Bruce Lee wrote, directed, and stars in THE WAY OF THE DRAGON, a routine martial arts film that's distinguished by some excellent fight sequences, including a grand finale in the Roman Coliseum with Chuck Norris.
Martial arts master Tang Lung (Bruce Lee) travels from Hong Kong to Rome to help family friend Chen (Nora Miao), whose Chinese restaurant is being threatened by gangsters who are trying to get her land. Mobster Mr. Ho (Wei Ping Ao) comes to the restaurant and scares some customers away, then
threatens Wang (Wang Chung Hsin), Chen's uncle, that they have one more day to sell out or the restaurant will be destroyed. Four thugs come in and start a fight with the waiters, but Tang takes them all on and beats them. The Boss (Jon T. Benn) goes to the restaurant with some more thugs, but
Tang incapacitates them by throwing wooden darts at their gun hands, then whips them with two pairs of nunchaku. When Tang takes Chen home, a sniper shoots at them, and while Tang chases him away, Chen is kidnapped. Tang and the waiters go to the gang's headquarters and rescue Chen after another
While the Boss brings in martial arts experts from around the world to defeat Tang, Ho goes to the restaurant to apologize and arrange a peace meeting. When Tang, Uncle Wang, and the waiters get to the meeting, they find that it is a trap and a Japanese Hap-Ki-Do master (Whang Ing Sik) and an
American karate expert (Robert Wall) are there. After a long and brutal fight, Tang and the waiters are victorious, but Uncle Wang stabs the waiters and reveals that he has sold out to the mobsters. Ho runs off and leads Tang to the Roman Coliseum, where he finds karate champion Colt (Chuck
Norris) waiting for him. The two men begin their duel and Colt initially gains the upper hand with a series of kicks to Tang's head, but Tang recovers and breaks Colt's leg with a kick. Colt futilely tries to stand on it, then rushes at Tang, who snaps his neck. Tang chases Ho back to Uncle Wang,
and the Boss shoots at them all, killing Ho and Uncle Wang, but the police arrive and Tang escapes unharmed. After attending the family funerals with Chen, Tang walks away alone.
THE WAY OF THE DRAGON was filmed before Lee's American film ENTER THE DRAGON (1973), but released after it and retitled RETURN OF THE DRAGON so as to seem like a sequel. In his one and only attempt at direction, Lee reveals himself to be no more or less inept than most kung fu film directors in the non-fight sequences, with travelogue footage of Rome and cartoonish expository scenes merely filling out the plot, but he also displays a taut style during the action sequences and an expectedly reverential and spiritual approach to the martial arts scenes, for which
he was also the choreographer. Lee also exhibits the shy and self-effacing side of his screen persona, such as when Tang first arrives in Rome and embarrasses Chen with his country bumpkin behavior. There is also a surprising amount of comedy in the film, some of it intentionally campy--such as
the effeminate Mr. Ho ogling Tang's physique, or when one of the thugs exclaims "Mama Mia" and knocks himself out with the nunchaku; and some of it is unintentional--such as the exaggerated black dialect and slang of one of the thugs.
The Coliseum finale with Colt is shot and staged like a Sergio Leone gunfight (replete with Ennio Morricone's music, stolen from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST). After a slow warm-up where the men stretch and prepare for the battle like two ancient Roman warriors, the fight begins, and Lee
alternates extreme close-ups with imposing panoramic longshots, cutting to a wide-eyed kitten for amazed reaction shots. The fight itself is masterful, with Lee allowing Chuck Norris to display his own prowess at first, then, after yanking off a fistful of Colt's chest hair and blowing it in the
wind, Tang begins to destroy him. After he breaks Colt's leg, he tries to get him to surrender by shaking his head "no," but Colt smiles and continues his attack, and Tang is forced to kill him. Tang is genuinely upset afterwards, and honors his opponent by covering his body with his tunic and
black belt. THE WAY OF THE DRAGON is far from a perfect movie, or even Lee's best, but it shows that he may have developed into an original and talented filmmaker. (Violence, profanity.)
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- Released: 1973
- Rating: R
- Review: Bruce Lee wrote, directed, and stars in THE WAY OF THE DRAGON, a routine martial arts film that's distinguished by some excellent fight sequences, including a grand finale in the Roman Coliseum with Chuck Norris. Martial arts master Tang Lung (Bruce Lee)… (more)