Eating Words

Chen Zhen’s master is already dead when Fist of Fury begins; he’s never seen on screen, other than in portrait memorial. The hatred is instant.

Fist of Fury uses vengeance as a base for this kung-fu formula, setting conflict between rival schools during the early 1900s. So many Chinese imports followed this story, pitting students against one another, or struggling to learn. It’s traditional. Fist of Fury adds layers to this routine, less about training than discipline and anger when facing discrimination.

The script isn’t subtle, lashing out against Imperial Japanese occupation, including a key sequence in which Zhen (Bruce Lee) is refused entry to a park. Zhen strikes those denying him rights, then symbolically shattering a, “No Chinese” sign via showy leaping kick. This racism is entirely nationalist; the Japanese see themselves as superior, mocking Zhen’s school, even as they mourn their leader.

… this isn’t about making China look better, just equal. Fist of Fury isn’t about national pride

Unlike the previous year’s The Big Boss, Lee isn’t as restrained. He’s held back for a moment, but is soon isolated, turning to brutality and refusing to stop even as his school begs for peace. Like Big Boss, it’s another morality parable, debating violence through entertaining fight choreography, yet Fist of Fury’s tone comes up against harsher action. It’s visually darker, and lets Lee blast foes with nunchucks, splitting heads open, or stomping on their faces once knocked down.

In those brawls, Fist of Fury stages intense, gorgeously precise martial arts. At times, it’s not without camp value, including Lee swinging two obvious dummies and lifting an entire cart. Lee is too imposing to lose credibility, and this is the movie where he first established his form. He’s as meticulous when rapidly fending off 10 guys as he is dissecting a single opponent’s defense. Golden Harvest’s stock sound effects somehow elevate when backed by Lee’s strikes, their stinging impact pairing with each hit.

There’s cause – the two schools represent China and Japan in total. Told in hindsight, Lee’s Zhen casts doubt as to the Chinese response. Although more skilled as a fighter, Zhen doesn’t proclaim superiority. From his perspective, this isn’t about making China look better, just equal. Fist of Fury isn’t about national pride; violence is a necessary reaction, but one coming at a cost, making Zhen a folk hero.

Video

Drawn from a new 4K master, detail reaches an incredible high point. Texture in close captures everything, whether skin, hair, or clothes. Medium shots showing crowded students maintain the same stability, making sure each person is visible and identifiable. Pristine source material shows no damage and a brilliantly rendered, natural grain structure.

Dense color convincingly looks organic, and still brings added pop. High saturation packs flesh tones with warmth. Some stained glass at the school shows the palette’s width. Deep blue uniforms separate from hard shadows thanks to the cranking up of color.

Further helping, rich contrast paired with striking black levels, both preserving detail at their peaks. Regularly achieving pure black, dimensionality never wavers.

Audio

English, Cantonese, and original Mandarin fill the audio options, all in PCM. Each is rough and treble-y, lacking finesse, if understandably limited by the dubbing utilized in all Hong Kong productions from the period.

Minimal range guides the score, enough to balance against fights and dialog, but little else.

Extras

Mike Leeder takes on commentary duties for this one, author Matthew Polly up next in a 10-minute video essay. A newer 18-minute interview with co-star Nora Miao discusses her part and working with Lee. A series of older interviews include Riki Hashimoto, Jun Katsumura, and Yuen Wah. Together, that trio run around 40-minutes combined. An alternate opening and trailer remain.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Fists of Fury
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4

Movie

Angry and hostile, Fist of Fury brings Bruce Lee to the screen in his purest form, fighting against Japanese occupation

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