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Bruce Lee Ultimate DVD Collection
NOTE: Please be aware that this DVD is a Chinese import and is coded for Region 3 DVD players. In order to view this DVD, you'll have to have either a Region 3 coded or Region Free DVD player. It will not play in standard Region 1 North American DVD players.
Everyone knows who Bruce Lee is. Do you know why? Because he is the king. Yes, it's true, Sonny Chiba is my all time favorite martial arts movie man, but I've got to give credit where credit is due, and it's due to Bruce right now – he's the man. And here, in all their digitally re-mastered glory, are the main reasons why:
The Big Boss (aka Fists of Fury) - 1971
In Bruce Lee's first starring role, we find him playing a young man named Cheng who moves from the city to a small town where his cousins live so that he can work with them at the local ice factory. Cheng, before he leaves the city he grew up in, makes a solemn oath to his family to never fight again, no matter what.
Cheng is forced to break this promise though, when a few members of his family start to mysteriously disappear once the y have a run in with the management of the factory. It turns out that the men in charge of the plant are in fact drug dealers, and after the ill effects that this has on his family, Chegn decides to take it upon himself to break his promise and take down the slime balls who are causing so many problems for his family at the factory.
This one takes a little while to pick up steam, but once it does, boy howdy, watch out. Lee shows the world in his feature film debut why he is the baddest of the bad and the Big Boss himself is really no contest to this little man here, a man who is pissed off enough to take matters into his own hands and solve them once and for all. In short, here Lee is an instrument of vengeance sticking up for his family and for those who have been wronged by organized crime, something that would prove to be a recurring theme throughout his short career.
Fist of Fury (a.k.a. The Chinese Connection) - 1972
Better known in North America as The Chinese Connection, Fists Of Fury (not to be confused with The Big Boss, which is better known in North America as Fists Of Fury …confusing, I know) is in my opinion Bruce Lee's finest moment. Yes, it's a very traditional martial arts film and yes, he got a lot more creative in his later movies, but Lee in this film is the very embodiment of vengeance and he delivers such an amazing amount of anger into his performance that even if he had never made another movie he'd still truly deserve all of the accolades bestowed upon him for this film alone.
Chen Zhen (Bruce Lee) is an aspiring martial artist in training who returns to his dojo one day to find that his teacher has been killed. Chen quickly runs to his teacher's grave and digs up the body, overpower by grief and rage. When a competing Japanese school begins to tease Chen's school over their loss during the ensuing funeral, Chen loses it and once the funeral is over he pays a little visit to the Japanese school to teach them a thing or two. The result? Chen versus the entire school, and you know who's coming out on top, no contest. Chen is going to make the Japanese pay for what they did, in a big, big way.
No one, and I literally mean no one, has ever given such a genuinely pissed off performance as Lee gives in this film. Sonny Chiba has come close in a few of his movies, but not even Sonny can top Lee's anger here as he yelps, screams, kicks, punches an busts his way through as many men as the Japanese want to throw at him. The inevitable show down is a high point not only in Lee's career but in martial arts films in general and Lee unleashes his full fury on his opponents, sparing no one and doling out his vengeance in as cold and brutal a manner as he can muster.
While the storyline may be pretty basic (man avenges teachers death, lots of ass kicking, the end) Lee is just so unbelievably fantastic in this film that it really doesn't matter. He's definitely the main reason to watch this one, and this is the film that proves as an on screen fighter he truly had no equal.
Way of the Dragon (a.k.a. Return of the Dragon ) - 1972
Lee's third feature film also marked his directorial debut (he wrote and directed this one single handedly). In it, he plays Tang Lung, a man of Chinese heritage who moves to Rome to help out some family members with their restaurant. When Tang arrives, he finds that they are on the receiving end of some harassment from a local crime group who want them to sell the restaurant. These hoodlums aren't afraid to get rough with Tang's family if they don't get what they want, and they prove to make life difficult for them.
Thankfully for his relatives, Tang proves to be quite the martial arts master and he gives the mobsters a taste of their own medicine. The mob leader sends out word that he wants the best of the best from the martial arts world to help him take down Tang, but again, these fighters are no match for Tang and his skills. Eventually an American martial arts master named Colt (a young Chuck Norris of Invasion U.S.A.) is brought on board to take Tang down once and for all, and they square off in the now famous battle in the middle of the Roman Coliseum (Way Of The Dragon would be the last film ever shot there).
