Way Of The Dragon is my personal favourite of the Bruce Lee movies. Although it wasn't the first film to get me hooked on the Little Dragon, it will always be the one that gets a special place in my heart. I often wonder why this one and not the others ? Here I will try to explain it's appeal to me and how the Hong Kong Legends DVD lived up to my expectations.
The Amaray case contains a nice, though hardly inspiring black/grey cover featuring a dynamic shot of Bruce with the nunchaku. This matches the rest of the other films in the series. It's quite minimal compared to, say the Hong Kong dvd release of the film Back Alley Princess that proudly reproduces the original poster art of the film in vibrant colours. Of course a different market demands images for that particular audience but I have to admit to being slightly underwhelmed by the simplicity of the cover.The rear of the cover features some quite small thumbnails of scenes from the movie along with difficult to read text (for those of you, like me who need specs) outlining the plot and special features on the disc.Inside we have a chapter list and along with some small ads for Hong Kong Legends other product.The disc itself actually does look nice and is a repeat of the cover art.
Having owned the film in a number of VHS versions (and the R1 disc) over the years I wondered if this Special Collector's Edition would live up to theprevious releases of The Big Boss and Fist Of Fury. I have to say that it didn't let me down. Quite simply Way Of The Dragon has been lovingly restored frame by frame from the best original elements available.
It's not perfect by any means as parts of the movie have obviously not aged very well due to the notoriously lousy film preservation techniques that were once the norm in Hong Kong. If I have one major gripe, being something of a sad nostalgia buff; the non inclusion of the original old Golden Harvest and Concord (yin/yang animation) logos at the start of the film is a loss for me.A veritable number of Media Asia logos instead preceed the film proper.
Thank heavens the old logos still preceed the VHS version.As the opening credits roll we can see that HKL have decided to use the original HK version (in lovely anamorphically enhanced widescreen) for the transfer coming with a Cantonese language track or the usual (and best, for me that is) English dubbed version. Subtitles are also present in English or Dutch, and there are a thirty chapter stops .Another slightly controversial feature of the film is that the soundtrack has been re-mixed to a 5:1 Dolby Digital surround track. A lot of older films have been re-released this way and sometimes it works. I'm afraid that here it dosen't. It's certainly a nice touch but hardly tweaks your speakers at all, though the music track does admittedly sound nice through the rear speakers.It would have been a good idea to include an option for the mono track to be utilised. A similar complaint has been levelled at the Jaws 'Special Edition' disc, whereupon the Oscar winning mono track was abandoned for the new 5:1track.
As stated earlier a couple of sequences in the film have not stood the test of time in terms of preservation. The most jarring are the scene where Bruce and the lovely Nora Miao encounter the gunman in her apartment. The gunman's closeup is pretty poor and a later sequence where Bruce ascends the stairs in the dark to confont him on the rooftop. There seems to be a lot of digital 'blocking' in these short clips along with ( possibly) ruined film emulsion.What of the actual film as a whole? Well obviously I'm 100% biased in saying that if this isn't THE best Bruce Lee film (and his most personal) then 'The Clones of Bruce Lee' is !
My reasons for loving this movie are not complex by any means. From the opening strains of Joseph Koo's fabulous music, to the lovely compositions of Roman land marks, from Bruce's twinkling eyes and boyish charm, to his masterful demonstrations of his martial prowess, from the quaint humour of Tang Lung's encounter with the west to the deadly confrontation in the Colleseum and the finale, those parting moments with Nora and that famous walk up the hill as he disappears into the sun....whew! I'm getting quite emotional just sitting here playing those images through my mind.
I first saw the film in the Summer of 1974 on it's original UK release and even then in it's butchered form I knew it was something quite different than all the other 'Kung Fu' movies doing the rounds. If anything it plays more like a sophisticated Italian comedy from the mid '60's a fact that probably wasn't lost on Bruce himself. If we didn't know better it wouldn't be a sin to suggest it rolled out of Cinecitta studios in Rome itself. It's evident on viewing that Bruce was very adept when it came to not only directing but all other aspects of film. If you look at the colour scheme of the interiors (at Golden Harvest in HK) and the exteriors of Rome you'll see that they fit together almost seamlessly with only budget constraintssometimes not reaching the mark. The dvd brings out these sets and exteriors in a lovely rich detail, from the opening airport bustle to the sad sunny end.
