Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits
In the early 1970s, a kung-fu dynamo named Bruce Lee side-kicked his way onto the screen and straight into pop-culture immortality. With his magnetic screen presence, tightly coiled intensity, and superhuman martial-arts prowess, Lee was an icon who conquered both Hong Kong and Hollywood cinema, and transformed the art of the action film in the process. This collection brings together the five films that define the Lee legend: furiously exciting fist-fliers propelled by his innovative choreography, unique martial-arts philosophy, and whirlwind fighting style. Though he completed only a handful of films while at the peak of his stardom before his untimely death at age thirty-two, Lee left behind a monumental legacy as both a consummate entertainer and a supremely disciplined artist who made Hong Kong action cinema a sensation the world over.
The Criterion Collection presents their 7-disc Blu-ray box set, Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits, which, for the first time ever, brings together Lee’s five feature films The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon, the theatrical version of Enter the Dragon, and Game of Death. Each film is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and appear on their own respective Blu-ray discs. This set also includes the Special Edition version of Enter the Dragon, and Game of Death II, each of which appear over the last two supplement discs. The theatrical version of Enter the Dragon comes from a new 2K restoration, taken from the 35mm interpositive. The other four films are sourced from 4K restorations, with The Big Boss and most of Fist of Fury scanned from the 35mm original camera negative (the opening credits for Fist of Fury come from the 35mm interpositive) and the other two films sourced from 35mm internegatives. All five films are presented with 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes.
The presentations for each film vary in quality from one another, though all have a similar look. I was expecting all of the films to have a heavy yellow tint to their colours, and while it’s there to a certain extent, it varies from title to title. The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, and Enter the Dragon are tamer in this respect, with Enter the Dragon leaning heavier on the teal, giving it a cooler look, but the other two get heavier with the warmer grading, with Game of Death looking especially “jaundiced.” The black levels on all of the films are impacted, unfortunately, delivering murkier, milkier looking blacks in low lit scenes, while delivery deeper blacks in night scenes that don’t look that bad on first inspection, but they end up just eating up shadow detail, flattening these scenes.
All of the films have fairly grainy looks that also vary from film to film. Enter the Dragon and The Way of the Dragon are probably neck in neck when trying to determine the grainiest looking film, with Game of Death offering a finer film grain (outside of the moments that actually incorporate Bruce Lee from other footage), but in all cases the grain is rendered well, not looking noisy or blocky. This all leads to sharp images.
Enter the Dragon (both versions) probably comes out looking the best of all of the films, but despite some issues with the colours and black levels I was quite pleased with all of the presentations.
(The bonus film, Game of Death II, looks like hot garbage, and it is covered here.)
Please use the dropdown above to see more detailed reviews for each title in this set.
The Big Boss (1971): 8/10 Fist of Fury (1972): 8/10 The Way of the Dragon (1972): 7/10 Enter the Dragon (1973): 8/10 Game of Death (19780): 7/10
While Enter the Dragon and Game of Death only offer English audio in lossless PCM mono (the Special Edition offers an alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack in DTS-HD Master Audio while Game of Death also offers an alternative English dub featuring Bruce Lee’s actual screams), the other films offer English, Mandarin, and Cantonese tracks, either in PCM or Dolby Digital mono. The “original” Mandarin and English tracks mostly sound good, but still present weak dialogue and little fidelity. They’re clean, though, and generally free of noise and distortion.
The Dolby Digital tracks (mostly the Cantonese ones) sound rough in comparison, sounding a bit more distorted and edgy. Dialogue can also be harsh. Damage isn’t a concern, though, and I didn’t notice any severe drops or pops.
Please use the dropdown above to see more detailed reviews for each title in this set.
The Big Boss (1971): 6/10 Fist of Fury (1972): 6/10 The Way of the Dragon (1972): 6/10 Enter the Dragon (1973): 7/10 Game of Death (19780): 6/10
This seven-disc set packs a lot of material over the discs, either specific to the film they’re housed with or more general in nature. Sadly, not everything found on the various Shout! releases (or even the Warner releases for Enter the Dragon) have made it on here. This review will offer an overview of the features on each disc, but more detailed coverage can be found using either the drop down at the top of this page or jumping to the individual articles through the following links: The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon, Game of Death, and the supplement discs.
The four Hong Kong films all come with audio commentaries recorded by Asian film expert Mike Leeder, who offers backstories around the productions, covers where Lee was at during that particular point in his career, while also offering his own personal stories and analytical analysis. All of his tracks were recorded for Shout! Factory in 2013. The Big Boss also features an audio commentary by Lee fan Brandon Bentley (recorded for Shout! in 2016), which has its moments but can be a bit too fanboyish, and then the Special Edition of Enter the Dragon comes with the audio commentary with producer Paul Heller (and writer Michael Allin calling in) that has been available on all but one of the previous Warner Bros. releases for the film. The track gets into, among other things, the difficulties that were encountered trying to get Lee his big break in Hollywood.
Criterion has then recorded new interviews for each film in the set featuring Lee biographer Matthew Polly, who talks about each film and their importance regarding Lee’s career. They last 10-minutes or less each and provide decent intros for each film to newcomers.
Disc one, featuring The Big Boss, presents a collection of alternate footage for the film, ranging between alternate opening titles (a couple using the alternate Fists of Fury title), some extended scenes, and an alternate ending, basically excising the last few seconds. Also found here is an archival interview with martial arts instructor Gene LeBell, a short 2-minute essay by Bentley covering the western score created for the film by composer Peter Thomas, along with a collection of trailers and TV spots.