There are a few great fights in this one, but the two stand outs are the Lee versus Norris showdown in the end (anyone who doubts Norris' legitimacy as a martial artist would do well to watch these scene where he really is great) and a fight in which Tang takes a pair of nunchuk's in each hand and beats the crap out of some mobsters without missing a beat. Bruce's comedic timing was never stronger than it was in this film and he plays his character with the perfect amount of cockiness, hostility and naiveté at the same time.
Enter the Dragon - 1973
Martial arts movie history was made in 1973 when Robert Clouse's Enter The Dragon, the first martial arts film produced in America, made Bruce Lee a household named throughout the world and at least partially started the martial arts craze of the seventies.
Bruce Lee plays Lee, a member of the Shaolin Temple and master of the martial arts who is to attend a tournament being held by a mysterious man named Han who lives on a remote island. Han is a former Shaolin Monk who left the temple and went out on his own. He now has a massive army of martial artists at his disposal who live on the island with him.
Han is supposedly involved in an illegal opium trade and also appears to be dabbling in white slavery. Lee is sent there so that he can and try to find get some substantial evidence against Han, needed to bring him to justice. When Lee finds out that Han is responsible for an attempted abduction on his sister from three years ago (which resulted in her suicide), that clinches the deal for him and he's off.
Along the way, Lee teams up with a man named Roper (b-movie favorite John Saxon of Black Christmas and Cannibal Apocalypse) who has a financial problem with a few gangsters who intend to get their money from him by whatever means necessary. Roper has hopes of winning the tournament to get the prize money and take care of his problem. A third man, Williams (played with maximum cool by the Black Samurai himself, Jim Kelly) is also on the scene with hopes of taking home the prize.
From the beginning scene with Lee practicing to the grand finale in Han's house of mirrors, Enter The Dragon is an ultra-slick blending of the kind of stylish action movies that the American film industry was pumping out in the seventies with a very Asian sensibility to it. The fight scenes are tighter than a knot and performed with both grace and brutality. Lee is the consummate hero with the noblest of intentions and the skills to get the job done, while Roper and Williams provide some interesting contrasts with 'human' characters who are prone to making some mistakes of their own along the way.
With a blink and you'll miss it cameo from a young Jackie Chan, and an equally small cameo from a young Sammo Hung, it's interesting to see this, Lee's most famous film, as a starting ground in a sense for those who would take up his mantle in the martial arts film world. There are a few goof ups (you can see Lee working his mojo choreographing one of the final fights if you look carefully, and there's a cobra that rattles like a rattlesnake) but for the most part, Enter The Dragon is an extremely well made, polished, slick, and highly entertaining film that wears its age proudly on its sleeve. It's a high point in the genre that has rarely been outdone and that most fight films, even now, more than thirty years later, can't hold a candle to.
Game of Death - 1978
Game Of Death could have been Lee's greatest moment. Really. Had he not died before it was finished, it's very possible that Game Of Death could have very well been his best film. The idea is great, the fight scenes are fantastic, it's just unfortunately marred by a 'Bruce-Lee-A-Like' and some obviously botched up work to hide the fact that it isn't always Lee we're watching up there on screen.
The story follows Billy Lo (at any given time played by Bruce Lee or Yuen Biao or Tai Chung Kim), a movie star who fakes his own death in a manner all too similar to the way that Bruce Lee's son Brandon (star of The Crow would die years later on set. The reason he goes to all this trouble? So that he can fight a crime syndicate who want Billy and his lady-friend Ann (Colleen Camp from Cirio Santiago's Ebony, Ivory And Jade), a popular singer, to join their ranks.
Billy starts to track down the syndicate big wigs and eventually dons the now famous yellow jumpsuit (later rejuvenated by Uma Thurman's character in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill) to enter a pagoda where he fights his opponents one at a time, each on a different floor of the building. The most famous moment of the film, and rightfully so, is when Lee squares off against Kareem Abdul Jabar (it's wild to see the height differences between these two as they pummel one another in front of the camera). There's also a fantastic nunchuk sequence where Lee squares off against Danny Inasanto (who played Hatchetman in Big Trouble In Little China!).
