The Films of Bruce Lee
edited by Jack Hunter
There are probably some hard-core Bruce Lee fans that find any new book on the subject a cause of celebration; "Hey, something new to add to my collection." There are many Martial Arts Movie fans who are very weary of the continuing exploitation of Bruce Lee; "Oh, God, not another rehash of the same material." Conceivably, there are some new fans out there who haven't seen the previous 25-plus years of Bruce Lee books and Special Edition magazines, and it is for them that this book was made; "Great. A book about that Enter the Dragon guy." But, even for that audience, is Intercepting Fist, edited by Jack Hunter, a good buy?
Condensing the history of the Hong Kong cinema, and the "kung fu" movie, to just two pages, and two pages of footnotes, is an audacious undertaking by Jack Hunter, and credit should be given that he was able to include the most important names -- though the relegation of the Huang Fei-hung films to a footnote with no mention of star Kwan Tak-hing will strike many old-time fans as a sacrilege. There are also a number of questionable adjectives used without any explanation. Why are the Shaw Brothers referred to as "infamous"? How can Chang Ch'eh be a "renegade" director of "equal individualism" as King Hu if the films cited to him are all productions of the largest studio in Hong Kong? And what Liu Chia-liang fan would agree to the characterization that he "pioneered a blend of tradition and trash"?
Another problem to be noted in this chapter is the use, without explanation, of the English form of Mandarin translation favored until recently by Taiwan. The majority of kung fu movies which first reached the West had their credits translated this way, which naturally led to confusion when credits would appear translated from Cantonese. As Hong Kong began its return to the People's Republic, the mainland preference for Pinyin translation asserted itself, and, just this year, Taiwan has also embraced it. So, names like "Liu Chia-liang", which is how he was billed while working for the mostly Mandarin Shaw Brothers -- but was billed as "Lau Kar-leung" for other Cantonese Hong Kong companies, will, most likely, disappear in the future, being replaced by the Pinyin form of "Liu Jialiang". However, in a book aimed at new fans of an actor known around the world with the English name of Bruce Lee, this nuance isn't important.
A biography of Bruce Lee, by Mikita Brottman, takes up six pages of Interupting Fist, and one page of footnotes, and seems to have been based on Bruce Thomas' 1996 book Bruce Lee, Fighting Spirit. This short chapter indicates, like most of the quickie books which came out in the early 1970s, that the main fascination with Lee continues to be his strange death. Unfortunately, the death of Lee's son Brandon has only made the morbid fascination stronger. It is quite irritating that Lee's philosophy of Jeet Kune Do gets no mention in this section, while five paragraphs are spent on various rumors and conspiracies surrounding his demise -- including that wacky "vibrating palm technique" story.
There aren't any footnotes in the 8 page chapter Kieron Butler contributed about The Big Boss, and they would have helped the rather odd story of this film's production to be more convincing. Particularly as it differs from other published reports, some mention of where this information came would have been helpful. Aside from the behind the scenes stories, Butler provides a critical analysis which includes some unusual bits. For the climatic duel to the death, the writer reports that the intensity of the fighting was heightened by an off-screen rivalry between Lee and Han Ying-chieh. "But before this victory can happen, there's something else going on in the scene which satisfies a more hidden, more sexual tension.... If there was tension from the beginning of the film that Cheng would resort to fighting, then a parallel tension has been resolved as soon as we see his naked body.... The audience has seen the star fight and they've seen him naked, and now the film has satisfied those tensions, it can get on to its conclusion."
Brian Harrison's 8 page chapter on Fist of Fury suffers from the usual perception that Lee brought a higher standard to Hong Kong filmmaking because of his Hollywood experience. It is hard to believe that the author would be so dismissive if he had seen such Hong Kong classics of the 1960s as Come Drink With Me, Sons of the Good Earth, The One-Armed Swordsman, Temple of the Red Lotus, The Last Woman From Shang, and dozens of others. Like Butler, Harrison compares Lee's charisma to James Dean's, which seems inappropriate. Dean was loved by an audience that empathized with his sensitivity and sense of alienation. Lee was loved for his expression of power and pride. As such, Lee wasn't the first to appear in Hong Kong cinema; he just possessed a star power which, when coupled with his off-screen persona as an innovator in martial arts and his success in America, made him a convincing hero -- more than just a film star.
With a sentence such as "Tang's narcissism is conflicted with a satisfyingly gratuitous nude shot of the prostitute," Kieron Butler once again leaves his sex-obsessed imprint, this time on an eight page article about Way of the Dragon. Even more annoying than his lengthy synopsis of this film, Butler's reference to the villains being "Americans" shows that he isn't very familiar with the film: our hero is battling Mafioso in Rome (i.e., Italians). Now, if he saw the original Chinese language version of this film, he has an excuse for his confusion -- because all of the non-Chinese speak English. But, if you watch the movie, it is clear that he's fighting Italian natives who call in a martial arts expert from America at the end, and the expert is played by Chuck Norris. Not surprising, Butler places an emphasis on the sexual when he describes the movie's big showdown: "Both opponents regard each other like lovers, they disrobe like a couple about to have sex."
Andy Lowe's eight page chapter on Enter the Dragon may be the best in the book, though this shouldn't be surprising as he admits to having read director Robert Clouse's book -- The Making of Enter the Dragon. Oddly, though, Lowe takes the opportunity to call Clouse conceited for saying that Lee was familiar with his work. Lowe obviously wasn't around in 1970 to have witnessed the impact of that final fight scene in Darker Than Amber. It is this scene which Clouse says convinced Lee to agree to his hiring, which is quite believable.
Lowe also penned the final eight pages of Intercepting Fist -- a chapter on Game of Death. It is hard to argue with his assessment of this dreadful film, but his criticism of studio head Raymond Chow and director Robert Clouse are more personal than aesthetic.
Like many recent filmbooks from Great Britain, Intercepting Fist comments at length about the edits required by the British Board of Film Censorship. For American video fans, these comments aren't very interesting because they can easily purchase or rent these movies without censorship cuts.
Looking over the well designed book, which features 70 black-and-white photographs and eight color pages, it is obvious that the publishers felt that the pictorial elements were more important than the literary. Once again, hard-core Bruce Lee collectors will be happy to have these pictures, already acquired in other publications, attractively assembled and printed. Old time martial arts movie fans will complain about not finding anything new to see. And new fans will probably appreciate what amounts to a souvenir program which can be thumbed through when they just don't have the time to pop the videotape/DVD/Laser Disc into the player again. But even they will notice that the text which goes along with the pictures isn't very good.
Intercepting Fist: The Films of Bruce Lee, edited by Jack Hunter, is now available from Glitter Books (London). Paperback. Suggested list price in the U.K.: £9.95. A release date has not yet been announced for Intercepting Fist in the U.S.A.
William Connolly is the editor of Martial Arts Movie Associates. You can checkout his Web site at home.earthlink.net/~scinema/