Monday, June 4, 2012

The Last Fist of Fury

                                               Director: Shi Hyeon Kim
                        Starring: Dragon Lee, Martin Chui Man-Fooi, Lee Ye Min,

That most infamous of all kung fu subgenres, the Bruceploitation. After the untimely death of The Little Dragon, filmmakers all across Asia scrambled to find his 'replacement'. Sadly, this meant that if you looked even looked vaguely like the real (and deceased)  mccoy, and could punch and kick reasonably well, you were in line to be, "The Next Bruce Lee!". Usually this resulted in poor performances in subpar (often just plain awful) Lee-remakes. The first Lee-alike (Bruce Li aka Ho Chung To) was at least a good actor/fighter who was ultimately able to shake the Lee image. As for the rest, well they basically fell somewhere between mediocre and terrible. Then out of Korea came one in particular who could only be described as 'Psychotronic'. Welcome to the world of Dragon Lee.

An accomplished Hap Ki Do and Tae Kwan Do practitioner, Lee broke into movies due to his resemblence (at the time, anyway) to Bruce. He actually looks like Bruce on 'roids with a head that seems too big for the rest of his body. This nearly cartoonish appearance combined with his waaayyy over the top mugging and yelling made nearly every film he appeared in to be akin to some freakish funhouse-like charachature. There are many kung fu enthusists who strongly dislike him and his films, claiming he is the very worst of the Lee-alikes. I on the other hand, find the majority of his pics to be great, goofy, energetic fun. The Last Fist of Fury is his first starring vehicle and for my money, it's one of his most enjoyable.

Dragon Lee plays Shau Lung, a student of the Ching Wu school who while practicing in the mountains under the watch of his white bearded old master, is shocked to learn of the death of top student Dai Tung. Tung was challenged by a rival Japanese school and was murdered through treachery (isn't that always the case?). The Japanese school then took over Ching Wu, fearful of it's growing number of students. Shau wastes little time heading back into town (all the while being followed by a mysterious white garbed ninja like presence) and thrashing the Japanese karate experts en route to reclaiming the Ching Wu school. He is challenged by the Japanese leader, Yasheka and after having to deal with the Japanese's secret extending sword, Shau defeats him, killing him in the process. However, the Japanese school has an ace up their sleeve when they call upon Greuber, a mysterious half Japanese/half German fighter to personally finish off Shau and the rest of the Ching Wu students.

Originally seen in butchered form as part of the 'Documentary' (ripoff, actually) The Real Bruce Lee, The Last Fist of Fury still seems incomplete even in this incarnation. At first, I attributed the choppy editing to the filmmakers but then came across a scene that seems to start at the tail end of  a lengthy dialogue exchange. Whether or not a more complete print surfaces (or even exists) doesn't really matter for as it stands, this one of the great, bizzarro, unintentional (?) kung fu comedies I have seen. It easily rivals the (intended) laughs that were generated by the Zuckers Bruce riff in Kentucky Fried Movie. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what makes this film such a wobbly inducing experience; Lee's maniacal Bruce mimickry, the odd plotting (disposing of the presumed main bad guy halfway through only to introduce an even greater menace who looks like he stepped out of some cockeyed Spaghetti Western), the strange choice of weapons (Grueber has a pair of what look like metalic frizbees), the appearance, disappearance and reappearance of the mysterious white ninja character... it's just one of those experiences where for better or worse, you know you're watching something 'special'.

The Last Fists of Fury is a hoot  It comes highly recommended to Dragon Lee fans (you know who you are!).

                                                               **1/2 / ****