Way of the Dragon is the second film in our Bruce Lee Movies List. The following review originally appeared in The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s.—Editor
In Way of the Dragon, which is set in Italy, Bruce Lee plays Tang Lung, a country bumpkin from Hong Kong sent to Rome to work at his uncle’s restaurant. Once there, however, he ends up fighting the Mafia.
Lung uses two nunchaku and a pole to mow his way through the wimpy hoards of mob hit men, and eventually three karate killers are hired to lessen Lung’s life. Though the Japanese and American top fighter are karate characters in the film (played by Korean actor Whang In-shik and Chuck Norris, respectively), in reality Whang and Chuck Norris both practice Korean martial arts. Bruce Lee originally planned to face Joe Lewis in the iconic Colosseum fight, but the two had a falling out. Chuck Norris took Joe Lewis’s place, resulting in Chuck Norris’ best fight scene to date. Several years after Bruce Lee’s death, Chuck Norris told Inside Kung-Fu magazine that if Bruce Lee had let him choreograph the fight, it would’ve been better. After numerous B-movies and a highly successful TV show, Chuck Norris has yet to deliver a superior fight scene.
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Bruce Lee’s potential as an innovative and influential filmmaker is apparent throughout the film. The Colosseum fight, for example, intercuts shots of a kitten toying with a rock, which mirror the dynamic of the duel. Bruce Lee also uses sound creatively, accenting moods and emotions with percussion instruments and uttering his patented battle screams (which have sadly been mimicked ad nauseam, thus cheapening the mythology). Note that the musical cue used when Chuck Norris gives Bruce Lee a thumbs-down at the Colosseum is borrowed from Sergio Leone’s famous Western Once Upon a Time in the West (1969).
Way of the Dragon also draws on Lee’s own life for inspiration, including his time spent as a waiter at a Chinese restaurant in Oakland and his teaching a lesson to an American stuntman by knocking him 15 feet backward with one kick. The actor Wu Ngan, who is holding the air shield that Bruce Lee kicks back in the film, was a childhood friend of Bruce Lee’s and a male servant in the Lee household when Bruce Lee was growing up in Hong Kong. The film as a whole also reflects the racism Lee was exposed to while living in Hong Kong and America and working in Hollywood.
For more on the “Little Dragon,” check out our FREE guide—Bruce Lee’s Biography and the Birth of Tao of Jeet Kune Do.
Bruce Lee’s fights were symbolic messages that Chinese people inside and outside America did not need to be subservient. They also showed that the little Asian man could stand up to the big powers. It is no wonder people cheered when Bruce Lee beat the cruel Japanese, did in the proud Russian and, in this film, disposed of the arrogant Japanese karate fighter and the silent, sneaky American Kudo Colt (Chuck Norris). It is ironic that none of the white bad guys beaten in any of Bruce Lee’s films were British characters, considering the first brunt of racism Bruce Lee faced was while living in Hong Kong when it was a British colony.
Way of the Dragon Movie Facts
Director: Bruce Lee
Starring Bruce Lee. C: Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Chuck Norris, Bob Wall, Little Unicorn, Whang In-shik, Wei Ping-au, John Benn, Tony Liu Yung.
Titleography: Return of the Dragon. Translation—Powerful Dragon Crosses the River. The film was released in the United States after Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, which the Return of the Dragon title attempted to capitalize on. Many fans at the time mistakenly believed it was a sequel. Powerful Dragon is a metaphor for Tang Lung because he travels to another country, or Crosses the River, which is a metaphor for the sea or ocean.
Our Bruce Lee Movies List
1971: The Big Boss
1972: Fist of Fury
1972: Way of the Dragon
1973: Enter the Dragon
1978: Game of Death