Yana and I saw this Bruce Lee movie last night over Dan Klein’s house, for me it was my first viewing since my undergraduate days. A few points struck me:
1. Hong Kong is portrayed as a poor, dumpy ghetto; this was 1973. The Technicolor shots of the city are gorgeous.
2. Black Power, in the character of Williams [Jim Kelly], is shown to be a fundamentally moral and emancipatory force. And as was so common in movies from the 1970s and 80s, the black guy “gets it.”
3. The main villain, Han, reminded me of Chairman Mao, except that the role of the West in the opium trade is inverted and placed on Mao [Han] himself. It is no surprise that Mao’s China banned the movie.
4. Bruce takes on and defeats a whole group of unimpressive karate experts — was that intended as an anti-Japanese slam?
5. Angela Mao, who played Bruce Lee’s sister, steals the show. She now lives in Flushing, Queens (NYT).
6. The American male heroes seem not to mind that the women they are given to sleep with are essentially slaves, held under coercion or otherwise dubious circumstances. The movie seems not to mind that the male heroes do not mind. And an analogous film today would not have nude scenes, for several reasons, one being the desire to sell it to…China.
6b. The politically incorrect ranking in terms of libido is black > white > Asian, without any apology or attempt at subtlety.
7. Many scenes reminded me of the James Bond flick You Only Live Twice, and also Dr. No. It is a common theme in movies from that time that a hero can use a diversion to take over a command center; is that still done? The final mirrors trick seemed to be taken from Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai. Yana remarked that many of the underground sets looked like they were borrowed from Star Trek, and that the “turn the corner” suspense scenes seem to have anticipated Star Wars.
8. “Jackie Chan appears as a guard during the underground lair battle scene and gets his neck snapped by Lee.”
9. The score by Lalo Schifrin remains compelling and Bruce dominates every scene he is in.
10. As was often the case in those times, the exposition is relatively slow, much of the action is saved for the last half hour, and finally the film just ends.