Tag Archives: Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee: A Retrospective

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

With Callum Petch still on a break from his regular DreamWorks Animation: A Retrospective series this week, Owen steps in to fill the void. Unfortunately, his knowledge of DreamWorks compared to Callum’s is fractional, so instead he’s sticking to what he knows; that happens to be action movies and their stars. In particular, perhaps the most iconic of them all, the legendary Bruce Lee.

fist of fury

The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.

Post the 1930’s, has there ever been a single actor who so drastically revolutionised the cinematic fortunes of one country on a global scale quite like the iconic Cantonese martial arts master, Bruce Lee? I don’t want to turn this into an amateur biography page, but it’s important to give some context before I go on to talk about his movies.

Born in San Francisco in 1940 (but raised in Kowloon) to a famous opera/film actor father and wealthy mother, he returned to the United States at the age of 18 when his parents were worried for his safety. Supposedly with a contract out for his life at one stage after beating up the son of a triad member, he eventually settled in Seattle, attending high school and working as a part time waiter at a family-friend’s restaurant. Graduating from University and still pursuing his keen interest in martial arts, specifically Wing Chun, a skill he developed whilst training under the [then] living legend, Yip Man; Bruce eventually created his own unique fighting style known as Jeet Kune Do (The Way of the Intercepting Fist), the “style of no style”, which he taught classes in.

A well respected businessman, a genuine martial arts master and from 1967 after co-starring in The Green Hornet TV series, Bruce Lee would go on to become one of the most recognisable pop-culture icons and celebrated movie stars of all time. This despite being the lead actor in just one American movie, 1973’s Enter The Dragon. Tragically, he would die from a cerebral edema a week before it went on general release and would never know just how massively successful it would be.

Cynically suggested by some as being the astronomical success he was almost solely due to his untimely death, that simply isn’t true. Comparisons are commonly made with the likes of Jim Morrison, River Phoenix, Kurt Cobain, even Heath Ledger, for having such a lasting legacy ultimately due to his unfortunate passing, it’s important to remember that Bruce Lee was already a huge star on the other side of the world anyway.

He is also far from the only iconic movie star to come from the relatively tiny (but densely populated) island of Hong Kong. To name but a few; Sammo Hung, Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Stephen Chow, Jet Li, Tony Leung, Donnie Yen, Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung and of course Jackie Chan, they all hail from this little region of southern China. It’s impossible and probably unfair to comment on how well known they would have been if not for Bruce Lee, but by starring in the first big budget Kung Fu film produced in America, he certainly made it easier for them!

I don’t know how most people nowadays first come across Lee and his fellow countrymen’s films. I introduced a friend of mine to him just last year and even now, over 40 years later, Enter The Dragon still stands up as an excellent and thoroughly entertaining film. He just seems to be on TV hardly even half as often as I remember him being when I was younger. He’s talked about even less.

My first experience with Kung Fu movies probably occurred during my first year of secondary school in the late 90’s. My dad used to work nights back then, but me and my younger brother would stay up and watch the midnight-film seasons on the Sci-Fi Channel (that’s right kids, the Sci-Fi Channel, not the SyFy Channel). They would sometimes show a series of anime films, where I’d discover things like Akira, Ghost In The Shell, Perfect Blue, Violence Jack, Wind of Amnesia and other movies my mum probably didn’t realise we were way too young for. By the same token, the Sci-Fi Channel were also responsible for my first viewing of movies like Drunken Master, Master With Cracked Fingers, Fist of Legend and the entire filmography of one Bruce Lee.

It’s partly the reason that I’m writing this article right now. I have such a strong emotional connection to these movies. Deep down, I’m still that 11 year old kid who was mesmerised by the wavy hands of Mr Lee, the unbelievably cool way he danced across the screen and his high-pitched yelling as he battered large bearded Western white men or caricature Japanese bad guys. Despite having re-watched Enter The Dragon and First of Fury on numerous occasions over the years, it struck me recently that I hadn’t seen his other films for the longest time. Using a bit of extended annual leave from my real job, I did what most people would do in that situation and used a couple of those days to re-watch his five most important feature length films. Beginning in chronological order with…

1] The Big Boss (aka Fists of Fury) (1971)

Budget: Unknown (low)

Gross: HK $3,197,417. North America: $2,800,000 (US/ Canada rentals)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%

Already a hugely popular figure in his native Hong Kong, it’s rumoured he used to receive more fan mail for his role as Kato on the TV show The Green Hornet than its lead actor, Van Williams. It’s because of this, as well as his experience in minor roles in various TV shows and films whilst growing up, on top of his reputation for his respected Kung Fu skills and his relationship with producer Raymond Chow that were pivotal in his casting in Lo Wei’s kung fu film. Keen to forge his own path after recently parting company with the Shaw Brothers who planned to pull out of Hong Kong, Chow had an awful lot riding on the success of this movie and his faith in Bruce Lee.