Disc two holds Fist of Fury, which also comes with its own set of alternate opening credits, which either present different titles (like the alternate The Chinese Connection title) or a slightly different opening, like the Japanese version (which seems to try to lessen the anti-Japanese sentiment found in the film through the opening title card). This disc also features interviews actors Nora Miao, Riki Hashimoto, Jun Katsumura, and Yuen Wah. It closes with four theatrical trailers.
The third disc houses The Way of the Dragon, which, like the previous two titles, also offers some alternate opening credits (one using the alternate title Return of the Dragon) along with a collection of trailers and a radio spot. There are also a collection of interviews including one for Jon T. Benn, who talks about his role in the film. The best feature on here is Legacy of the Dragon, a 47-minute documentary on Bruce Lee’s life that ends up getting into a great amount of detail around Game of Death, the film he was working on after The Way of the Dragon before going off to Hollywood to do Enter the Dragon.
The theatrical version of Enter the Dragon is then found on disc four, and this is the only disc of the first five to not sport an audio commentary. It does feature the 30-minute making-of Blood and Steel that was initially produced for Warner’s 2-disc special edition DVD in 2004. It gathers together a number of people around the film’s production (along with James Coburn) to talk about the film and Lee. The disc also features a couple of other Warner features, including 16-minutes’ worth of interviews with widow Linda Lee Cadwell, a 7-minute EPK featurette, and the 19-minute Bruce Lee: In His Own Words, which showcases archival footage of Lee talking about his philosophies before closing on a montage accompanied by an incredibly cheesy song. There are then a collection of trailers, TV spots, and a radio spot. Criterion also includes a 2-minute archival interview with actor Tung Wai, who plays the young student at the beginning (this interview was found in some of the Shout! releases for the other Lee films). Sadly, Criterion was not able to carry over the lengthier documentaries found on some of the previous Warner editions, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey and The Curse of the Dragon.
Considering Game of Death’s unorthodox production (made after Lee died to make use of footage he had begun shooting for a film of the same name) it should be no surprise that this disc, disc five, ends up offering some of the more interesting features in the set. The big one would be Game of Death Redux, which is a new edit (Shout! included something similar on their releases) of the footage Lee shot, running 34-minutes. It’s an impressive edit, expertly dubbing in dialogue and making excellent use of John Barry’s score. But what’s most impressive about it is that it does feel like, at the very least, a complete section of a film. The context is missing, obviously, as it only shows three of the five planned fight scenes and is only able to explain the basic plot through a text intro, but it’s well put together all the same.
There is then a couple of trailers and a collection of alternate sequences, including one alternate opening credits sequence and then three alternate endings. That leads into some deleted scenes which includes another alternate ending where Billy Lo gets arrested, and with a fight scene that would show up in Game of Death II. Then for fun there are some bloopers and outtakes. But the second-best supplement on the disc is a great interview with Robert Wall, who recalls the production while also trash-talking director Robert Clouse as best he can.
The last two dual-layer discs in the set are then devoted to the supplements with disc six containing Game of Death II and the 1973 documentary about Bruce Lee, Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend. The documentary is okay, just a pretty standard look through his life and career (after starting out with coverage of his funeral), but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to finding Game of Death II, as stupid as it is, very entertaining, at least more so then the first film (though I will stress this movie is a sequel in name only). Unfortunately it’s presentation is lackluster with a horrendous English dub and even worse “high-def” video that can look like a lousy standard-definition upscale a lot of the time. Game of Death II also comes with an alternate credits sequence (using its original title, Tower of Death) and a trailer.
The seventh disc then contains a decent number of things. On this disc you will find the Special Edition of Enter the Dragon, running 3-minutes longer. The added footage seems to only consist of an added temple sequence at the beginning and then a quick moment that references said scene during the final showdown. What fans may find beneficial with Criterion’s presentation is that they include, for the first time in North America, the original monaural track (along with the 5.1 remix that has been on every release) that features Bruce Lee’s voice in the added scene. And as mentioned prior, the audio commentary with Paul Heller is also here.
Following this are a few interviews. Andre Morgan talks about the impact Golden Harvest had on the Hong Kong film business, while Grady Hendrix talks about the “Bruceploitation” genre that exploded after Lee’s death (which he considers Game of Death to be a part of). This is accompanied by a collection of trailers for a few notable films in the genre, though only a radio spot for Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death. Another interesting interview segment called Match the Lips features professional dubbers Michael Kaye and Vaughan Savage talking about the art of dubbing. The disc then closes with The Grandmaster & the Dragon, which features Wing Chun Grandmaster William Cheung talking about Lee.
Sadly, not everything found on previous editions for the films—whether from Shout!, Warner Bros., or even Fortune Star themselves—has made it here, and the included booklet (which is a foldout one designed to resemble a 70’s exploitation film magazine) only contains one essay, though a good one, written by Jeff Chang. I would have expected a thicker booklet with more content.
Still, there is a lot of good material, with Criterion carrying over some of the better things from Shout’s releases, and packing in their own exclusive material, along with the nutty Game of Death II.
Even if it’s not the comprehensive edition one would hope for, Criterion has done a great job pulling a large amount of material over from other editions while adding their own interesting features. The presentations vary but mostly look good, and it’s a big plus to finally get all of the films together in one package. An easy recommendation for fans and those just curious.