Blu-ray Release: August 29, 2023
Audio: Cantonese and English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono (both cuts); Mandarin and Alternate Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono (1976 cut only)
Run Time: 120:05 (1976 cut), 82:40 (1980 cut)
Director: Lo Wei
Shanghai, 1910. With the Jing Wu martial arts school in shambles and pressure from the Japanese armies to suppress a Chinese uprising after Chen Zhen's martyrdom, Chen's fiancée Li Er (Nora Miao) escapes to Japanese-occupied Taiwan to hide at her grandfather's school. Despite her attempts to lay low, she runs afoul of karate master Okimura (Chan Sing), who plans to take over all of the Chinese-run schools in Taiwan. Amidst all of this, a young aimless thief, known only as Ah Long (Jackie Chan), befriends Li Er after unknowingly stealing the nunchaku once yielded by the late Chen. Will he give into his fears or will he learn the martial arts of Jing Wu and fight alongside Li Er against the Japanese? (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Lo Wei and Wu Chia Hsiang’s The Big Boss (aka: Fists of Fury, 1971) positioned Bruce Lee as the biggest martial arts star in Asia, but its follow-up, Fist of Fury (aka: The Chinese Connection, 1972), set him on course to becoming the biggest international movie star of any genre. After directing himself in The Way of the Dragon (1972), Lee took on Hollywood with Robert Clouse’s Hong Kong/US co-produced blockbuster Enter the Dragon (1973), but died suddenly and tragically before the film was released. Soon, every film studio across Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea was jockeying to find a replacement for the one of a kind kung fu idol, leading to an arms race of genuine heirs and sorry knock-offs. One early contender was a young, Peking Opera-trained martial artist named Chan Kong-sang, aka: Jackie Chan. Decades later, Chan was destined to create a completely different brand of martial arts action hero than Lee – an underdog inspired by Buster Keaton and famous for death-defying stunts – but, in the mid-1970s, he was in danger of being just another short-lived Bruce Lee clone.
The first clear sign that Chan was being groomed as a possible Lee replacement was a starring role (under the short lived pseudonym Sing Lung) in New Fist of Fury, a direct sequel to Fist of Fury from original director Lo Wei. Chan had actually appeared as an extra in the Fist of Fury and acted as villain Riki Hashimoto’s stunt double (he also gets beat up by Lee in Enter the Dragon), but had only just made his co-lead debut alongside Tan Tao-Liang in John Woo’s Hand of Death (aka: Countdown in Kung Fu, 1976). Chan doesn’t play Chen Zhen, but a new character, which certainly helps alleviate comparisons to Lee, and he works with original Big Boss and Fist of Fury action choreographer/director Han Ying-Chieh, who was another transplant from the Peking Opera school. Han’s choreography experience extends back to King Hu classics Come Drink with Me (1966), Dragon Inn (1967), and A Touch of Zen (1971). Between him and Lo, Chan was in the hands of expert filmmakers who recognized his strengths as an underdog and didn’t try too hard to cram him into a Bruce Lee-shaped frame. He’s still meant to become a Lee type, but at least he doesn’t start there. Chan is joined by returning Fist of Fury cast members Nora Miao and Hung Ying-Chieh, though everyone is blown out of the water, however, by stunt coordinator Cheng Siu-siu as the villain’s hypercapable daughter, in what I believe is her only film role.
I think that New Fist of Fury’s key problem (besides being overlong, more on that in a moment) isn’t the misuse of Chan, but that Fist of Fury’s main themes of colonization and its connection to martial arts (not to mention its anti-Japanese sentiment) was already built and improved upon by movies, like Jimmy Wang Yu’s One-Armed Boxer (1972) and Hapkido (aka: Lady Kung Fu, 1972), which leaves Lo’s film feeling like a sort of throwback. I might be wrong, especially given Chen Zhen’s enduring popularity as a character, but New Fist of Fury’s disappointing box office (the original movie generated an estimated $100 million total gross, while the sequel couldn’t break a quarter million) might have been an indication that the formula had run its course. Lo and Chan moved on quickly as a director/actor duo, making a handful of more popular movies that were unrelated to Lee’s legacy, so perhaps Hong Kong audiences simply weren’t buying Chan as the heir apparent. Either that or they were sick of inferior filmmakers picking the bones of Lee’s career.
Fist of Fury had other official and unofficial remakes and sequels over the years, including Lee Tso-nam’s Fist of Fury II (1977) and Fist of Fury III (1979), both starring Bruce Li, and a partial documentary from South Korea called Last Fist of Fury (aka: The Real Bruce Lee, 1979), co-directed by Shi-hyeon and American producer Jim Markovic. These films and, somewhat surprisingly New Fist of Fury, have been largely forgotten outside of Brucesploitation fan circles, but the Fist of Fury brand lives on in Gordon Chan’s pseudo-remake Fist of Legend (1994), which was choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping and starred one of the few martial artists/actors to truly live up to Bruce Lee’s, erm, legend, Jet Li. That movie spun off into a television series entitled Fist of Fury (1995) starring another arguable heir to Lee’s legacy, Donnie Yen. The series was then itself spun off into a legacy sequel film also starring Yen, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010), directed by Andrew Lau Wai-keung.
