With all the movies done by Bruce Lee, I am of the opinion that The Way of the Dragon is by far his best work. After going through his entire filmography, I saved the best for last, and the best it was. Featuring a prime Bruce Lee and his faceoff with the formidable Chuck Norris in the Coliseum, the movie exudes excellence. So today I want to take some time and write an updated review on the iconic Kung Fu flick!
The Way of the Dragon was a fantastic movie that showcased what Bruce Lee loved most in martial arts. The ability to solve problems with your fist if necessary.
The Way of the Dragon is the premier Kung Fu movie. But the movie wasn’t that easy to make. The big moment in the movie was when Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris face off in the Colosseum. But filming wasn’t allowed in the landmark which made making the final scene that Lee envisioned a bit difficult. Green screen? Nope. CGI? It’s 1974. So what did Lee and company do? They broke in to the Coliseum and filmed the movie before the Roman authorities caught wind of the rule breaking.
Bruce Lee also did the voice acting on almost the entirety of the movie for the English dub. The film was shot without sound and the lines were added in post production. The only line Lee didn’t dub was the boss’ line, “Take him out, but be careful with that gun in public.”
What The Way of the Dragon got right
So The Way of the Dragon really mixed the action that we’ve become accustomed to concerning Bruce Lee and the comedy that he used in all of his movies. The bathroom jokes were not necessarily in good taste because they’re bathroom jokes, but they weren’t overdone. Lee has his aura of badassery around him and at times the baddies of the movie take off running from only that. The kitten at the high stakes, high intensity fight was also a cute and funny bonus as well.
But it’s the action that truly stands out. Lee runs through everyone he faces. That is until he runs up against Chuck Norris, a champion from America with a bad attitude and a powerful punch. He, of course, has trained with Lee in the past and the two know each other very well.
The fight at The Coliseum was top notch between the two. According to some, Lee and Norris pulled no punches in this scene and the fight footage was as close as you can get to an actual fight between the two.
Where we fall short
There’s really not much to pick on with The Way of the Dragon. The movie is superbly done and the story, while simple, isn’t incredibly convoluted. But the budget was $130,000 in 1972, which is just a bit over $900,000 today. That budget is infinitesimally small even adjusted for inflation.
The choreography holds up over time, as per tradition with all movies Bruce Lee is in. He fights in the back alley and shows his speed in his punches and kicks. The fight with Norris is also timeless and would be perfect even under the new technology of 4K cameras we have today.
But where it really comes up short, and this is just me nitpicking at this point, is the quality of the movie in general. It is a bit dated, although the shine of Bruce Lee puts it on it’s back and carries it through time to this day. The move is old and you can tell. There are movies out there today that are worse than The Way of the Dragon now. But that doesn’t excuse it’s aging anyway.
For Way of the Dragon, it’s shortcomings hardly make a dent in how great the movie truly is. With the amount of star power the movie posses as well as what we know about the Coliseum scenes being illegally filmed adds to the awe of how this film came together.
The Way of the Dragon is an iconic piece of cinema not only for fans of martial arts but movies in general. Bruce Lee solidified a legacy that continues on to this day. From his debut in The Big Boss to his posthumous release of Game of Death, Lee has made himself a transient martial arts icon.