Review of Return of the Dragon a.k.a. Way of the Dragon

So last night G4 showed Bruce Lee’s Return of the Dragon, a.k.a. Way of the Dragon, a.k.a. Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris GET IT ON. Incidentally, since this is G4 this means that commercial breaks will be filled with ads for Extenze and the International Sexy Ladies show. I didn’t realize there would be a viewing experience that would make you more embarrassed about being a man than Spike TV, but I now know that G4 has them beat.

The wife and I settle in for a night of glorious kung-fu. So imagine our growing frustration as Bruce Lee seemed to try to keep kung-fu off the screen as much as possible in the first 40 minutes.

Nope, instead we had Bruce arriving at what looked like Rome (though the shot of what looked like the Arc D’Triomphe threw us off a little) and having dinners with various people. Everywhere he walked, he had this precious little theme music that made it sound like the movie was supposed to be part of a comedy — sort of a cross between Henry Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk” and a sad trombone.

There’s a shot where Bruce Lee preps everyone for some kung-fu, but, at the last minute, the chef comes in and says something like, “Hey! Get back in! This is a restaurant movie, not a kung-fu movie!” Now, I actually liked this bit: Bruce himself knows that we haven’t had any kung-fu yet, and he’s in on the joke.

The bad guys get the drop on Bruce, who, frankly, are the most multi-cultural dudes around. I think it’s a little ironic that if affirmative action came down on Rome, the bad guys would have less to worry about than the all-Chinese staff of the the Chinese restaurant. I mean, there’s some white dudes, some black dudes, someone who looks vaguely Asian, and, of course, the flaming homosexual with the obsession for rippling muscles.

And why not? Bruce Lee is RIPPED! Seriously, no other martial arts star was as ripped as this guy. And he knows it, too. This is why, I’m guessing, that 50% of the movie is Bruce Lee’s warm up routine.

We finally get to the fights, and, since this is a Bruce Lee movie after all, they are great … except for a solid hour there, they’re all against the same guys. And you start to wonder: someone’s dropping the ball here. The henchmen, first of all, for not quitting after the first few rounds. Or the evil boss guy, for not hiring new goons immediately. Or Bruce Lee and his dudes for not killing these guys outright. Anyway, it’s wave after wave of the same eight guys vs. Bruce Lee (his back up fellow are really just fodder) and he beats them both with nunchucks and bloody bare fists.

But the piece-de-resistance is, of course, the much touted fight with Chuck Norris at the Roman Coliseum. (Ooh! Gladiator combat!) We first see Chuc after the big bad dude decides to call for some back up … AMERICAN back up. Chuck gets off the plane in Rome, and he’s accompanied by some “giant” music which makes it sound like Bruce is going one-on-one with Paul Bunyan. Hey, anything beats Bruce’s silly comedy music, tell you what.

At the Coliseum, Chuck gives the death glare to Bruce as he works his way through the maze of ruins. Bruce looks down from on high like the Karate God measuring his prey. Then they meet, where they disrobe. The fight is presaged by a lengthy warm-up sequence, because both sides know the importance of a good stretching routine.

It’s Chuck’s movie debut, and it lives up to the hype. Two things keep distracting me, though. First, Chuck’s yeti-like growth of body hair. UGGGGHHHH. Can you tell it’s the seventies? It’s all over his front and his back and it’s not the most flattering look in the world. There’s even a part of the movie where Bruce rips the hair off of his chest. EGGGHH! Why, Chuck, WHY?

Second, that friggin’ cat that so bored with the fight he’s batting around some cat hair in the middle of it. C’mon, kitty! That’s Bruce Lee versus Chuck Norris! When are you going to see that again?

In the end, Bruce kills Chuck (!!!), then yells at the flaming homo because he’s of what he’s forced him to do. Well, OK, dude, but it looks like you could’ve easily knocked Chuck unconscious and saved yourself the ethical dilemma.

And, in a rather bizarre twist, the owner of the Chinese restaurant, who’d been sympathetic thus far, turns out to be evil. WHAT A TWIST! This, apparently, leads to everyone dying. Really. He stabs his own employees in the back before getting owned by some stray gunfire when he tries to kill Bruce. Oh, and flaming homo gets killed by his own employee for some reason. (Oddly, this guy turns out to be, perhaps, the third most sympathetic character in the movie next to Bruce and Chuck.)

Which doesn’t explain why two other kung-fu experts — a Japanese one and an European one who had been sent to soften up Bruce for his fight against Chuck — are also dead. Who killed them? The Chinese Restaurant guys? Didn’t seem like their MO. The Chinese Restaurant owner? Why? Evil boss guy? They were dead before he came on the scene. Why does this bother me so much?

So Bruce Lee goes to the funeral and goes back to Hong Kong. And thus ends what some fans call the best Bruce Lee film ever. Wait… better than Enter the Dragon? Shenanigans!

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