The main screen menu of the disc is composed around rapidly edited clips accommpnied by a rather good and stirring piece of (I presume) specially recorded, stirring music that fits to the visuals like a tight leather glove.This piece features again in the main promo trailer. Flitting around the film clips are some swirling golden flashes that finally reveal a shot of the Colleseum. Could things get any better? Well yes, because the special features screen has more selected clips from the climactic battle in the Colleseum along with some great animated 'golden rubble' (not the Barney type I might add!) that falls from the top of the frame when Bruce or Chuck land a powerful blow - fantastic!
The 'production' gallery features numerous colour stills that have been, over the years published as lobbycards, in articles or for books. They're not particularly rare but it still nice to have them grouped together here. Added to theses are some b&w shots which are less seen and some lobby cards and repro's of posters.The 'rare' gallery starts with more well known colour shots before presenting us with some nice b&w 'behind the scenes' frames including a cool one of the cast sporting Bruce Lee t-shirts!
This section finishes with more foreign posters including my personal favourite, the original UK 'quad' with Colleseum artwork.
The screen for this section is also nicely executed around a panoramic shot of the Colleseum (which should have it's own screen credit!) while shots of Bruce travel across the screen on ancient stone pillars. See if you can find Mr. Norris on the battlements.
UK Promo Trailer
This uses the pattern of the main screen menu (only longer) and features fast paced clips and is beautifully timed and scored.
Original Theatrical Trailer
By 'original' HKL mean a Hong Kong trailer. I'm not sure if this is THE original trailer as I have an English version of this that was obviously prepared after Bruce's death ,which is kind of referred to in that version. It's the usual kind of thing, with swirling titles across the screen and far too long as too much of the film is shown.
Rare Trailer Archive
Here we have a better and shorter trailer that formed the marketing campaign for the film on it's original release in the UK in 1974, along with a teaser trailer and a ten second tv spot. If you're of a certain age, you can't fail to be carried along on a wave of nostalgia when you view these. Just hearing the 'typically British' voice-over man makes me want to dust off my old '70's flares and tank-top and put 'Kung Fu Fighting' on the stereo...'man!'But I digress; the prints of these promo's have been lovingly cared for and archived and it's a real treat to see them (again), although for the younger fan this may be a case of so what?
Once Raymond Chow's 'right hand man' gives us a frank and sometimes revealing look at Bruce Lee as a movie star and his place in the scheme of things, outlining the little dragon's determination to reach the top and the obstacles that Hollywood put in his way.
Jon has given several on-screen interviews and so there's nothing really new here for the hardcore fan, but as usual he makes for an easy and relaxed interviewee.
This isn't Anders' first interview (and probably won't be his last) but once again he gives an entertaining account of his time on-set making Way of the Dragon.
Reflections of the Little Dragon
This is a selection of interviews with Russell Cawthorne (ex - of Golden Harvest), Donnie Yen and Carter Wong. Russell reminisces about meeting Bruce and the brief time they worked toghether at Golden Harvest, while movie star and long time Bruce Lee fan, Donnie Yen explains the appeal of the little dragon and his continuing influence. The most intresting soundbite is from Carter Wong who gives us some little known snippets about his relationship with Bruce. He tells us that Bruce was always very cordial towards him, taking time out to discuss and compare martial techniques. Carter also informs us about the positive influence he still finds around the world from Bruce's fans, especially in their interaction with chinese people.
Once again the celebrated Bey Logan provides the full length film commentary. He's joined by Jon Benn this time and the two of them obviously had a great time recording these nuggets of information.As already stated in the interview section of the disc; a lot of this stuff is already common knowledge to the more hardcore of Bruce Lee followers, so they may find the commentary a little 'matter-of-fact'. New fans or the average movie viewer ( or should that be listener?) will find it amusing and full of detailed inside knowledge from a guy who loves the Bruce Lee films as much as anyone. Good one Bey.
This is an essential purchase for all Bruce Lee aficianado's. A fine package that fulfills most expectations and exceeds in others. The film looks fantastic and is untampered with (unlike the other Bruce Lee HKL discs). The extras are terrific and 'padding' has been kept to a minimum. Altogether a fine DVD package that I recommend to anyone.
Rating out of 5: