Way of the Dragon – you’ve got a movie written (screenplay), directed by and starring Bruce Lee, with an epic fight with Chuck Norris taking place in the Colosseum in Rome. You can’t go wrong!
It’s a basic storyline – Tang Lung, played by Bruce Lee, has traveled to Rome to help out some friends who are getting bullied into selling their restaurant by a local mafia. At first the restaurant staff seem unhappy with Tang Lung’s presence (instead of their uncle), until he demonstrates his awesome fighting prowess on the thugs sent to put the hard word on the Restaurant owners, and sends them running with their tail between their legs.
Things then escalate as the mafia sends more and more people and eventually ends with a trio of highly trained martial artists coming to town to take out Tang Lung.
The Difference in Culture & Martial Arts Philosophy
Tang Lung arrives in Rome and cannot speak the language (which is apparently English!). His way of life is different from the locals, and different again from his Chinese hosts. Right from the beginning he tries to fit in with the local surroundings but ends up in a few amusing scenarios. An example is after taking advice from Chen Ching Hu to be more welcoming and affectionate, Tang Lung finds himself in a woman’s apartment who’s looking to get a little too friendly!
A lot of the difference in lifestyle is expressed through comedy, something different in comparison to Bruce Lee’s other movie roles.
This difference mimics Bruce’s philosophy of martial arts quite closely.
Throughout the movie Tang Lung points at Roman monuments comparing them to his own back in Hong Kong, going as far to say he’d do it better (eg. building a skyscraper and collecting rent), just like Bruce’s philosophy of stepping outside of tradition to evolve into a better fighter.
The notion of styles is also commented on, with his Chinese hosts all practicing Karate claiming it is stronger than Kung Fu (and that Kung fu has no strength). While one of them claims Kung fu (or Chinese Boxing) is better than Karate, Tung lung replies by saying “as long as you’re using your body to it’s fullest extent, to help yourself in the midst of violence to achieve one’s goals, it’s useful “.
A line which is different in the English version – “foreign or not, if it helps you to look after yourself when you’re in a fight, then you should use it” – a little more vague but much the same point. The original quote being much closer to Bruce’s philosophy of ‘honestly expressing the human body’.
He continues to use his own way, rejecting other ways he considers to be less useful throughout the film and simply being himself.
The Martial Arts & Fight Scenes
As usual Bruce displays an excellent level of Martial Arts mastery, but also includes some world class martial artists as his enemies. You’ve got Bob Wall, Hwang in Shik and of course Chuck Norris as the world’s best Karate fighters coming to tear Tang Lung a new one.
Throughout the movie Bruce’s character is aggressive, taking apart his opponents with his superior speed, power and martial arts technique. But in particular Bruce comments on his philosophy of fitness in martial arts by exhausting Bob Wall’s character during their fight, to which tang Lung doesn’t seem puffed or tired at all.
You can see Tang Lung practicing diligently, throwing punches and kicks in front of the mirror, and generally expressing himself physically at any given opportunity. Bruce also displays a very loose (stance-less) fighting style when fighting off the thugs, despite his very formal display before his first fight.
Bruce Lee vs Chuck Norris
Tang Lung’s first major obstacle is the American fighter Colt (played by chuck Norris), who gives him a bit of a serving at the begining of their fight.
Tang Lung attacks aggressively, being blocked and attacked back successfully by Colt, and it seems Tang Lung simply can’t break through his defenses. Then the moment comes when Tang Lung must adapt his fighting approach to Colt’s aggressive and powerful style, he then stands up and changes the game.
Tang Lung then lures Colt to attack with a few feints, never actually initiating an attack. Instead he’s dodging and weaving, almost feeling out Colt before slowly introducing some real attacks by way of feints and counters – changing from an aggressive fighter into more of a counter fighter – working angles and wearing him down.
Perhaps the most noticeable change of the fight though, is the interception of Colt’s attacks. There are many times when Tang Lung will intercept or prevent an attack with a well timed kick or punch – a testament to Bruce Lee’s ‘Way of the Intercepting Fist’.
After Colt is looking a little worse for wear, Tang Lung gives him the opportunity to stop. Colt of course attacks and is finished by Tang Lung.
The Quality of the Film
While a lot of critics out there have given ‘Way of the Dragon’ a bad rap for being shot a bit ‘amateurish’ and generally regard it as a poor quality film these people fail to see the themes and messages that are abundant in this film. Way of the Dragon was Bruce’s directorial debut, so it was never going to have the gloss of a Hollywood film, but it has something far more meaningful – actual substance. It’s a bit more multi-level and meaningful than the shit that get’s pumped out in America (by comparison), and is packed with philosophy and messages that are subtly woven throughout the movie. Something the best directors in the world just don’t seem to be able to do as well as Bruce did in this movie.
As a Martial Artist, you can learn a lot from paying attention to what’s really happening behind the action. The odd quote or change of pace in a fight changes the whole perception of the film. While some movie critics see a fight scene, all they see is just two guys going at each other – someone a bit more attentive can see the difference. The flow of the fights and subtle jokes and overall character difference in Way of the Dragon is about being yourself in a foreign land, something that has a lot of meaning for Jeet Kune Do, Martial Artists and just every day people looking for a bit of Bruce’s wisdom. A definite classic, it’s number one on my personal list!
If you want to get your hands on this classic…
If you’re a Bruce Lee fan and you don’t have this movie, you should consider tracking it down…
Region A (US & Canada)
Bruce Lee Legacy Collection (4 BluRay/ 7 DVD) [Blu-ray]
Region 2 (UK, Europe, Japan, South Africa and Middle East)
Way of the Dragon on DVD
Bruce Lee 30th Anniversary Commemorative Box Set – includes The Big Boss / Fist of Fury /Way of the Dragon / Game of Death & Hardcover book.
Region 4 (Australia, New Zealand, Central and South America)
Way of the Dragon on DVD