scores of paparazzi manically snapping pictures of her. The funeral scenes, while undeniably compelling, also seem on the exploitative side. It's heart tugging to see a very young Brandon, probably too young to really understand what's going on, ushered in to view his father's coffin, and to realize what awaited him as an adult. The documentary follows this up with a look at Lee's home and possessions and then veers into more traditional talking head territory, with interviews with a number of his friends and mentors.
Bruce Lee: The Legend (Running Time:1 Hour 26 Minutes). This 1977 documentary is almost more of a hagiography than anything, beginning with a sort of quasi-mythological setting from which Lee emerges. But though the sanctifying of Lee is perhaps the documentary's single most salient fault, in other ways this is probably the most complete, Biography style, piece on Lee available, starting with his childhood and moving through his brief adult life. There's a ton of really interesting archival video here, including shots of Lee's family and even Lee himself as a child actor. Probably unavoidably considering the fact there's a finite amount of Lee footage available, this piece repeats some things that are found in the 1973 piece. Perhaps surprisingly, the elements here are in much worse shape than the 1973 piece, with lots of scratches and other damage, and jumpy video and audio at times.
DVD Disc Two: "I Am Bruce Lee" (Running Time: 1 Hour 34 Minutes).
It's a little odd that Shout! included this as a DVD on this set, since they only recently released this title on Blu-ray. While this is the most recent of the documentaries included in this set, it's in some ways the least relevant, with only the reminiscences of Lee's widow really hitting home in any meaningful way. While this has a lot of interesting archival footage, it lapses into self-serving talking heads segments way too often, with a glut of Lee wannabes, including a bunch of UFC stars,figuratively looking in a mirror and pretending they see Lee.
The disc also contains the following bonus features:
- Backyard Training: Bruce Lee's Personal Films (11:26)
- Inspiration—Bruce Lee's Global Impact (3:11)
- Bruce Lee in Action (4:50) Theatrical Trailer (1:41)
- Bruce Lee's Hollywood Audition (9:02)
DVD Disc Three/Bonus Features include:
- Game of Death Revised: Bob Wall Talks About His Experiences on Game of Death (28:46)
- Way of the Dragon: Bob Wall Talks About His Movie Debut (13:38)
- Master of the Game with Dan Inosanto (25:12)
- Legacy of the Dragon (46:48) is a British television documentary on Lee.
- The Grandmaster and the Dragon: William Cheung and Bruce Lee (54:37)
- Return of the Dragon in 60 Seconds (1:00)
- Bruce Lee Remembered (50:55) Features interviews with actors Anthony Delongis, Byron Mann, Dustin Nguyen, Director Gareth Evans, and Jason McNeil.
- Fist of Fury Interviews (43:21) include Nora Miao, Riki Hashimoto and Jun Katsumura.
- Still Galleries featuring a huge assortment of stills from all of Lee's films and many of his television appearances.
Note: In the set provided to me, DVDs Two and Three (numbers 10 and 11in the set) were reversed and mislabeled, such as, "I Am Bruce Lee" was labeled as Bonus Features and vice versa, with both discs in the correct slot for that particular number( the disc labeled "I Am Bruce Lee" was in the Disc 10 slot, but it actually contained Bonus Features, and vice versa). I don't know if this has been corrected yet, but I will assume that Shout! will correct it for its' wide release of the set in the future.
Now more not so good things about the set. The subtitles are way off and don't match what's on screen and its' almost like you're watching terrible Rosetta Stone translation at work. The Fox box sets got them nearly perfect in terms of an accurate translation with a few loose exceptions which was a major plus for those sets.
The commentary is awful! Just plain awful and it sounds like it was done via Skype or off a digital voice recorder complete with digital distortion and feedback. Why couldn't they just get a Bruce Lee historian/expert that would've been able to record it in a studio or grab some fanboys or actors such as what MGM had done with their Special Edition of "Road House" with Writer/Director Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier doing commentary or Paramount with "Mommie Dearest" featuring a great commentary by Director John Waters, who's a huge fan of that film and it clearly showed. Definitely avoid this commentary if possible and when it comes to the actual language audio track, definitely stick to the original US audio track that was used on the Fox DVD's and home videos in the past. Clearly the best one without question.
The packaging is another major issue in that it really takes an effort to pull out each disc without having a fingerprint smudge on the disc each time you want to play them. Otherwise, it's a beautiful presentation featuring rare photos, stills of each production including "Enter The Dragon" not included here as Warner Bros. has released their own "40th Anniversary Edition" of the film this past summer. This is a fairly large hardbook digipak that does protect the discs fairly well despite the trouble it causes to take them out.
This is a faithful and worthwhile upgrade of these films which are only slightly better than the two prior Twentieth Century-Fox box sets, but those are still worth having because of the subtitle issues and the packaging which made it easier to get to each disc without any trouble. I do recommend it because I love Lee's films and they're still fun to watch and with Shout Factory's excellent in reissuing these titles going the extra mile for them, it really is worth it despite its' flaws. A great companion piece to Warner's "Enter The Dragon" 40th Anniversary" and for a must for fans of the late legend.