An electric atmosphere reigns in the center of the dojo. Chen Zhen — Bruce lee’s Chinese character — stands bare-chested, with all his muscles tensed and the fire of wrath burning in his eyes. He is surrounded by a whole group of Japanese martial arts disciples, outraged by his cocky intrusion and ready to give him a bone-breaking lesson. Finally, when two of his opponents decide to attack, one of the best group fights of all kung fu movies in history begins.
Attacked simultaneously from all quarters, Bruce Lee sends kicks at incredible speed and with a deadly precision. To the great displeasure of the Japanese, he switches flawlessly between powerful fist blows and unstoppable throwing techniques. As if in a trance, he concludes all combo moves with his high-pitched — yet fearsome — scream.
At some point, a blow lands on his back and dashes him against the floor. There is actually no time to wonder if that really hit him as he gets backs on his feet right away, holding an ominous nunchaku firmly in his hand.
That’s when everything stops.
That’s when you hold your breath because you know that something insane is about to happen.
Fist of Fury, or how to make the most out of a classic kung fu movie storyline
This is just one of many stunning scenes in Fist of Fury.
The movie’s plot is pretty straightforward. In the Shanghai of the early twentieth century, the prominent founder of a kung fu school dies mysteriously. Chen Zhen, his most gifted student, at first just wants to fight to protect the late master’s honor. However, he quickly finds himself investigating what appears to be a murder.
Apart from the classic revenge story, two things bring depth to the movie.
First there is the historical context. The Japanese occupation is particularly humiliating for the locals. All the villains — the evil invaders — are depicted as caricatures: thin mustache, oily hair, stupidly arrogant… you get the full package. Yet, some scenes, like the one at the entrance of a park where there is a sign reading “No dogs and Chinese allowed”, strike the viewer by the injustice displayed.
A special note about the Chinese traitor’s character: he is so loathsome that you feel as if you could jump into the movie and beat him up, although he is the only weakling, so you would not deserve much credit.
Next, there is the love story between the hero and his childhood fiancee. It allows Bruce Lee to act, and shows that he could be convincing when it was least expected.
Straying from the path
In addition to this romantic subplot, the main character is engaging because he does not follow his beloved master’s rules. He has been taught that kung fu is all about training your body to be in good shape, being of sound mind, and staying away from trouble. Regardless, Bruce Lee’s character goes on a killing spree because he is angry as hell. Losing his teacher, feeling humiliated, and being betrayed fuel his will to fight.
The fight scenes are incredibly well executed, especially those with weapons. Watching Bruce Lee’s fluid moves when he repeatedly dodges a samurai sword, it’s hard to believe that the movie is actually 40 years old. That takes me to my final point: Fist of Fury has been a blueprint for the making of all kung fu movies since its release. You ought to see this film, not only for the great performance of The Little Dragon, but for its legacy of martial arts in cinema.