The last fifteen to twenty minutes of Game Of Death are on par with any of the other fight scenes in any of Lee's other films. They're fantastic. They're vicious. They're brutal. They're elegant. In short, it's prime Lee material . Sadly, due to the circumstances under which the film was finished, getting there is an exercise in goofiness and a lot of the film consists of guys trying really hard to look like Lee by wearing big dark sunglasses and trying to sort of cover their faces.
Regardless, the film has undeniable historical significance and an amazing finale, which combined make Game Of Death very much worth watching for the martial arts film fan despite its very obvious shortcomings.
Game of Death II (a.k.a. The New Game Of Death a.k.a. Tower of Death) - 1981
Including Game Of Death II in this set and labeling it as a legitimate Bruce Lee film rather than a 'Bruceploitation' film is stretching things a little bit, as all of the footage in this film that contains Bruce Lee in it is taken from bits not used in Enter The Dragon and Game Of Death. A lot of this film was shot in and takes place in Japan, and it was completed after Lee had died. With this in mind, it shouldn't surprise anyone to find that this film is all over the place, and has plenty of continuity errors and slips ups.
Basically what happens in a nutshell is that a famous martial artist named Billy Lo (Bruce Lee) is killed when he starts looking into the strange death of his good friend Chin Ku (Hwang Jang Lee of Drunken Master and Secret Rivals fame).
With Billy gone, his brother Bobby (Kim Tai Chung) decides to pick up where he left off and figure out who's responsible for both of the recent deaths. He finds himself en route to Japan where he hooks up with a man named Lewis (Roy Horan). As seems to be the norm for Bobby's pals, Lewis winds up dead pretty soon after meeting him, and Bobby traces it all to the strange Fan Yu temple where he must face a strange cast of skilled fighters and solve the mystery once and for all.
While not much of a 'Bruce Lee' film despite his top billing Game Of Death II does deliver in the fight scenes department. With Yuen Biao, Hwang Jang Lee and Cassanova Wong in front of the camera and Yuen Woo Ping handling some of the fight choreography, even if Lee only appears in recycled footage the film still has enough going for it in the fight scene department to make it worthwhile. Just don't expect it to make much sense, because it doesn't.
Each of the six films in the set is presented in its original aspect ratio of approximately 2.30.1 and all of the films are enhanced for anamorphic viewing.
In short, these movies all look fantastic. The Big Boss and Fists Of Fury/The Chinese Connection look the best out of the lot, but all of the movies in this set do look very nice. Colors are quite strong and don't over saturate at all. Print damage is pretty much gone completely save for the odd speck of dirt noticeable here and there (except for Enter The Dragon which shows a little more wear… more on that below), and grain levels are just fine in that they look natural and are never overpowering or too distracting.
Only very slight edge enhancement is present and unless you're specifically looking for it (and I was) you likely won't notice it at all. Mpeg compression problems are not an issue at all, even in the reds and blacks used throughout the movies. There's a nice high level of detail present throughout each of the transfers noticeable both in forefront and background images, and the picture looks very clean for all of the films.
The Fortune Star transfer of Enter The Dragon, while quite good, isn't as nice as the recent Warner Brothers release. The colors are nice but there is a little bit of print damage noticeable during playback and a couple of scenes look just a little bit flat. While it's hardly a bad transfer, it is noticeably weaker than the other films in the set, even if it's only by a small margin.
Fortune Star has included the original (well, original for all of the films except for Enter The Dragon) Cantonese mono mixes, as well as newly re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes and DTS 5.1 Surround Sound mixes in both Cantonese and in dubbed Mandarin. Subtitles are available in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English for each of the films in the set.
For purists, the mono tracks will be the way to go, and in this case, they sound just fine. There's virtually no hiss or distortion present at all and each of the films on the set does sound quite good in its original mix.
