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New Fist of Fury
   |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |   
"I've got magic fingers!"

Jackie Chan has drunken hands in New Fist of Fury.
Year: 1976
Director: Lo Wei
Producer: Lo Wei  
Action: Han Ying-Chieh  
Cast: Jackie Chan, Nora Miao, Han Ying-Chieh, Chan Sing, Lau Ming, Lo Wei
The Skinny: Jackie Chan does the best he can in this lackluster follow-up to Bruce Lee's 1972 classic Fist of Fury. One of Chan's first starring roles.
Review by

     With the possible exception of Enter the Dragon, the original Fist of Fury probably ranks as the most popular film in the Bruce Lee canon. Lee's character Chen Zhen left such an indelible mark in the history of Hong Kong cinema that everyone from Jet Li to Donnie Yen has tried their hands at the much beloved role. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, the decision to have Jackie Chan headline New Fist of Fury would probably sound like a good idea to the average Hong Kong movie fan. Who better to replace the departed Bruce Lee than his virtual heir apparent? Unfortunately, those unfamiliar with the circumstances surrounding this sequel will be disappointed to find that the film doesn't quite mark the symbolic "passing of the torch" that fans might hope. The reality of the situation is that Jackie Chan was a virtual nobody when this tepid sequel was released, and it really shows. But it's not all his fault. The real blame for this stinker falls on Chan's pushy director, a poor racially-charged script, and most of all, simple bad timing.
     Despite my harsh words, I have to credit the filmmakers for at least taking great pains to connect their film officially with its more famous predecessor. From the people behind the camera to the actors in front, the movie does feel like the "real deal" as opposed to the myriad of Fist of Fury clones that popped up after Lee's tragic death. To help bridge the two films, writer/director Lo Wei reprises his role as the police inspector who negotiated with the Japanese to ensure the safety of the Jing Wu students, effectively trading Chen Zhen's life for his brothers. In the sequel, we find that the Japanese have gone back on their word, forcing the few surviving members of the Jing Wu School to flee to Shanghai. Thankfully, Nora Miao's presence adds an additional layer of authenticity to the film as the famous actress again plays the formerly sweet, now tough as nails Li-Er. Strangely, her status as Chen Zhen's love interest is downplayed considerably, as Li-Er seems to view her former lover in an almost brotherly light. Call it selective memory loss.
     Li-Er and pals head to Shanghai to stay with her venerable grandfather, where we meet Lung (Jackie Chan), a bumbling thief with a curious sense of conscience. As a personal rule, he never steals from the locals. However, Lung's principles don't preclude him from robbing strangers like Li-Er, and he swipes a box containing Chen Zhen's nunchaku. But Lung's inner virtue shines through his criminal façade as he begins to feel guilty over the theft and wishes to return the precious weapon. As a further demonstration of character, Lung refuses to kowtow to some Japanese sympathizers who want to hire him for some thug-work. Lung's rejection of their offer may be bold and righteous, but it doesn't prevent Lung from getting his ass handed to him by the hooligans, who end up throwing our hero in an open grave and leaving him for dead.
     Quite fortuitously, Li-Er and company happen upon poor Lung and nurse him back to health. After some initial resistance to their overtures for martial arts training, Lung eventually joins the Jing Wu School in the hopes of overthrowing the Japanese presence in Shanghai. Meanwhile the Japanese do little more than act arrogant, beat up locals, and order all the Chinese martial arts school to change their names. Why? Because they're eee-vil, I suppose. Naturally, all this bad blood leads to the final fatal duel at the home of the muscle-headed Japanese chief Okimura (Chan Sing). Somewhat shockingly, the sequel ends much as the first one did, but sadly, the near-apocalyptic ending achieves far less emotional or poetic resonance.
     New Fist of Fury feels like a missed opportunity. Part of the problem with the film has to do with Lo Wei's script and direction. The director simply tries too hard to link Jackie Chan with Bruce Lee without giving the audience any credible onscreen evidence for such a connection. Yes, Chan's character is named "Lung" (Dragon), but a name isn't enough to put him in the same category as the Little Dragon himself. At one point in the film, we are expected to believe that Chen Zhen and Lung are cut from the same cloth simply because Nora Miao's character says so (and has a cheesy flashback). Unfortunately it's a feeble connection that isn't really earned. There's even an unintentionally embarrassing scene that poorly apes Lee's graceful, slow-motion martial arts routine towards the end of the first film. What was supposed to be a tribute looks more like unintentional parody.
     Storywise, the film falters for a variety of reasons. The line between patriotism and out-and-out prejudice is crossed early and often in this film, a trait that Lee himself didn't care too much for in the original Fist of Fury. The Japanese are cartoonish and stereotypical villains, which doesn't make for very compelling antagonists. And despite Lo Wei's attempts to make Jackie Chan a star in this film, the old man doesn't give Chan much to do. Instead, the storyline focuses on Li-Er and her Jing Wu compatriots as well as the continual backstabbing and arrogance of the Japanese forces. Jackie Chan's character simply seems to come and goes as the plot requires. There's a subplot about Lung's prostitute mother that seemed promising: Lung hates the Japanese and all those who associate with them, but doesn't know that his mother is consorting with the enemy, let alone that she's a prostitute. Though these details seem to promise a "revelatory scene" between mother and son later in the narrative, this twist is never fully developed.
     Timing is another concern. Given the knowledge of Chan's future career, New Fist of Fury's poorly conceived script and ham-handed direction might have been overcome had the movie been made about four years later. It's obvious from his initial scenes in the film that Chan preferred taking the kung fu comedy route, but Lo Wei strains to make Chan a badass in the Bruce Lee mold, and the film suffers for it. For Jackie Chan fans, this obviously goes against the very essence of what makes him unique. And on a lighter note, it also doesn't help that Chan sports a thin "premature growth" moustache throughout the entire movie. The facial hair makes him look more like an overgrown adolescent than a competent leading man. Based on his scruffy appearance alone, Chan's character could never be confused with Lee's iconic Chen Zhen.
     It's really a shame that this film was made at a time when Jackie Chan was so raw and untested as both an actor and a martial artist. If only he had been more mature and the film had been put in the hands of a more capable director. Maybe New Fist of Fury could have been not only a fitting sequel, but a film that effectively showed the changing of the guard from Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan. Regrettably, this movie sucks. (Calvin McMillin 2003)

Notes: • Some fans may wonder why Jackie Chan looks different than usual in New Fist of Fury and some of his other early film roles. Told by Lo Wei that he was "too ugly" to be a leading man, Chan eventually had cosmetic surgery to widen his eyes. Shaolin Wooden Men is the last film to feature a monolid Jackie Chan.
• When Nora Miao's character remembers Chen Zhen, the film cuts to static shots of Bruce Lee. However, the film stills aren't from Fist of Fury, but instead from the unrelated Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon.
Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin and English Language Tracks
English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French Language Tracks

image courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen