Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting
Bruce Lee Double Feature: The Big Boss and Fist of Fury – DVD
Bruce Lee Double Feature: The Way of the Dragon and Game of Death – DVD
Jackie Chan Double Feature: Police Story and Police Story 2 – Blu-ray
Operation Condor – Blu-ray
Operation Condor 2: The Armour of God – Blu-ray
Project A – Blu-ray
Supercop – Blu-ray
By Brian M. Sammons
I’m going to take a break from the horror flicks today to shine a spotlight on another favorite genre of mine: martial arts movies. My older brother loved these films, so much so that he taught himself how to twirl around nunchucks at lightning speed, and I still remember the nicks and dings on the ceiling, and I’m sure on his skull too, from all his years of practice. So I inherited my appreciation of chopsocky flicks from him, and while I like martial art movies of all sorts, two stars always top my list of favorite furious film fighters: the original badass that brought kung-fu to the west; Bruce Lee, and the clown prince of crazy stunts; Jackie Chan. So you imagine how happy I was when I got a passel of Lee and Chan DVDs and Blu-rays in the mail from two different companies. At a combined 10 films, I let the monsters and madmen get some rest this last week, got my “wataaaaa” on and boy did I love it. So grab your nunchuks, your yellow jumpsuit, and in the case of Jackie Chan, anything you can put your hands on, and join me for this martial art movie marathon.
Let’s begin where we should, with Bruce Lee. Yes martial arts movies existed before him, but for all intents and purposes, not on this side of the globe. American born Bruce Lee began educating the western world in the art of kung-fu with his part as Kato in the Green Hornet TV show of the 1960s, but he had to go to Hong Kong and star in a handful of fantastic fighting films to achieve worldwide fame. Sadly dying far too young, he left a legacy of four and a half (more on that in a bit) amazing feature films and now Shout! Factory has released four of them on two new double feature DVDs.
The first DVD begins as it should with Lee’s first leading role in The Big Boss where Bruce played a simple working class guy going up against murdering drug dealers. The second feature on that DVD is Bruce Lee’s second movie, Fist of Fury where he takes on a whole Karate school of Japanese bullies who murdered his kung-fu teacher. The second DVD has The Way of the Dragon which is most famous for the epic showdown at the end between Bruce Lee and a then at-the-time still unknown Chuck Norris. Then there is Game of Death and this is that “half” movie I mentioned before. Lee started filming Game and shot such good fight scenes (including a very memorable one between himself and giant American basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) but then production was halted on that movie so Bruce could star in the bigger budgeted, US-funded Enter the Dragon. Sadly, Bruce Lee passed away before finishing Game of Death, so the producers of that film got a lookalike and had him pretend to be Bruce Lee, usually behind very large, very dark sunglasses. This film has some unintentional hilarity due to the filmmakers trying to constantly hide the new guy’s face, but it is still a pretty good flick.
For some reason, Shout! Factory did not rerelease the aforementioned Enter the Dragon, probably because they don’t own the rights to it. Still, all four of these previous films look great, with just a little bit of wear and tear around the edged showing. They all come English dubbed only, so purists may gnash their teeth over not being able to watch them in their original Chinese with subtitles. Also both double feature DVDs are barebones without a single extra to be found anywhere. Still, if you want to get a big time jump on building your own Bruce Lee library, this is a great and inexpensive way to do it.
Jumping forward in both date and format, Shout! Factory also recently released a double feature of Jackie’s Chan’s amazing Police Story and Police Story 2 on Blu-ray. The police story films could be considered to be Jackie’s signature series, as they have the most sequels, even if they’re not all titled as such in North America (more on that in a second). In these modern films, Jackie plays a Hong Kong inspector named Chan (big stretch there) taking on various thugs and gangsters. Now while Jackie Chan was no slouch when it came to fisticuffs, he was far more the action hero, filling his movies with amazing, eye-popping, “I can’t believe I just saw that” stunts that Jackie would perform himself, and Police Story 1 and 2 are both great introductions to the over the top action on Mr. Chan.
Both of these movies still look a bit grainy for Blu-ray, but everything is sharp and colorful and these are movies from Hong Kong that are nearly thirty years old. They do get a lot more love shown to them than the Bruce Lee films. They both have deleted scenes, outtakes and trailers, and the first Police Story also has an alternate ending and an extended opening. They also both have the ability to be watched in 5.1 dubbed English or 5.1 Cantonese and subtitled.
Jumping from Shout! Factory to Miramax released via Echo Bridge, are four more Jackie Chan action-fests on Blu-ray. The first is Super Cop, which is actually Police Story 3 retitled for American audiences who might not have seen the previous two films. This could be my favorite Jackie Chan movie ever. OK, that’s a tough call, so let’s say that it’s it the top five at least. In it, Inspector Chan teams up with a feisty female commie cop from mainland China played perfectly by Michelle Yeoh, who actually steals the show from Jackie on a number of instances when it comes to crazy stunts.
Speaking of retitling things, let’s talk about Operation Condor and Operation Condor 2: Armour of God, both of which are also out from Miramax/Echo Bridge. Both of these movies have Jackie playing the same character, “Asian Hawk” AKA Jackie (while Jackie is an action dynamo, he’s not that creative when coming up with character names) who is a comedic, kung-fu, treasure hunter. Armour of God was the first of these two films made, but Operation Condor was released in the US first, so when the previous movie finally came out over here, its title was changed so as to not confuse the average American action flick fan. Both of these movies are great with a ton of laughs, fights, and crazy OMG stunts, including one deceptively easy looking tree jumping stunt on Condor 2 that almost killed our star.
Lastly there is the earliest of these Jackie Chan movies, Project A from 1983. It is a 19th Century costumed period piece where Jackie plays a Coast Guard officer with the awesome name of Dragon Ma who is charged with defeating murderous pirates who rule the water surrounding Hong Kong. Out of all the Chan movies discussed here, this is my least favorite, but it is still very good and full of the trademark Jackie Chan high-stake hijinks.
Sadly, while all four of these Blu-rays from Echo Bridge look great, they are completely void of any and all extras. However Echo Bridge is known for their barging priced discs and these are no exception. You can get all these great Jackie Chan Blu-rays for next to nothing, so for me, that’s a no-brainer.
All of these movies, both Lee and Chan, from both Shout! Factory and Echo Bridge, are mandatory must haves for any action/martial arts fan. This here is the good stuff, folks. They’re the classic fight films you grew up with, the ones that put martial arts movies on the map and raised the bar for all that would follow. Consider all of these movies highly recommended.