Bruce Lee remains the greatest icon of martial arts cinema, and a key figure of modern popular culture. It was only fitting we count down his top 10 most iconic and prolific fights in cinema & TV. We kick off the number 10 choice:
“When he punched me that last time, I had to stay home from work because the pain in my chest was unbearable”.
In his second major film after The Big Boss. Bruce Lee plays Chen Zhen, a student of Huo Yuanjia, who fights to defend the honour of the Chinese and to bring to justice those responsible for his master’s death. The key fight sequence between Lee and Baker is a mixture of punishing action and dry humor, as at one point Lee bites Baker on his leg to escape an arm lock (and then Lee wipes his mouth just like he was simply finishing a meal), plus Lee boxes with Baker, jabbing him repeatedly in the face whilst wearing a cheeky grin! The fight comes to a dramatic conclusion as Lee side kicks Baker in the head, knocking him senseless, and then Lee delivers a lethal karate chop to Baker’s windpipe, terminating his bigger opponent.
When Bruce Lee directed his action scenes, he implemented ideas which became the mainstream after this movie. Firstly, realism had been added so when he hits his opponent, the opponent shows real pain with the exception of the villains who might be able to take down the hero. Secondly, he has the sense of how to move the camera, where the edit points were and how to make the choreography more fluid. This made his fights nicely paced, giving the intensity to make it enjoyable. Lastly, he is able to use the whole set rather than just two people standing there, fighting. This is shown in the attention to detail in the confrontation and how people surrounded the main hero or used weapons in an ice warehouse
Kato was Britt Reid’s valet, who doubled as The Green Hornet’s unnamed, masked driver and partner to help him in his vigilante adventures, disguised as the activities of a racketeer and his chauffeur/bodyguard/enforcer. According to the storyline, years before the events depicted in the series, Britt Reid had saved Kato’s life while traveling in the Far East. Depending on the version of the story, this prompted Kato to become Reid’s assistant or friend. When Lee first appeared on TV it was truely something to behold.
Shih was initially a non-believer and he converted to Christianity and was baptized after being influenced by Lee, a devout Christian. That just shows you the power and influence Lee had over other people. Lee is a Shaolin martial artist from Hong Kong who possesses great philosophical insight into martial arts as well as physical prowess. He receives an invitation to a martial arts competition on an island organised by the mysterious Han (Shih Kien). Lee learns from his teacher that Han was also once a Shaolin student, but had been expelled from their order for abusing their code of conduct.
Suzuki uses a Katana to fight back but he is no match for Chen, who is armed with a Nunchaku. In the dramatic ending of the fight scene, Chen sends Suzuki soaring out of the room with a flying kick and kills him, thus avenging his master’s death. Chen returns to Jingwu School and finds that many of his fellow students have been killed during the Japanese’s raid, although all of the raiders have been killed in the fight as well.
Lee has already been warned of this brute’s atrocities but just in case we are in any doubt that we are about to witness an archetypal Cantonese Drubbing, we are reminded that Lee’s sister was forced to stab herself in the heart with a shard of glass, to avoid being raped by O’Hara. In fact it was during this encounter that he gained his vivid facial scar. So, with the scene perfectly set, the two contestants square up in a classic opposing forearm fighting stance and the match starts. From the outset, we can see that this isn’t even going to be a contest. Lee administers a stinging opening backhand slap before O’Hara can even blink. Shaken and humiliated, O’Hara resumes the stance, wary now that he knows Lee’s speed. It makes no difference though, as Lee contemptuously lashes him across the face with the exact same move.
Dan Inosanto was Bruce Lee’s right hand man and the master charged with spreading Jeet Kune Do around the world. Dan himself is of mixed Filipino-American descent and has done much to popularize South East Asian martial arts such as Kali, Muay Thai and Silat. He has had minor roles in a number of movies, including Bruce Lee’s uncompleted last film Game of Death, but this one has always stood out for us.
After Lee defeats Filipino martial arts master Dan Inosanto, who gets into a squabble with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who fights with a free and fluid style mirroring Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. Because Abdul-Jabbar’s character has great size and strength in addition to a fighting style as potent as Lee’s, he can only be defeated once Hai recognizes that an unusually high sensitivity to light is his greatest weakness. I credit this scene as the main influence I fell in love with Kung-Fu films many years ago. And from certain shots that are repeated in the sequence, it’s obvious the fight scene had not completed shooting, and there were some shots yet to be done for the scene. But still, just watching Lee in action is always a joy, and this scene with Jabbar has a real fascination all of its own.
The fight between the two of them is, in my opinion, the most sophisticated fight ever captured on film. It may not look as stylish as some Jackie Chan or Jet Li fights but that is only the surface. Deep down this fighting sequence uses all the wisdom and martial arts knowledge that made Bruce Lee a legend. It was the first time that Bruce Lee as writer, producer and director had the creative freedom to do whatever he wished. The result is a final gladiatorial duel with 7 times world karate champion, Chuck Norris in the Coliseum. Two worlds collide in this fight: Chuck’s modern karate style fighting and Jeet Kune Do. If there were a martial arts film museum, this fight would be in it. A fighter can learn more about every aspect of fighting by studying this fight than by studying hundreds of real fights. In this movie you can see a combination of all Jeet Kune Do theories: timing, traping, rhythm, distance control, the element of surprise etc. Also in this scene there are no wires or acrobatics. This is pure martial arts wisdom in action. Need I say more?
This is the final scene of the movie ‘The Big Boss.’ This shows the showdown between Cheng and the Big Boss. The hero kills many in individual combat in his revenge. The story of his love for his Chinese girl and his eventual end are an action packed martial arts treat showing Bruce Lee’s style of Kung Fu. There is nothing phony about this fight and no special effects are involved, just pure 100% old fashioned non stop raw action fighting. We were on the edge of our seat the entire time and we bill this as the most climatic, suspenseful fight of his career.
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