Following the phenomenal success of Bruce Lee's first martial arts film, the shoddy FISTS OF FURY (1971, aka THE BIG BOSS), producer Raymond Chow doubled the budget and reteamed Lee with writer-director Lo Wei for THE CHINESE CONNECTION, a vastly entertaining improvement over the first
Shanghai in the early 1900s. A kung fu student named Chen (Bruce Lee) returns to his martial arts school and is shocked to discover that his teacher is dead. He's told that the teacher died of pneumonia, but he suspects foul play, and becomes despondent. The school is visited by a Japanese man
named Wu (Wei Ping Ao), who works for Susuki (Riki Hashimoto), the head of a rival school. Wu insults the Chinese race and challenges the students to a duel. Although Chen wants to fight back, he's stopped by the other students who don't want to dishonor their late teacher's name. Chen goes to the
Japanese school by himself and takes on the entire class, beating them all into submission. The Japanese retaliate by destroying the Chinese school and demand that Chen be turned over to them.
The students decide to send Chen away, but he discovers that the school's cook and another man are really Japanese posing as Chinese, and he overhears them reveal that they poisoned the teacher. Chen kills them both, disguises himself as a rickshaw driver and disposes of Wu, then poses as a
telephone repairman and goes to the Japanese school, where he sees Petrov (Robert Baker), a huge Russian that Susuki has brought in to help him. Later, Chen returns to the Japanese school undisguised and kills Susuki's sword-wielding bodyguard, then defeats Petrov after a long, brutal fight, and
finally kills Susuki. The Japanese ambassador demands that Chen be apprehended, and the Chinese police inspector reluctantly goes to arrest him. Chen agrees to surrender after the inspector promises that the Chinese school will be left alone, but when he goes outside and sees a mob of gun-toting
Japanese, he defiantly runs towards them, leaps into the air, and screams.
When Bruce Lee's first two Hong Kong martial arts movies, THE BIG BOSS (1971) and FIST OF FURY (1972), were acquired for American distribution in 1973, they were dubbed and retitled, with the former--about drug-running--to be called THE CHINESE CONNECTION to capitalize on the popularity of THE
FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), and the latter to be called FISTS OF FURY. For some reason, however, not only were they released in reverse order, but their new titles were inadvertently switched, thus, the first one became FISTS OF FURY, while the second one became THE CHINESE CONNECTION (even though
it had previously played in Manhattan's Chinatown in 1972 under its original title). Despite its convoluted history, THE CHINESE CONNECTION is much better than its predecessor, both in terms of film craft and sheer entertainment value. Writer-director Lo Wei served as production designer as well
(and also plays the sympathetic Inspector), and gives the film a handsome, stylized look, even if most of the exteriors are clearly studio sets, and the inaccuracies of the unspecified early 20th-century period setting (anywhere between 1908 and the 1920s) create a number of amusing anachronisms,
such the modern clothing designs, and the telephones.
The mysterious murder of a legendary Chinese martial arts teacher has its basis in historical fact and takes on a greater significance by the very effective caricatures of the Japanese as depraved racists. The Japanese ambassador has a Hitler mustache; Susuki and his associates get drunk and
slobber over a geisha girl; Wu tries to provoke the Chinese students by saying the "Chinese are a race of weaklings. There is no comparison to us Japanese;" and when Chen tries to go into a park, he sees a sign that reads "No dogs or Chinese." Lee was perhaps the first Asian actor whose fierce
sense of national pride and dignity became an intrinsic element of his films, and the fight scenes become emotionally as well as physically powerful when he finally explodes after suffering insults and ridicule. The set-piece where Chen first goes to Susuki's school and wipes out the entire class
is an action classic, excitingly filmed in a combination of slow-motion, angular overhead shots, lateral tracking shots, and rapid-fire editing. When Chen is surrounded, he rips off his shirt, sneers, and whips out his nunchakas, the lethal chain-sticks that Lee made famous. The climactic duels
with Petrov and Susuki are superbly staged and performed, and feature the celebrated image of Lee's waving hands appearing to leave a psychedelic trail. Besides the breathtaking displays of martial arts, Lee even gets to do a little acting in the film, beyond his usual intense glowering, showing a
light comedy touch in the scene where he masquerades as the simple-minded, glasses-wearing telephone repairman. Despite its inherent shortcomings, THE CHINESE CONNECTION is arguably the purest and most enjoyable example of Lee's art. (Graphic violence.)
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- Released: 1972
- Rating: R
- Review: Following the phenomenal success of Bruce Lee's first martial arts film, the shoddy FISTS OF FURY (1971, aka THE BIG BOSS), producer Raymond Chow doubled the budget and reteamed Lee with writer-director Lo Wei for THE CHINESE CONNECTION, a vastly entertain… (more)