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Fist of Unicorn
The reason Fist of the Unicorn (1972, aka. The Unicorn Palm, Bruce Lee and I, Force of Bruce Lee's Fist) is a bit more than a marginal old kung fu feature is due to the involvement of Bruce Lee, who was a friend of star Unicorn Chan and lent a hand in the martial arts choreography of the film. Of course, with Bruce's fame and untimely death, this was do doubt played up quite a bit and used to market the film. Look no further than the English version release where they put some behind the scenes Bruce footage into the opening credits. Such is still the case today, when we see Bruce on the cover of this DVD, even though he only appears in the aforementioned brief footage in the opening credits.
I guess if you are looking for it, you can see the touch of Bruce in some of the fights. They have the quicker punch-reaction Bruce feel instead of drawn out punch-block-punch-block staginess of most martial choreography of the time. But, like I said, if you're looking for it, you'll find it. I doubt I'd think, "That looks like a Bruce Lee move." if I didn't already have the knowledge he was in the background for who knows how many scenes- maybe just a few, maybe all?
But, I honestly cannot think of any particularly memorable sequences, and I just watched the film last night. Even the presence of one of my favorite old school actors/martial artists, Yasuaki Kurata, didn't really help me enjoy the film (other than the fact that I'm one step closer to having seen every film he's done). No, it was just pretty sloppy and cheap. Nothing really striking or imaginative in terms of story, character, or action. Unicorn Chan just isn't a spectacularly charismatic star, with or without Bruce behind the scenes, and the low productions values, fairly limp direction, and forgettable story of this film sure didn't help him.
This DVD features two versions of the film, a English Full-screen print that runs 1:30, and a Mandarin Language, Non-Anamorphic Letterbox print that runs 1:22.
That eight minute difference can be chalked up to an intro scene that establishes the background of Lung. We see him as a child, picnicking with his parents. Some robbers are in the woods nearby, backstabbing each other after a heist. Our main villain sees Lung and his family. Not wanting to leave any witnesses, he then kills Lung's parents and kicks Lung into the river. Cut to Lung years later, having grown up in a monastery, ready to leave and find his parents killer. There is some terribly edited footage using one shot of Bruce Lee so he will appear to be Lung's trainer at the monastery.
Picture: Even by shoddy public domain kung fu standards, both prints are in pretty bad shape. Not only is the English Full-screen print obviously a video source, but it is also slightly askew, out of frame, you know, projected wrong with a bar at the bottom cutting off some of the top frame. The Letterboxed Mandarin print isn't much better, full of wear and tear, spots, and has some terrible tinting problems where the tint flutters throughout many scenes.
Sound: Typical old mono dub mixes. Pops, hiss, distortions a-plenty. Only tolerable for old school kung fu fans. The Mandarin language print has burned in subtitles, but they disappear into the white of most shots and are difficult to read.
Extras: Chapter Selections--- Original HK Trailer--- "Last Days of Bruce Lee" (17:09). Any true Bruce fan will know this one. Along with vaious UFO, Loch Ness monster, Bermuda Triangle, and Bifoot docs, it appeared a lot on UHF stations back in the late 70's/early 80's. Basically one of those terribly edited and woodenly narrated docs using amateurish and boring stock footage of Bruce at his final press conference and then the crowded streets outside his funeral. Not very good and the quality is very rough and worn out.--- "Fight Scenes the Bruce Lee Way" (13:27) Video- made for TV?- with some of Bruces stunt guys talking about working with Bruce and showing (roughly) how he would choreograph a fight scene. Pretty cheaply filmed and dubbed by a cockney British guy who yawns while he is translating.
Conclusion: A poor quality presentation of a less than speculator film. Only of interest to martial fans/Bruce Lee completeists with very forgiving standards when it comes to these often mistreated and discarded films. Still, wait for this one to hit the bargain bin.