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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 9/15/99



Bruce Lee: The Master Collection

reviews by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits


Fist of Fury

Fists of Fury
1971 (1999) - Columbia/Golden Harvest (20th Century Fox)

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/C+/ D

Specs and Features:

100 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, single-layered, "accordion case" packaging (special edition), film-themed menu screens, scene access (24 chapters), language: English (DD mono), subtitles: English




The Chinese Connection

The Chinese Connection
1972 (1999) - Columbia/Golden Harvest (20th Century Fox)

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/C+/D

Specs and Features:

107 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, single-layered, "accordion case" packaging (special edition), film-themed menu screens, scene access (22 chapters), language: English (DD mono), subtitles: English




Return of the Dragon

Return of the Dragon
1973 (1999) - 20th Century Fox/Golden Harvest (Fox)

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/C+/D

Specs and Features:

90 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, single-layered, "accordion case" packaging (special edition), film-themed menu screens, scene access (14 chapters), language: English (DD mono), subtitles: English




Game of Death

Game of Death
1979 (1999) - 20th Century Fox/Golden Harvest (Fox)

Film Rating: C

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/C+/D

Specs and Features:

100 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, single-layered, "accordion case" packaging (special edition), film-themed menu screens, scene access (18 chapters), language: English (DD mono), subtitles: English




Return of the Dragon

Bruce Lee: The Legend
1984 (1999) - 20th Century Fox/Golden Harvest (Fox)

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C+/-

Specs and Features:

86 mins, NR, mixed full frame & widescreen (1.33:1 & 2.35:1), single-sided, single-layered, "accordion case" packaging (special edition), film-themed menu screens, scene access (20 chapters), language: English (DD mono), subtitles: English


In the pursuit to get special edition box sets out, DVD companies have tried just about every packaging variation they could think of. Animego put out a "shoebox" filled with jewel cases for their Bubblegum Crisis set (and then later released them individually in much better Amaray cases). Criterion put out their Brazil set in a nice plastic holder for its three separate Amaray encased discs. Image put out a same type of deal, but with snapper cases for Dances With Wolves in DTS sound. I do, however, think that the best SE box yet is the From the Earth to the Moon. The package is stylish, convenient, and it does the job.

When Fox put out the Alien series, it was packaged much the same way as Brazil is (four discs packed together in a slipcase) except they neglected to make available a box for their mail-in Sharpline Arts documentary. The documentary, which came within a cardboard disc envelope, doesn't fit in with the set, which is a major bummer (remedied somewhat by Sharpline's offer of a printable keep case insert and cover, downloadable from their site). Trying something different this time around, Fox has looked from the Earth to the moon, or at least TO From the Earth to the Moon. Their Bruce Lee Master Collection is packaged in something that I unofficially dub, the "accordion case" - pretty much what HBO did with FTETTM, except with a red dragon motif. The package unfolds to the right, and it's made out of cardboard with black plastic holders for each disc. The outside slipcase is connected all the way around and opens on the top and bottom, kinda like a band that keeps the accordion from coming unfolded. It's wild, it's wacky, it's different - and I like it. The only problem I find with this special edition, is that aside from the packaging and the documentary... you get nothing else. And that's not very special, is it?

As for the movies they hold... well, that's a different subject altogether. Bruce Lee movies simply rock. This collection holds all the movies made by Bruce Lee after he went back to China in the 1970's (this excludes Enter The Dragon and The Green Hornet compilation film made from television footage). The titles in this set are: Fists of Fury (aka The Big Boss), The Chinese Connection (aka Fist of Fury -- go figure), Return of the Dragon (aka Way of the Dragon) and Game of Death. Thrown into this special edition for good measure, is the well-made documentary Bruce Lee: The Legend. You can never have too much Bruce Lee, as this set proves. Let's look at each of the film titles themselves, disc by disc. Then I'll talk a little bit about the quality of the disc overall, at the end.

Fists of Fury

In this film, Bruce Lee is a shy boy named Cheng, who comes to stay with his cousins and work in an ice factory, that is run by some bad seeds. Cheng takes some abuse for a while (due to his vow to keep a low profile and use non-violent ways of communication). That all ends, when his beautiful cousin is kidnapped because of some secret drug smuggling going on in the factory. For family honor, Cheng starts opening up some hefty cans of whoop-ass on the baddies, until no one but he is standing in the end. It's not the most eloquent or emotional of the Lee films, but it does hold some of his most violent fights. I mean, he rips stuff out of people in this one.

