Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection) (1972)
Directed by Lo Wei
Bruce Lee employed a unique fighting style consisting of herky-jerky motions, with fists and feet moving in impulsive yet tightly controlled fashion. The actor/director/martial artist/philosopher was born in San Francisco in 1940 under the name of Lee Jun-fan and moved between the United States and his parents’ native Hong Kong several times during his short life. He founded a martial arts style called Jeet Kune Do (“Way of the Intercepting Fist”) while mastering many others, all for the sake of expressing a form unbound by any one set of rules. The sense of freedom inherent to his motions was emphasized across all parts of his small yet brawny body, including a boyish face whose features slid between joy and anguish over the course of any given fight. In their best moments, the five films in which Lee starred before a brain aneurysm claimed him at age 32 express the exhilaration of achieving one’s best self, a sensation that Lee understood as reaching total self-awareness. This manifested itself onscreen through tales of a little guy fighting to earn respect for himself and his group.
In Fist of Fury—a film that broke the Hong Kong box office record set by his and actor-director Lo’s collaboration The Big Boss the previous year—Lee plays Chen Zhen, an early 1900s-era youth returning to his native Shanghai who discovers that his beloved kung fu teacher has died of “sickness” at the hands of Japanese occupiers enthralled with tormenting and bullying the students at his school. In short order, and with trembling fist raised, the young man does his utmost to fling their mockery back at them, and then shatter it and them into pieces. Chen Zhen, who once dreamt of marriage (to a wide-eyed fiancée played quietly by Nora Miao), abandons life in his community for the sake of going rogue on its behalf. With each one-on-one battle waged against a foreign invader—including, most epically, a hulking Russian fighter (Robert Baker) delighted to be amidst the Japanese—Chen Zhen comes a step closer to achieving freedom for his people, a freedom that hovers painfully beyond his reach.
Fist of Fury will screen at MoMA in a new 4K restoration undertaken by the laboratory L’Immagine Ritrovata on behalf of the Hong Kong distributor Fortune Star. It and the new 4K restorations of three of Lee’s other starring films will receive their North American premieres. Lee’s best-known film, Enter the Dragon, will additionally receive a weeklong run at MoMA January 29-February 4. Aaron Cutler (January 27, 7pm; January 29, 6pm at MoMA’s Bruce Lee retro)