Friday, September 7, 2007

Movie Review: Return of the Dragon

This was an odd film. It's a Bruce Lee flick, and apparently the first one written by and directed by Lee.

Which is why it's odd why the film is as poor as it is - this film seems to conspire to make Bruce seem less impressive than he was.

The opening part of the film has Lee traveling to Rome to help out a damsel in distress. Here, we learn the primary conflict - Bruce takes on the Italian Mafia over...a Chinese restaurant? It's not even a particularly nice restaurant - it's just some building the Mafia wants for some unknown reason.

But the first segment decides to show the lighter side of Bruce, trying out some of the comedy bits that Jackie Chan would perfect a few years down the road. Unfortunately, none of the jokes work - they mostly involve Bruce trying to be more relaxed around the natives, which result in his standing around with a stupid grin on his face. Maybe some of the jokes involved language differences - my copy had everything dubbed into English - but the first 20-30 minutes or so is painful to watch.

Bruce then makes his own character even less appealing (remember, he wrote this). The damsel-in-distress shows him around the sights of Rome, and Bruce spends his time insulting the city. He puts down the historic ruins, talks about how he would rebuild it like Hong Kong. He even insults her cooking! The guy is basically a jerk.

The Mafia finally starts throwing its muscle around, and so the action starts up. And here the movie blows it again. Bruce is the only person (save one notable exception later on) to show any basic skills. His allies are fodder to be mowed down before he gets into the mix, and his opponents are easily and comically defeated immediately. Yeah, Bruce looks good with his nunchucks, but it's basically one hit per opponent. He's just too dominant compared to everyone else, and since he doesn't toy around at all, there's really not much to any of the fight scenes.

After a long while, we finally get to the Big Boss fight, only to's Chuck "Roundhouse Kick To The Head" Norris in his first big role! The first between the two is suitably impressive, the best part of the movie by far - but even here, Chuck ends up looking tougher than Bruce. Early on, Bruce resorts to grabbing Chuck by his chest hair (eeewww) in order to escape. And later, Bruce manages to break Chuck's leg and wrist - and Chuck struggles to his feet, staggers over and continues the attack! Chuck comes across as the bad-ass here, not Bruce.

I just don't understand how a movie Bruce wrote ends up making him look so bad in so many different ways. Definitely a lesser entry in Bruce's filmography. Two stars, and that's just for Chuck.

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