This was Lee's "first" film, or at least the first film he made in the 1970's, upon his return to China. It's the film that proved Lee was bankable, and it was the movie that made Raymond Chow (Golden Harvest owner) a powerful player in the Chinese film community (paving the way for John Woo, Jackie Chan and Chow yun-Fat). For that alone, this movie is tops in my book. As a movie, Fists of Fury is brainless fun and a nice way to spend about and hour and a half.

The Chinese Connection

This was a different film for Bruce Lee. Not only does he get the chance to show off his formidable fighting skills, but he also gets a chance to act. Bruce plays Chen Zhen, a world-weary student coming back to his training school to find that a rival Japanese school has murdered his master. The Japanese are treating the Chinese like dogs, and its becoming more than Chen can handle. While investigating his master's death, he clashes with the Japanese, to show them that no man is to be treated like a second-class citizen (especially when they can kick a sign that says, "No Dogs and Chinese Allowed" sitting three feet over their head). I like The Chinese Connection. I like it just about as much as I like Enter the Dragon. Seeing Lee convey so much emotion (and kick so much butt) makes me well up inside. Sometimes I wish he never took that pill that made his brain swell-up and killed him. Movies would be much better if he was still making them.

Return of the Dragon

Here, Bruce is Tang Lung, a man who has just arrived in Rome to help his uncle run his restaurant. He is continually told "no fights" (and of course, he tries). But when a group of underworld businessmen threaten his uncle's shop, he uses his "Chinese boxing" skills, to both defend his store and impress the other waiters, who now want to learn how to fight his way. The underworld boss gets tired of his men getting their collective butts handed to them, and eventually hires three assassins -- one from Japan, another from Europe, and an America named Chuck Norris. The famous final battle between Norris and Lee takes place in front of a matte painting of Rome's Coliseum -- and it's a doozy. Lee got to write and direct this film, and it's not half bad. I'd say that it ranks a notch below Enter the Dragon, although the latter film had the better storyline. Still, some of the fights in this are pretty kick-ass.

Game of Death

Believe it or not, Bruce Lee sadly died before this film could be completed. But with the help of a willing crew and a stunt double, Game of Death was finished. The two best things about this film are A) the opening credits, which look great widescreen, and B) the final half-hour. The last half-hour is where Bruce is shown uncut, beating down on all the bad guys in the film one-by-one. Overall, the film's staging is pretty bad, and it's horribly obvious they're using a double for Bruce. I don't think the film's a wash though, because the stuff with the real Bruce really shines. I especially like the fight with Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, and that footprint on Bruce's chest after he gets kicked across the room. The story is a hash-up, Bruce plays a movie star (much like himself) that made a "deal with the devil", or at least a deal with a criminal syndicate to gain success. After he is thought to be killed for turning his back on them, he goes into the belly of the beast to bring the whole thing down. As a story, Game of Death is not especially good, or even thrilling. But the fight scenes are, occasionally, pretty spectacular.

Bruce Lee: The Legend

This is a simple documentary, that explores the life of Lee without going too much into the myth of his death. Starting from his early film career, and his exploits in America, this documentary makes complete sense of the man behind the screen icon he became. This documentary is the same 1984-produced film that was put out on video a long way back. It's styled like those A&E Biographies we fawn over today, and it's worth paying up to get it in the Master Collection.

When it comes to image and sound quality, these DVDs all pretty much the same: non-anamorphic widescreen, with dubbed English mono audio tracks. They're all the same laserdisc transfers we saw a few years back, but they look pretty good for not being blown out special editions. I do wish they were 16x9, and I think they would look even better if they were. Some of these films (Chinese Connection and Fists of Fury for example) reveal some damage to the source prints, but they aren't so damaged that they look bad. The credit sequence for Return of the Dragon shows some obvious edge enhancement, but once you get through that, it looks very clean. The documentary is old, and wasn't remastered, so it's pretty flawed-looking -- no real artifacts, just a bad-looking video source was used.

The sound (as I said) is Dolby Digital mono -- a little on the dull side, but serviceable. To be fair, these DVDs sound better than their VHS counterparts, but are about equal with the laserdisc versions, so there is no love lost there. There are no special edition extras on any of these films -- no trailers, no stills galleries... no behind-the-scenes stuff at all. As I point out above, the special edition set contains the documentary, and that is very nice, but (sadly) each of the films are left standing alone. I think the documentary is well enough made that it makes the set worthwhile. But anyone who is waiting for Fox to put these films out on DVD individually, will find themselves with nothing extra.

All in all, if you don't mind the lack of 16x9, and you're just looking to upgrade your video or LD collection, you'll be happy with The Bruce Lee Master Collection on DVD. If you really want all these Bruce films, I'd go ahead now and spring for the set to get that extra documentary. If you're a fan... I think it's worth it.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com




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