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Children of the Corn (2009)  by ED Tucker
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Bruce Lee Extravaganza

This will probably be the last time I write about a well-known Asian icon. I already wrote about Jackie Chan, so I can introduce readers to more obscure Asian topics and personalities. I have tried to avoid Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Godzilla, sushi, and other topics that have been written into the ground by countless authors.

However, since it's now November and Bruce Lee was born on November 27th in 1940, I decided to write a guide to finding Bruce Lee on DVD.

There have been numerous movies with the Bruce Lee or Bruce Li name attached to them that do not feature Bruce but imitators. This is known as Brucexploitation and I have seen DVD box sets for sell that are filled with this cheap junk. I am only looking at the DVDs that feature the real Bruce Lee.

I thought I had all the Bruce Lee DVDs available when I was browsing at the Sound Exchange on Nebraska and found The Green Hornet, which was released posthumously in 1974 to cash in on Bruce Mania. The Green Hornet takes a few episodes of the TV show and re-edits them into a feature film. It's not a true Bruce Lee movie but it does show a young Lee at 23 and some interesting fight sequences despite the limitations of martial arts action on broadcast TV. The Green Hornet has a amusing scene with space aliens in tacky costumes zapping Bruce Lee with rays emitting from their hands and sending Lee flying over a sofa. That was worth the price for the used DVD right there. The best scene is the final battle between Mako (Rising Sun, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Highlander III) using Praying Mantis Kung Fu against Bruce Lee in a Chinatown showdown. The interesting aspect of all The Green Hornet fights is that Bruce was still using Wing Chun (form of Chinese boxing.)

20th Century Fox released Bruce Lee: The Master Collection that does include the real Bruce Lee with the exclusion of everyone’s favorite, Enter the Dragon. The main problem with the box set is that it contains the U.S. titles of Lee films which are Fists of Fury, The Chinese Connection, Return of the Dragon, and Game of Death. All of these titles are wrong except for Game of Death. The other problem is that the DVDs only offer the English audio track so you can’t watch it subtitled in Mandarin or Cantonese. This is a minor problem, due to the fact that Lee stated in an interview on the Pierre Berton Show, that all his movies were shot silently and later the voices were dubbed in. That means Enter the Dragon and The Green Hornet are the only movies to feature Bruce Lee's actual voice.

The films themselves look good and the problem is that they are all heavily edited. Several humorous scenes were cut from Return of the Dragon and action scenes deemed too violent were cut from Fists of Fury. The later scene showed Lee throwing an axe at his opponent.

The main reason to seek out this out-of-print edition is for Bruce Lee: The Legend, an excellent documentary featuring rare footage and interviews with co-stars. What is interesting about the documentary is seeing Bruce Lee’s house in Kowloon, Hong Kong. It's like watching Cribs today with a walk through of his exercise equipment, his stereo and albums, different vitamins he took, and a odd shot of his toilet.

After Lee’s death, his house was bought and turned into a brothel. Tourists attempting to view his house were flatly turned away by the doorman. Only couples were admitted entrance. Recently, Lee’s house was bought and is now being restored as a tourist attraction as a result of protests by a Hong Kong fan club.

Following Fox’s Bruce Lee: The Master Collection, is Fox’s Bruce Lee: The Ultimate Collection that corrects many wrongs from the pervious box set.

For one, the titles are now correct as The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, and Game of Death.

Second, many of the missing edited scenes are put back in. There are so many funny moments between a naïve country boy character, played by Bruce Lee, and an Italian prostitute in Rome in Way of the Dragon. My favorite cut is the scene with Lee at the airport in Rome. If you have ever traveled to a foreign country where you don’t understand the language, you can relate to this scene. Lee is sitting at the airport’s restaurant and trying to read the menu, which he can’t read, and when the waitress asks Lee what he wants to order he says “eggs” in Chinese and she doesn’t understand. In a moment of frustration, Lee quickly points to several words on the menu and the waitress sighs at him and hurries off. She returns with 6 bowls of soup. Now we have menus with pictures so it makes it much easier traveling overseas. I remember trying to order at a Chinese restaurant in Japan and I couldn’t read the Chinese characters on the menu, so in Bruce Lee fashion, I motioned the waiter to follow me outside so I could repeatedly point at the plastic food model in the display case.

