Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection (Blu-ray)
Shout! Factory / 1971 - 1978 / 4 movies / R
As if Shout! Factory hasn't proven itself to be your home library's best friend and your wallets' worst enemy over and over again, along comes yet another stunning box set that (along with their recently released VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION) can only be call a Must Have: BRUCE LEE: THE LEGACY COLLECTION.
BRUCE LEE: THE LEGACY COLLECTION brings together four of Lee's five feature-length films (ENTER THE DRAGON is owned by Warner Brothers) in one of the best looking Blu-ray sets of the year. This set is spread out over a whopping eleven discs with each film presented on both Blu-ray and DVD (each with their own film specific supplements) and the final three DVD's filled with several feature-length documentaries, vintage television specials and newly produced featurettes. So let's take a look at the films in this set.
First up is 1971's THE BIG BOSS. Lee's first film as an adult and star (he had appeared in several films as a child in background roles) isn't his best by a long shot but it does hint at the dazzling promise and charisma he would very quickly bring to the screen. Lee plays Cheng Chao-an, a quiet man who moves to Thailand to live with his uncles and cousins. The family works at an ice factory run by Hsiao Mi (Yin-chieh Han) who uses it as a front for drug smuggling. When several of Cheng's relatives go missing, he decides to take matters into his own hands despite the vow he made to his mother to never fight.
THE BIG BOSS can be seen as the spark that lit the bomb. In and of itself it is just mediocre. While Lee's charisma is evident throughout, he doesn't show any of his martial arts talent until the half-way point in the film. The second half does deliver on the fighting and while the movie as a whole feels uncertain of itself, by the time it is over you are more than ready to jump into another Bruce Lee film.
If you continue chronologically that next film will be 1972's FIST OF FURY. The film is the first telling of the Chinese legend of Chen Zhen (Lee). As the story goes Chen returns to the dojo of his master Huo Yuanjia, founder of the Jingwu School of martial arts, to find his master dead from an apparent "illness." He soon discovers that the "illness" was in fact a poisoning from the rival Japanese dojo and goes to teach them a lesson.
FIST OF FURY, even more than THE BIG BOSS, is the movie that put Bruce Lee on the international map and can be considered the true first Bruce Lee movie. The action is nearly non-stop with Lee taking out dozens of fighters at a time. The story is simple but extremely effective having been remade several times over the years with the likes of Bruce Leung, Jet Li and Donnie Yen taking up Chen Zhen's mantle.
Continuing his stellar rise Bruce Lee not only starred in, but wrote, co-produced and directed 1972's THE WAY OF THE DRAGON. Like FISTS OF FURY, the plot is very simple but extremely effective and paved the way for countless imitations over the decades. Tang Lung (Lee) goes to Rome to help his uncle and niece whose restaurant has been targeted by the mafia. After taking out several thugs, Tang is targeted again and again by hired assassins. Ultimately the film leads to what has become probably the single most famous martial arts fight ever filmed: Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris in the Colosseum!
THE WAY OF THE DRAGON may not have aged as well as say ENTER THE DRAGON but it is the purest essence of Lee's films in this set. It is funny, it is dramatic, the fights are spectacular and, did I mention Bruce Lee fights Chuck Norris?!?!? That fight alone is worth the price of admission!
The final film in this set is the tragic GAME OF DEATH. Shout! Factory has delivered the 1978 theatrical cut of this movie and a reconstruction of the footage Lee shot before his death as a supplement. The original film Lee had planned was to demonstrate the benefits of his fluid style of martial arts over the more rigid techniques of the traditional schools with the centerpiece being his fighting various disciplines on levels of a pagoda he had to climb. He began filming and shot about 100 minutes of footage which when edited comprised the first three challenges of the original five levels of a pagoda. At that time, Hollywood beckoned and Warner Brothers offered him an astounding $800,000 (then the highest budget ever for a film of this type) to make the ultimate martial arts film, which would become ENTER THE DRAGON. Production on GAME OF DEATH halted while Lee went to America to film. Sadly, he passed away before he could return to finish GAME OF DEATH.
Raymond Chow, the founder of Golden Harvest Entertainment, who was making GAME OF DEATH, decided to find a way to finish the movie. An entirely new story was scripted about Billy Lo (Lee with Kim Tai-jong and Yuen Biao doubling Lee for a major part of the film), a martial arts movie star who refuses to be intimidated by a syndicate run by Jim Marshall (Gig Young) and fakes his own death (footage of Lee's actual funeral was used) in order to bring them down.
GAME OF DEATH is the Bruce Lee movie, if it can actually still be called that, to riff on ala "Mystery Science Theater 3000." For most of the movie, the Billy Lo character is seen from behind, from the side, wearing sunglasses (at night!) that do not come off no matter how many direct hits to the face he receives, or worst of all, has clips or photographs of the real Lee edited into the film (most infamously a picture of Lee's face literally taped to a mirror while an actor strategically sits in front of it!) There are many, many, many cringe-worthy moments in GAME OF DEATH, but when the REAL Bruce Lee shows up in the last third for the major fight scenes in the pagoda, it is as dazzling as anything. Just like the man himself.
All four films are presented in anamorphic 2.35. Overall the quality is quite good. There are various problems inherent with the original production of the films, but none of them are distracting to the point of complaint. While these new high def masters are the best these films have ever looked on home video only an extensive (and costly) restoration could make them look any better.
All of the films have a plethora of audio options to choose from. The original Mandarin, Cantonese and English dubs are available. THE BIG BOSS includes an additional rare and never-before-released original English dub. GAME OF DEATH offers several choices for the original English language track. Most, but not all, of these are available in both Dolby Digital 2.0 or a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. On the technical front, it is doubtful this collection will be topped in the foreseeable future.
While some may nitpick that the films have not been meticulously restored to look-like-2013 quality, no one can complain in the slightest about the supplement collection in this set. This is one seriously packed goodie box that will overjoy every follower of The Dragon. I'm going to break them down by what is on each film and then the 3 (THREE!) full discs of additional bonus content.
THE BIG BOSS has:
A commentary by Hong Kong Film Expert Mike Leeder.
"Return to Pak Chong: THE BIG BOSS REVISITED"
"Bruce Lee: The Early Years"
"Interview with Tung Wai"
"Bruce Lee vs. Peter Thomas"
"Rare Scene Extensions," and "Alternate Title Sequence" and "Alternate Finale"
Almost 20 minutes of theatrical trailers and TV Spots and a Still Gallery.
FIST OF FURY kicks off with a commentary by Mike Leeder
"Remembering FISTS OF FURY"
An "Interview with Yuen Wah"
"Alternate Title Sequence" and "Alternate Ending"
Theatrical trailers, "US TV Spots" and a Still Gallery.
THE WAY OF THE DRAGON has a commentary with Mike Leeder
"Kung Fu? Jon Been Remembers the Shooting of the Film" featuring John Benn.
"Celebrity Interviews" with the likes of Sammo Hung, Simon Yan and Wong Jing.
An "Alternate Title Sequence"
Theatrical trailers, a "US TV Spot" and a Still Gallery
GAME OF DEATH begins with another solid commentary track by Mike Leeder
"GAME OF DEATH Locations"
"Alternate Opening" and "Alternate Ending"
A "GAME OF DEATH Blooper" Reel
"GAME OF DEATH Outtake Montage"
Seven minutes of additional "Deleted Scenes"
"GAME OF DEATH Japanese Print in HD" is an alternate cut of the entire film.
"GAME OF DEATH Revisited" runs just under 40 minutes and is the re-edited three pagoda fights that were filmed before Lee's death to more closely match how Bruce planned them. Absolute Bruce Lee gold and a must see supplement!
Theatrical trailers and a Still Gallery round out this film.
But wait! There's more. A LOT MORE! Three DVDs worth of goodies more!
Disc One holds two vintage feature length documentaries:
BRUCE LEE: THE MAN, THE LEGEND is from 1973 and was made shortly after Lee's untimely death.
BRUCE LEE: THE LEGEND is from 1977 and is in far worse physical condition than the 1973 film with skipped frames, scratches and poor audio. However, it is loaded with rare footage of Lee at home and on set.
Disc Two is really the only puzzling disc in this entire set. Shout! Factory recently released the 2012 documentary I AM BRUCE LEE on Blu-ray, but in this set we get it as a DVD. However, this recent look back at the life of the martial arts legend is filled with supplements of its own including:
"Backyard Training: Bruce Lee's Personal Films"
"Inspiration - Bruce Lee's Global Impact"
"Bruce Lee in Action"
"Bruce Lee's Hollywood Audition"
And the original theatrical trailer.
Disc Three is also packed with featurettes and television documentaries including:
"GAME OF DEATH REVISED - Bob Wall Talks About His Experiences on GAME OF DEATH"
"WAY OF THE DRAGON - Bob Wall Talks About His Movie Debut"
"Master of the Game with Dan Inosanto"
"Legacy of the Dragon"
"The Grandmaster and the Dragon: William Cheung and Bruce Lee"
"RETURN OF THE DRAGON in 60 Seconds"
"Bruce Lee Remembered"
43 minutes of additional "FIST OF FURY Interviews"
And a massive Still Gallery covering everything the four film specific galleries didn't including "The Green Hornet."
In addition to all of this, BRUCE LEE: THE LEGACY COLLECTION comes in a beautiful book (ala the BOND 50 set) filled with promotional art and a great essay.
A truly breathtaking set, BRUCE LEE: THE LEGACY COLLECTION is one of the absolute must get Blu-rays of the year. Extremely Highly Recommended!