The death of legendary martial-artist Huo Yuanjia is still shrouded in mystery, Lo Wei's film offers itself as a "popular interpretation" keyed to nationalist pride and Bruce Lee at his fiercest. The barely suppressed hysteria is unveiled in an extravagant précis: Lee as the prodigal disciple comes back to the academy to find his master dead, the funeral is held under forlorn stage snow and disrupted by the bereft hero, who hugs the coffin, sobbing. Pneumonia is the official diagnosis, Lee smells foul play but muzzles his rage in honor of the teacher's peaceful lessons. Such restraint can't last long in Japanese-ruled Shanghai, however, and his proud fury finally erupts against taunting plaques, a gag repeated twice -- Lee dismantles a sign reading "Sick Man of Asia" and force-feeds it to the Bushido students he's just quelled, then splinters a "No Dogs and Chinese Allowed" sign in iconic slow-motion. The main conflict is between Chinese fists and samurai swords, the villains are a Mifune stand-in with painted-on Snidely Whiplash mustache (Riki Hashimoto) and a thick Russian warrior (Robert Baker) "on holiday." The action sequences are appreciatively filmed with a quick, alert eye (a melee early on has the hero grabbing two foes and spinning the mannequins like a dervish, Lo cuts to a higher angle to catch the absurd sight), and then there's Lee. One moment achingly tender with Nora Miao, the next shattering the ankles of a horde of opponents with a pair of nunchaku, the superstar is already poised as a mythical figure -- he picks up the rickshaw containing a traitorous ferret (Wei Ping-Ao) and smashes it against a nearby wall like Paul Bunyan, his doomed-rebel capper is freeze-framed right out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. With James Tien, Chen Fu Ching, Chin San, and Han Ying-Chieh.
--- Fernando F. Croce