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   Now in our eleventh calendar year
    PCR #537  (Vol. 11, No. 28)  This edition is for the week of July 5--11, 2010.

"Predators"  by Mike Smith
EYEBORGS  by ED Tucker
Way of the Dragon (1972)  by Jason Fetters
Honoring # 39 .... .... Happy 50th! .... Spy Vs Spy .... Movie Notes .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf by Mike Smith

Way of the Dragon (1972)

Easily my favorite of all the Bruce Lee movies because it contains the real Bruce Lee. Gone is the naïve hot-tempered young man Lee played in The Big Boss. Also missing is the avenging student hell bent on crushing the rival Bushido school in Fists of Fury, (The Chinese Connection). What is present is a young man full of life, energy, and a great sense of humor. Part of the appeal of Way of the Dragon, is the anecdotes that mirrored Lee’s own life. You have the young Chinese traveler going to the West. As opposed to The Big Boss, where Lee is traveling within Asia. Once in the West, Lee is the hapless traveler that often occurs between East and West. Basic needs are sometimes hard to meet like trying to find a restaurant or navigating a foreign airport. For some reason, a sequence showing Lee entering a restaurant at the Rome airport was cut. That missing scene has several good qualities that adds to Lee’s character. Lee is seen walking around the airport with his stomach growling. He doesn’t know the Italian word for restaurant so he does what timeless travelers have always done and that is switching to gestures. He spots a young boy and sticks his finger down his throat in an attempt to illustrate eating. The boy misinterprets this gesture to mean getting vomited on and so runs away screaming. Finally Lee stumbles into a restaurant where he ironically happens to be standing right next to the door. There is where the missing scene was cut. The next shot shows Lee entering a restaurant, early in the morning, and trying to order breakfast. Unfortunately the menu is in English with no pictures of food to point at and not traveler friendly at all. Lee, with a big appetite, points randomly to several items that he can’t read. He is hoping for eggs, toast and the usual Western breakfast. When the waitress returns she is carrying a large tray with several bowls of soup to which Lee grimaces when he sees it. A wonk wonk music is played to emphasis the screw up and Lee gets to work eating rapidly from each bowl of soup. Of course, other patrons are watching him and laughing.

I have no idea why this scene was cut. It provides a universal anecdote that anyone who has ever traveled is sure to relate to. My guess is that it was cut because it was funny and the U.S. distributors wanted more of a streamlined action movie.

Next, Lee must find his contact and he only has an old outdated picture to go by. If Lee was in the U.S. he would definitely have a harder time because of Chinese immigration. In Rome, during the 70’s, I don’t believe there were that many Chinese so it was possibly easier to find a Chinese woman walking around the airport. Lee eventually meets up with Chen Ching Hua, played by the beautiful and talented, Nora Miao. She also played the girl at the shaved ice stand in The Big Boss and Bruce Lee’s love interest in Fists of Fury. Currently, Miao is living in Toronto and is the host of a radio show called “Coffee Talk.” I would like to think that she speaks of her past movie making experiences with Bruce.

When Lee meets up with Chen he is now given a voice. Previously he stumbled around the airport and appeared as a mime to great comic effect. I think he did this because for one reason, you can’t really communicate without a partner who speaks your language in a foreign country so you stumble around looking foolish. The second would be to show Lee’s ability to do comedy and show that he wasn’t just an action star with no other acting abilities. Lee was very skilled at comedy thanks to his early childhood films.

Another appeal in Way of the Dragon is the way that Lee is very physical around his friends. He was always playfully punching or pushing his friends. He was even this way with Chen because he generally treated women as one of the guys. The scene that best showcases this is when Lee is sitting at the Chinese restaurant and all the Chinese workers want to learn Kung Fu from Bruce. He playfully slaps several. This scene is just after his first fight between the thugs outside the restaurant.

Also there is a funny shot of Lee walking in Rome to the see the sights with Chen and he punches a curtain hanging down from a shop. All these scenes show how energetic and physical the real Bruce Lee was.

