Action "like a small play but played seriously," in Bruce Lee's hands it's a walk around the atelier (cf. Astaire at the gym in Royal Wedding). The foe is a renegade Shaolin monk (Shih Kien) trading in dope and flesh out of his kingdom-island, the point of entry is a tournament where martial-artists with lethal backstories mingle. (A high-angled zoom-pan gives a lush view of the fortress dotted with white kimonos.) Joining Lee's infiltrator are the indebted playboy (John Saxon) and the hotshot sensualist (Jim Kelly), war chums taking turns in the kingpin's bone-cracking arena. "Man, you come right out of a comic book!" Gilbert's You Only Live Twice provides the structural lines, with a detour into Leone's For a Few Dollars More for the fate of the agent's sister (a fierce mini-decathlon for Angela Mao) plus copious swaths of Lang's The Indian Tomb. Robert Clouse's rare studies of Hong Kong reveal burgeoning metropolis side by side with floating slum, Lalo Schifrin's synthesizers add layers of oneiric funk, and there are flashes of svelte Sammo Hung, young Jackie Chan, and Bolo Yeung like a cruel boulder of muscle. All of this is fused for Lee's most opulent dojo, at once grindhouse and sacramental. Sleek as Alain Delon and mighty as Muhammad Ali, the star quivers in unforgettable slow-mo, stripped to the waist and adorned with crimson slashes. "Break the image" is the sage advice, as Welles would have it, and sure enough hero and villain lock eyes in the midst of a massive melee and continue their dance in a hall of mirrors lifted from The Lady from Shanghai. "We shall strive to be worthy of your sense of grandeur." Brilliant subsequent parodies from John Landis and Stephen Chow can't dim the mystique of the lithe cyclone whipping across the Panavision screen. Cinematography by Gil Hubbs. With Ahna Capri, Bob Wall, Betty Chung, Geoffrey Weeks, and Peter Archer.
--- Fernando F. Croce