In 1980, Chan directed himself in The Young Master for Golden Harvest and, in the wake of box office glory, New Fist of Fury was re-edited – drastically changing certain plot elements and cutting over 40 minutes of footage – and reissued with a Cantonese dub. As a general rule, I’m against studios and producers altering movies without the input of the original filmmakers, but I’d also argue that Lo’s Mandarin language cut is overly indulgent and not very well paced. There are good ideas throughout, especially the espionage/wartime thriller elements that could have sustained the entire film without Chan’s character, but this all ultimately stretches the narrative thin over a two hour period. Funnily enough, storywise, New Fist of Fury has a lot in common with Lau Kar-leung’s Drunken Master II (1994), including Chan kicking off the plot by switching parcels with an underground rebel. The opportunistic, choppy, and somewhat incoherent 1980 recut isn’t what the film needs to succeed, but I can imagine a better 82-minute cut working. Either way, it’s nice to have both versions on this Blu-ray for the sake of comparison.
Perhaps due to the 1980 re-release, New Fist of Fury was available on multiple budget label VHS tapes, including at least two from Simtar and one from a company called All Seasons Entertainment that claims to run 120 minutes and has art taken from at least three other movies on its box. The 1976 cut (with slight edits) was first made available stateside via Columbia TriStar’s 2002 DVD. Fans with region free players could import a nice anamorphic PAL version of the 1980 cut from Hong Kong Legends, but there wasn’t a multi-cut option until the film hit Blu-ray in the UK, via 88 Films, and Germany, via Splendid Film.
Arrow’s US Blu-ray features what they call a new 2K restoration from the original negatives, but, seeing that it was supplied directly by Fortune Star, I’m going to assume that 88 Films (and possibly Splendid?) were working from the same source. The image quality is also in keeping with other transfers Arrow has recycled from Fortune Star sources, which is good news, because they’ve all looked pretty good so far. Woo and cinematographer Liang Yung-chi take a very typical early-stage Golden Harvest approach by shooting a lot of the film outdoors and keeping the palette simple. Golden Harvest movies also tended to mute their production design compared to Shaw Bros., but there are still some flashy red and blue costumes throughout. There’s definitely some DNR going on here and harsh blacks produce minor haloes, though weird framing choices and major anamorphic lens distortions are not the transfer’s fault. There are dips in quality between the two cuts with Mandarin exclusive moments occasionally appearing dimmer and rougher, particularly during darker moments, where detail is eaten up and the entire palette appears grey/brown. I don’t have a retail copy on hand, so I’m not sure if the booklet warns viewers of the difference.
New Fist of Fury comes fitted with Cantonese, Mandarin, and English dub options spread over the two cuts. The 1976 version was only ever dubbed into Mandarin and, if lip sync is any indication, most cast members were speaking Mandarin on-set, even if no one was recording them. This track has problems with consonant hiss, but the music – a mix of library cues and original pieces by Chun Yung-Yu – is particularly dynamic for being pressed into a single channel mix. There are quality dips here and there that I’m attributing to the condition of some of the Mandarin exclusive scenes. The 1980 cut includes English and Cantonese options and both tracks are in better shape than the Mandarin track with the Cantonese dub being the strongest of the bunch in terms of sheer volume and lack of shrill high end distortions. I’m actually not sure which cut composer Chun worked on, because there are differences, such as the 1980 cut’s synthy opening titles.
Commentary with Frank Djeng & Michael Worth (1976 cut only) – Djeng, the NY Asian Film Festival programmer, leads another fact-filled HK martial arts movie track alongside Worth, the martial artist/filmmaker/critic co-producer of David Gregory’s Enter the Clones of Bruce (2023) documentary (with Djeng). Subject matter includes the usual mix of behind-the-scenes stories, cast & crew filmographies, and production/post-production history with emphasis on Chan and Lo’s careers, comparisons to Fist of Fury, political context, and Brucesploitation in general.
Commentary with Brandon Bentley (1980 cut only) – The Asian cult cinema expert and filmmaker covers some of the same ground as Djeng and Worth, but spends a little extra time breaking down the many, many changes between the two versions of the film, including what’s missing from the shorter cut, differences in the music, and various international releases of each cut.
New Fist, Part Two Fist (7:35, HD) – Brandon Bentley returns for a new video essay that illustrates the differences and similarities between New Fist of Fury and Lee Tso-nam’s more Brucesploitation-heavy Fist of Fury II (1977).
Trailer gallery – Hong Kong theatrical trailer and English export trailer.
Chen Zhen trailer reel – Fist of Fury export trailer, Fist of Fury Part II U.S. trailer, Fist of Fury III French trailer, Fist of Legend Cantonese video trailer, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen U.S. video trailer, and Fist of Legend (2019).
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be seen by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.