As far as the surround sound mixes go, the Cantonese DTS mixes absolutely rock. The dubbing on the Mandarin mixes looks off and sounds quite fake, but the Cantonese mixes come through very clearly with a whole lot of 'oomph' packed into the fight scenes. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes are great, but the DTS 5.1 mixes are even better and when someone gets hit by Bruce, you really feel it. Directional effects are very well handled with all sorts of fun surround elements kicked up in high gear throughout each of the movies, and channel separation is distinct and clean.
My only real complaint with the audio, and the reason that this set is not receiving a perfect grade for the audio portion of the review, is that the original English track for Enter The Dragon has not been included. While it may or may not be a licensing issue, Enter The Dragon was shot in English and not having the original mix for that film in this set detracts from things a fair amount. It also would have been nice to have the English dubs for the other films in the set included as well, though they're less essential than the Enter The Dragon English language track.
There are no extra features on the movie discs themselves, likely to maximize the bit rate for the video and to be able to include the five different audio tracks for each film without sacrificing disc space and therefore bit rate. All of the supplements are contained on the seventh disc in the box, which breaks down as follows:
Bruce Lee Photo Galleries And Trailers: For each of the six films there is a slideshow made up of promotional stills, a separate still gallery made up of more promotional stills, the films original theatrical trailer, and a newly created trailer for this release.
Celebrities Interviews (sic): This is a segment that runs 9:23 and features brief interviews with actors Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Paul Pui, Flora Cheong-Leen, directors Wong Jing and Tung Wai, and stuntman Rocky Lai. They cover all sorts of Bruce related areas, from his fighting style and his stunt work to his sex appeal and his philosophy, but the problem is that none of the interviews, save for Sammo's, are long enough or in depth enough to really get that interesting.
Unseen Footages (sic): This is 11:09 worth of alternate shots and unused footage from Game Of Death, much of which does not have an accompanying soundtrack and is presented here with some 'rock guitar' music playing over top. A lot of it is superfluous, but there is some additional Kareem footage in here, as well as some nice shots of Bruce in action in his jumpsuit. It's presented here without any context of any form – no commentary, no introduction, nothing. And a lot of it, if you're a Bruce Lee fan, has been seen before on other releases.
Bruce Lee NG Shots: I'm going to assume that the NG part refers to 'no good' as this is a 2:59 selection of bloopers from Game Of Death. It's fun to see Lee looking so jovial when he slips up with the stunts. Again, like the Unseen Footages section, these are presented without a soundtrack, just with goofy 'rock' music playing overtop.
Enter The Dragon Alternate Opening Credits: This is exactly what it sounds like, it's the alternate credits for Enter The Dragon. Not much else to say about it, really.
With all of the extra features available on the European Hong Kong Legends releases of these films and on the Warner Brothers Enter The Dragon two disc special edition DVD release, it's disheartening to see such skimpy supplements on this set. I realize you can't just use someone else's supplemental material but you'd think that Fortune Star would have at least tried to compete with those releases with this set, but sadly, they get trounced in this department. If there had been commentaries for the films or some better documentary material or more and better interviews supplied for this release, it truly would have been an Ultimate DVD Collection but sadly, the supplements here really are not that impressive considering what has come before it from other companies in other regions.
On a semi-related note, high fives all around to Fortune Star for giving viewers the choice of navigating the menus in their choice of English or Chinese (and the all around nice job that they did on the menu design for this set in general, aside from a couple of grammatical errors on the Extra Features disc).
The entire package is bundled up nicely in a very well constructed shiny cardboard box with a great picture of Bruce on the front and a small rice paper sleeve that slips over top. The discs are housed individually inside the box in some thin clear plastic keepcases and contain unique cover art for each release.
Also inside the box is a thirty two page booklet that, while nicely laid out and very pleasing in terms of the graphic design incorporated into it, really doesn't contain a whole lot of interest. What is inside are brief quotes, one for each film in the set, from those who worked with, knew, or were influenced by Bruce Lee.
While the extra features are lighter than they should have been, the films have never looked or sounded as good to my eyes and ears as they do on this set from Fortune Star. Limited to only 10,000 units, this set looks and sounds just great and the movies hold up incredibly well, especially when seen in their original language and not with the dubbed tracks most Western viewers are accustomed to. That being said, without any hesitation at all the Bruce Lee Ultimate DVD Collection comes highly recommended to martial arts fans with Region Free players.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.