Friday, July 16, 2010

STORY OF THE DRAGON (1977)

You know a company is bullshit when you have to bust the tab out of the front of the tape yourself. This World Video release arrived in shrink wrap, and it was still completely fucked during its virgin run. But then again, it was recorded in SLP mode. I’ve never understood why some of the budget companies didn’t just record on Standard Play, but I’m presuming this practice has an economic practicality to it. If you have the answer, drop me a comment.

I know everyone is pissed at BP over this whole oil spill thing, but I'm way more concerned about the horde of UFC-obsessed gym rats in their butt-fuckingly awful Affliction gear that are currently polluting most city streets like human cholestrol. Fuck sea food, man. I'll pay the few extra bucks for New England shrimp. Let's put some of that Kevin Costner money into digging a mass grave for all these TapOut-loving goofballs. I'm so tired of them making the bar scene tense with their mad dogging wannabe tough guy bullshit.

See, I don't have a problem with the science of fighting. What I do have a problem with is how avid viewership seems to delude a lot of MMA fans into thinking they are total badasses. Mixed Martial Arts fans have become the meathead equivalent of the Trekkie. What's worse is that a lot of these snobby cakeboys think that what they’re watching is somehow more sophisticated than something like Pro-Wrestling because these guys are really injuring each other. News flash, UFC-loving assholes: two goons with daddy issues kicking the piss out of each other is not some urbane spectacle. If it were an illusion and they were only making it look like they were bashing the shit out of each other, then I'd call it art.

As I was reading reviews for “Story of the Dragon,” I was reminded of the so-called tough guy expertise of your average MMA fan. This film has been unfairly crushed in effigy of Bruce by his rabid followers. They guard the Lee name like a Cerberus. To them, Bruce is the end-all be-all of martial arts cinema, and any remote imitation of their hero is a cardinal sin. Sadly, their base of knowledge is limited to available writings and films on and about Bruce. It only takes a little information and the courage of ignorance to make an expert.

I admit that Bruce was a great fighter over-brimming with charisma, and he was a good filmmaker within his respective genre. But considering that most martial arts movies are pretty crappy, that’s not saying much. Even if you get rid of the awful dubbing - which these films are second-best known for - they’re still incredibly campy. Rare is the sacred Shaw or Golden Harvest calf that epitomizes competent film making. This isn’t Bunuel we’re talking about. These movies live or die by the action. The worst writing and acting can all be absolved by the film's featured violence. The drama might be superb, but if the movie drops the ball when it comes to the fight choreography, the audience will shit all over it. If a Bruceploitation film managed to somehow qualify as fine cinema, it would be a miracle not just for its respective sub genre, but for the ENTIRE genre from which it is derived. That said, most of the action in these films is far from "sub-par."

Die hard Bruce fans usually call a movie like "Story of the Dragon" ghoulish and exploitive. Exploitive? I'll give them that. But there's generally nothing morbid about these movies. In fact, they are more frequently loving tributes to Lee. A lot of people won't want to hear this, but they've helped fortified his legacy. There are well over a decade's worth of films that kept a facsimile of his name and image alive after his death. "Story of the Dragon" is a great example of what I think is intended to be a creative commemoration of Lee’s life. The motivations are pretty harmless, and they flatter Bruce. It’s ironic that any super fan would piss on an obvious shrine to their hero.

This one is actually better produced than most, and contains some surprisingly solid humor, which showcases Ho Chung-Tao’s comedic ability. In fact, half way through the movie I found myself wishing they’d taken the comedy rout. There’s a genuinely funny scene where Ho, as Bruce, is exercising in his apartment very loudly, much to the dismay of his roommate. The potential of this scenario could have been stretched into a feature. Sadly, one cannot help but feel that any natural talent that Ho had as a performer was probably subverted by his own willingness to continually capitalize off the Bruce Li persona.

This movie could have easily been absorbed into "Bruce Lee - the Man, The Myth" to create a mega bio-pic. Both movies have a common tone and atmosphere. This one is more of an origin story though, occurring in San Francisco with a struggling Bruce coming into his own following an unemployment streak. For some reason, the Bruce character is referred to as Bob in this dub despite the fact that he is very obviously playing Bruce.

The story opens with Bruce being fired from a his job as a waiter at a Chinese restaurant when he refuses to lay down like a dog for a pack of abusive hooligans. Bruce and his ne’er-do-well roommate are forced to look for more work, but their efforts are continually thwarted by the gangly martial arts gang he humiliated earlier. Bruce kicks the shit out of them again, and they go running back to their Monchichi-looking sensei who consults his big book of martial arts clich├ęs and decides that they need to avenge their reputation. After all, this could end up costing them a lot of potential tuition fees.

Bruce and friend find jobs down at a dock, but once again they’re dogged by the gang. Bruce thwarts the attack and is celebrated by his coworkers, who all decide to blow off legitimate employment and open up a martial arts school. Unfortunately, all of his students are fucking terrible, so this turns out to be a complete waste of time anyway.

By this point, upper management at the rival school is getting fed up, so they call in Hwang Jang-Lee to kick the shit out of Bruce. Hwang is quite possibly the best part of this movie. The dude wears the worst fake mustache ever, along with a long black rocker wig, a cape, and BMX gloves. He looks like a Chinese Ritchie Blackmore.

In what I consider to be one of the film’s major flaws, Bruce gets knocked the fuck out by Hwang. Hilariously, Bruce mopes around about his defeat, and while staring at a waterfall has some epiphany about how he needs to be like water. After a cheap ass training montage, Bruce finds Hwang and debuts what is supposed to ressemble Bruce’s classic Jeet Kun Do style, replete with high-pitched Kai and dance moves.

The finale is a hilarious Best-of-Bruce compilation, with a "Game of Death" style gauntlet. He even breaks out the nunchuks for this one as he takes on the entire fucking school. I typically despise scenes where one guy takes on thirty dudes, and this one is no different. One by one, the heavies wind toward Bruce with some weird gravitational order instead of just doing the most obvious thing, which is dog piling the motherfucker. There are thirty of you assholes. Why the fuck are you taking a number? You're not buying lunch meat, retard! Rush him!

Bruce’s awful students show up, allowing him to move on to the final circle, which is basically a polo match. Here, he squares off with the bull whip wielding main heavy who’s more of an entrepreneurial type than a badass, so it’s not a very interesting fight.

Overall, if you have a sense of humor and you love Bruce Lee, you should be able to at least have fun with this movie. The fight sequences aren’t bad, and Carter Wong even shows up to box some ears. The only truly grating thing about this movie is that there's this little annoying piece of shit kid that's always screaming and mugging for the camera. This little troll totally had the vivacious Susan Smith Anthony’s name written all over his whiny fucking face. Fuck that kid.

There are no available trailers online, but you can view the film in its entirety on YouTube. Even if you don’t want to sit through the entire thing, the opening scene, where Bruce encounters Cobra Kai, is absolutely worth your watching.

P.S. - If you refer to "Return of the Dragon" as "Way of the Dragon" you are a pretentious asshole.

2 comments:

  1. SLP was the poor man's maxi-single. Short enough to make the movie watchable, but not in a greatway. Quality wasn't key, but it made tapes cheaper.

    Love the blog!

    ReplyDelete
  2. So they had shorter tape length in the casing, making the tape cheaper? I plead total ignorance here.

    And thanks! I appreciate it. Checking yours right now.

    ReplyDelete