Sworn to non-violence, the plot sees Lee play Cheng, a poor immigrant to Thailand, who joins his extended family’s ice factory. After he uncovers a sinister plot, he breaks his vows and kicks a lot of arse.

Despite some good visual gags (e.g. a man being punched through barn wall and leaving an exact silhouette outline, or flinging a bird cage into the air with it hooking on a tree branch perfectly etc), the trademark humour is still there as well as some very entertaining and surprisingly violent fight scenes. Whether pummelling people or stabbing them to death, it is actually incredibly brutal. The ending of the movie had to be edited for American release to bring it down from an ‘X’ to an ‘R’ rating due to the gruesome nature of it. However, it takes a long time for any decent action scenes to happen and suffers from being rather jilted, particularly as Lee isn’t the top billed actor. Although, that doesn’t stop him from overshadowing James Tien.

It’s not the strongest story, nor does it really showcase Lee’s philosophy in quite the way I assume he hoped it would. Not that it mattered as it broke him into the Hong Kong mainstream as The Big Boss became the highest grossing film in their history. It gave Lee the level of exposure that he craved across the rest of South East Asia which would be instrumental in his increasing success.

2] Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection) (aka The Iron Hand) (1972)

Budget: $100,000 (estimated)

Gross: HK $4,431,423. North America: $3,400,000

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

If you’ve been following our Decade In Film series at all, you may have already seen just how much I love Bruce Lee films. In my 1972 article, I included Fist of Fury (as I’ve always known it, although there is some evidence to suggest that its true title should be Fists of Fury). It surpassed the previous domestic box office records of The Big Boss and if his previous film shot him into fame, then this is the one that truly made him an international star.

In a very pro-China plot, Lee plays Chen Zhen, the brightest student at a martial arts school who are challenged by some Japanese thugs and who goes on to avenge the death of his master at their hands. It’s not an altogether uncommon theme for HK films of the time. Bruce himself lived under the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during his childhood for a short while and though the film portrays some rather, erm, broad stereotypes, it serves to both instil some pride in his home nation as well as act as a showcase for his Jeet Kune Do.

Which it definitely does with aplomb. The choreography of the fight scenes in Fist of Fury far surpasses those of The Big Boss. You just get the impression that in his second feature working with Lo Wei, they really figured out exactly how best to shoot the hand to hand (or hand to nunchuku) combat sequences. Whether taking on an entire dojo full of students and their master, or hypnotically waving his hands to confuse and disorientate his European opponent, it looks better in almost every aspect.

His character became so popular in fact that he has been reinterpreted many times since. He was the inspiration for the semi-remake Fist of Legend, with Jet Li taking on the mantle. He’s still popular even today with Donnie Yen taking over in 2010’s Legend of the Fist. But it would not be Lee’s most iconic film. That was still a year away from release.

3] Way of the Dragon (aka Return of the Dragon) (1972)

Budget: HK $130,000

Gross: US $85 million [according to Wikipedia, with citation needed]

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

In many ways, though he reportedly wasn’t keen on its release in the West, it was incredibly popular upon a re-release in 1974, a year after Bruce Lee’s death. After working on two films produced by Golden Harvest, where he was given more creative freedom than was usual for Hong Kong films of the time, Lee formed his own production company Concord Production Inc with Raymond Chow. This meant that for their first production, Way of the Dragon (a play on Bruce’s Chinese screen name meaning Little Dragon) Bruce took on the producing, writing, directing and acting responsibilities, giving him complete control of the film.

Set in Italy, it was also his first to be based in Europe rather than Asia. Working at a restaurant in Rome, Tang Lung (Lee) and his uncle get in trouble with the local mafia. After taking down a gang of heavies in the alley outside their restaurant, things go from bad to worse. Embroiled in various assassination attempts, he is challenged by different combatants, escalating all the way to a showdown with his one-time real life sparring partner and close friend, Chuck Norris.

Tang’s introduction to the audience is his arrival at an airport; an unfamiliar world with unfamiliar customs and languages. After stuffing himself with too many bowls of soup and unbuttoning his trousers, it becomes apparent that Lee does not intend to treat his project too seriously. He wants it to be fun, as well as entertaining and educational. Unfortunately, it would be Lee’s only completed directorial effort, but contains some of his most revered work. An improvised sparring scene with Chuck Norris around the Flavian Amphitheatre is testament to his aptitude in front of and behind the camera.

