It’s the early 2000s. Picture the trailer:
“MIRAMAX FILMS PRESENT THE NEW FILM BY QUENTIN TARANTINO. WHEN YOU ARE LOOKING TO PAY A DEBT, PUT IT ON THE ‘BILL’. THURMAN – LEE – CARRADINE – KILL BILL”
One can only imagine, but millions of fans would certainly have been chomping at the bit to see that film – if all had agreed to appear in it. Considering Thurman’s attire mirroring Lee’s in Game of Death, it would have been an apt homage. Another possible motivation would have been Lee agreeing to get one back on David Carradine, who beat Lee to the lead in the TV series Kung Fu.
One can also only speculate on what might have been if legendary martial artist Bruce Lee had lasted beyond his tragic death in July 1973. However, given his maverick mindset and desire to further the Martial Arts and spiritual message, we sense that Bruce Lee would have gone his own way and created a new genre of filmmaking and higher level of success that would have even transcended his achievements up to and including Enter the Dragon.
Bruce Lee: The Master Collection is the consummate collection of films and documentaries which long-term fans will have no trouble snapping up. There are no fewer than three here: The Curse of the Dragon (1993), Bruce Lee – The Man and the Legend (1973) and Bruce Lee – The Legend (1984). The latter two are variations of the same documentaries and contain vintage archive footage including Lee’s funeral, early films and his first Hollywood screen test. These are contained on the sixth DVD (not Blu-ray) disc.
Of the five completed films in the collection, which are all in Blu-ray and uncut (with the chain-sticks scenes all included throughout), The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972) and The Way of the Dragon (1972) are best viewed in their original language with English subtitle versions. Enter the Dragon (1973) and Game of Death (partly shot and filmed by Lee in 1972, but completed with doubles and re-edits by director Robert Clouse in 1978) were shot specifically for the English market.
So, what of the films themselves four decades on? It is safe to say that Lee was one of the first true superstar brands of contemporary cinema and remains a departed talent with considerable crossover appeal to the masses. The same energy and vibrancy that greeted audiences on their original releases is encompassed in its full glory. The remastering of the quintet of offerings in their full versions maintains the celluloid look (digital remastering tends to create a crisper, cleaner look at times when removing the original grain of the image in 35mm).
The plots of the films were very simple – humble man returns to visit his family, gauntlets and challenges are thrown down, thus providing an outlet so Lee can demonstrate his phenomenal feats of strength and skill. Enter the Dragon remains the suitable starting point for anyone unfamiliar with Lee’s legacy, but you can watch them in order from The Big Boss and appreciate how Lee evolved as a screen presence. Like Clint Eastwood, he was an expert in the art of doing less at times, but that would only heighten what he could do if prompted.
Story is secondary here and happily the films provide more than a fair share of action and thrills to the core group they are aimed at. Bruce Lee: The Master Collection is an excellent opportunity to witness what is still only a fraction of what a true world legend could achieve in his lifetime.
BRUCE LEE: THE MASTER COLLECTION / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: BRUCE LEE, JOHN SAXON, JIM KELLY, COLLEEN CAMP, MARIA YI / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 28TH