The Ultimate Collection also offers the English dubbed, as well as, the Cantonese and Mandarin dubs. Lee never learned Mandarin so his voice was never used on that track. Due to all the noise in Hong Kong, movies were shot without sound.

There are a few problems with The Ultimate Collection such as the inclusion of Game of Death II, which uses outtakes from Enter the Dragon, and is clearly Bruceploitation. I recently watched Game of Death II one Saturday afternoon, when I had nothing better to do, and you can see the lack of quality that went into the making of this. The plot is barely there and the main villain is some weird white man who eats raw meat to gain Kung Fu power.

There are no documentaries included but each DVD has special features with additional interviews from current Hong Kong stars. Oddly, there are no interviews with any of the major stars that worked with Lee, just an occasional stunt man with an amusing anecdote.

The biggest fault with this set is the re-mastered soundtrack with loud noises and goofy punching and kicking noises that were not in the originals. The same bad sounds that are in countless bad kung fu movies of the 80’s and 90’s. Even Lee’s nunchaku sounds have been redone and are so loud in the mix they sound like atomic bombs.

When you have enjoyed watching the originals, these sounds irritate, and were probably added at the last minute to appeal to younger fans. I hope that one day, U.S. and Hong Kong distributors get it right and release a true Bruce Lee DVD set with the original soundtrack, correct film titles, documentaries, and interviews with major surviving cast members.

Enter the Dragon is Lee's biggest U.S. hit and it is no surprise that there are numerous editions out there. The best one I have found is Warner Brothers 2-disc special edition that features many documentaries including the rare Blood and Steel: Making of Enter the Dragon that contains footage shot by co-star Ahna Capri who played the attractive blonde on Han’s island.

You also get Bruce Lee: In His Own Words, John Little’s Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey and The Curse of the Dragon narrated by George Takei. Curse of the Dragon is a unique look at an alleged curse that the Chinese believed killed Bruce and Brandon Lee both at young ages. Enter the Dragon has never looked better in any of the other DVDs out there and with all the additional features a vast improvement over Warner’s pervious single disc edition.

The casual fan can stop right here with the two box sets and The Green Hornet, but the serious collector has much to gain from these other recently produced projects.

The weakest of the new documentaries is Bruce Lee: Path of the Dragon narrated by Shannon Lee. It's more or less a tribute to her father and lacks the depth of A Warrior’s Journey and Bruce Lee: The Legend. Still, it offers a few interesting tidbits.

Bruce Lee fought in real life much different than the way his characters fought in the movies. For a look at how Bruce Lee trained and how his techniques apply to modern street fighting there is Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method: Basic Training and Self-Defense Techniques. Ted Wong and Richard Bustillo instruct the viewer on a wide variety of topics from stretching, to basic body conditioning, to application of techniques. Ted Wong was an original student of Lee’s Jeet Kune Do and he has not altered or watered down the martial art style, as did several other instructors who created Jeet Kune Do Concepts which borrow elements from popular current styles.

The movie fan is able to see, in the self-defense section how Jeet Kune Do works on an opponent. Gone are the loud battle cries, the posing for the camera, and the cliché of taking off your shirt to reveal rippling muscles during a fight. This is a straight and direct no-nonsense look at real unarmed combat.

You can see the difference after viewing this DVD and comparing it with the many movie fight scenes. The DVD closely follows the book series Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method: Volume 1 Self-Defense and Volume 2 Basic Training and provides a visualization designed to enhance learning from the text.

In the 90’s Jason Scott Lee starred in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story which is meant to be a big Hollywood biopic. However, several scenes in the movie are for dramatic effect and are not true to who Lee was or actual events that took place in his short life. It is an entertaining film if you can overlook all the inaccuracies like Bruce Lee fighting at Ed Parker’s Karate Tournament where Lee merely gave a demonstration or the fight on the set of The Big Boss with the brother of a man who Lee fought and injured shows up to settle the score. One day a true biopic will be made and some of the myths laid to rest.

Recently there was History Channel’s How Bruce Lee Changed the World which features rare home video from the Lee family. Several different personalities from LL Cool J to a real Shoalin Monk, living and teaching in New York, share how Lee shaped their lives.

Each year it seems new documentaries are being made about Bruce Lee and sometimes the quality is there and sometimes it isn’t. These are just my reflections and opinions on showing the real Bruce Lee available on DVD.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2009 by Jason Fetters.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.