Way of the Dragon shows Bruce Lee’s own views on the martial arts. There is a key scene where Bob Wall and a Japanese Karate man are fighting. The main Mafia boss is watching so he can decide who will take care of Bruce Lee’s character. Suddenly Chuck Norris enters and Bob Wall runs over and bows to show respect to Norris who is his karate Sensei. The Japanese man says, “Who can do karate better than Japanese?”

To which Chuck squares off and quickly finishes off the Japanese man. Bruce believed in teaching anyone, regardless of nationality, martial arts. He didn’t believe that one race was better at learning to fight than another.

Another of Lee’s martial arts viewpoints, and something that is seen in all his movies, is that Lee applies the correct amount of force needed in all his fights. Usually he beats his opponent and does not resort to killing unless his entire family is wiped out in The Big Boss, or his master has been murdered in The Chinese Connection.

This point is well illustrated in the final battle between Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee that was shot inside the Coliseum. In fact that entire fight showcases both Lee’s physical martial arts and mental discipline. At the beginning of the fight, Chuck Norris is a larger and more powerful opponent then Lee. Lee keeps getting hit and knocked down. Several reasons are behind this.

a) Chuck Norris is larger and more powerful

b) Lee is static

c) Lee’s punches and kicks are all telegraphed

d) Lee is stuck using traditional martial arts techniques

This first half of the fight is necessary to show Lee’s view of traditional martial arts like Kung Fu and Karate. Most of the training involves throwing punches into empty air that lack power. Performing kicks in empty air that also doesn’t have a target. Set routines that cannot be changed. For example, an opponent punches and the other person blocks and punches back. Drills like these are repeated endlessly. Katas or a fixed series of movements that are no different then learning to dance. In kata, the student gets into a rigid static stance and either blocks, punches, or kicks and only moves around from stance to stance resulting in restricted movements.

Midway through the fight Lee starts dancing around like a boxer and uses concepts of timing, distance, and fakes to penetrate Norris’s techniques. Lee gets in a punch and then a kick and eventually he wins over his opponent. Here you have a visual definition of Lee own martial arts school called Jeet Kune Do. This upset several martial artists during the 60’s and 70’s because it went against the grain and showed how ineffective traditional systems can be.

Lee wins because of several factors.

a) He is dancing around. He has constant movement that makes it harder for Chuck Norris to get to him.

b) He is being non-telegraphic. While dancing around, Lee is able to throw punches and kicks that are harder to see because his arms and legs are constantly moving around.

c) He uses fakes to set up shots. Lee throws a few weak kicks to cause his opponent to be overconfident then he rushes in with a powerful kick that connects.

d) Use of timing and distance. Lee stressed the needed to bridge the gap between your opponent to close in for grappling or throwing techniques. He also backed up and moved forward to confuse Chuck Norris and timed each punch and kick so he wasn’t just punching but setting up the shot to make contact.

While the fight is going on between Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee a third thread appears that is the mental discipline of martial arts. You only provide just enough force to get the job done. When Norris has a leg and arm broken and is in bad shape he still wants to fight. He could have stopped and Lee’s character would have walked on. Because Norris was so determined to continue and kept attacking Lee, clearly after Norris was beaten, Lee had no choice but to kill him. There really wasn’t any other alternative in this case. This martial arts concept was best illustrated in the Kung Fu (1972) movie pilot where Master Kan is instructing Caine (David Carradine) and says:

“Perceive the way of nature and no force of man can harm you. Do not meet a wave head on: avoid it. You do not have to stop force: it is easier to redirect it. Learn more ways to preserve rather than destroy. Avoid rather than check. Check rather than hurt. Hurt rather than maim. Maim rather than kill. For all life is precious nor can any be replaced.”

This is a concept that Lee truly believed in and one that he put in his movies to show that he was following the above quote. He would rather hurt than kill but would kill only when killing was the only unavoidable option.

At the end of the fight and out of respect towards Chuck Norris and martial arts, Lee places Norris’ black belt over his body even when alive Norris wanted to kill him.

This is the quintessential Bruce Lee movie that shows Lee as an action star, a comedian, a philosopher, and a hard working martial artist that never stopped learning and evolving. Most of all it shows the real Bruce Lee and shows a glimpse into how the man really was.

To comment on this or any other PCR article, please visit The Message Board. "The Asian Aperture" is ©2010 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 ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.