4] Enter The Dragon (1973)

Budget: $850,000

Gross: HK $3,307,520.40. US $25 million. $200 million (worldwide)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%

An as then unprecedented budget for America’s first co-produced (Warner Bros (US) and Golden Harvest (HK)) kung-fu movie helped convince Bruce Lee that the States were about to take him and his movies seriously. With director Robert Clouse at the helm, whom he knew from working with on Ironside, he even interrupted production half way through his own fourth film, The Game of Death, to return to the US and take the lead role. It would turn out to be the correct decision as not only has it so far grossed approximately $200 million worldwide, it gained him significant exposure and forever thrust him into the public’s conscious.

Things could so easily have gone wrong for Enter The Dragon. Tonally, it’s closer to 70’s exploitation movies than to a lot of other action movies of its time. There’s somewhat excessive nudity, violent deaths and a Bond-esque villain called Han who has organised a mixed martial arts tournament on his private island. Films of this ilk have often been derided, but there is something undeniably special about this particular one. John Saxon and Jim Kelly may spend a lot of their time busy lookin’ good, but they too are excellent additions to the series and are more than just a diverting side-story. Yes, OK, they’re both American – one of whom happens to be a white male – but in a roundabout way, they seek to represent a harmonising of cultures in society. A coming together of people from all over the world indiscriminately. Han’s purpose is to find the best fighter on Earth, whether that’s a debt-ridden Caucasian American, or a street wise African-American, a bruiser from New Zealand, or a Shaolin martial artist. Ethnicity is as unimportant to the characters as it was important for the film industry to have such a diverse cast.

The film also featured cameos and minor roles from the likes of Sammo Hung, Bolo Yeung and a fresh-faced Jackie Chan;  an actor who would go on to become the closest thing to a “face” that Golden Harvest and kung-fu films would have after Bruce Lee’s death. Enter The Dragon would excite, inspire and influence a whole generation of film makers. Heck, it probably still inspires people in all forms of the entertainment industry, such is its longevity and timeless quality.

5] Game of Death (1978)

Budget: Unknown

Gross: HK $3,436,169

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

It was later on in the year of 1972 that filming was suspended on the movie Bruce Lee hoped would become his best and most personal project to date. Intended to finally be the picture that could display his Jeet Kune Do to its fullest; showing no matter how good other forms of martial arts were, it was his free-flowing, adaptive style that would triumph over their rigidity. A metaphor for life and indeed his own career.

Supposedly, he actually managed to shoot over 100 minutes of footage of The Game of Death before halting production temporarily. Alas, most of that has apparently been lost in the Golden Harvest archives, leaving just 39 minutes of original footage of Lee in his famous yellow jump suit, demonstrating his prowess with nunchucks, bamboo canes and of course his fists and feet on the top three levels of the pagoda. Footage that was originally meant to be the film’s main centrepiece.

Rising through the five levels of the Korean wooden pagoda with his chums, using his own developed technique to dispatch each enemy in order to reach the top and claim an unknown treasure that he could trade with the gangsters who’ve kidnapped his brother and sister, each battle is even more climactic than the last. Unfortunately only three of these fights were recorded; one against Dan Inosanto and the other featuring Ji Han-Jae before meeting former basketball star (and real life student of Bruce Lee’s), the 7ft 2in tall Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the top floor.

Whilst the actual full plot is never disclosed during the footage recorded, leaving it like some weird sort of home invasion film where Bruce rises through the floors of the pagoda beating up the inhabitants on each level for no real purpose, it is exceptionally well shot and choreographed.

And still makes more sense than the plot of the re-editing of Lee’s original The Game of Death into 1978’s posthumous Game of Death! Released five years after his passing, with a completely different plot about an actor called Billy Ho (played by about four different actors in total, all acting as stand ins for Bruce Lee) and some nonsensical guff involving facial reconstruction and assassination attempts, it blends a limited amount of original footage with entirely new shots by Enter The Dragon director, Robert Clouse. In fact, it opens with the fight scene from Way of the Dragon between Lee and Norris, which wasn’t even shot for The Game of Death! For all intents and purposes, like a lot of Brucespoiltation, it was a cash in as much as it was a chance for Bruce Lee’s fans to have one last opportunity to see their hero on-screen again, albeit via archival footage. It’s a shame that it’s so insufferably dire for the most part.

I suppose after watching these films, I’m still not entirely sure whether my fondness for the films is mostly because of the nostalgia I hold towards them, or if it’s because they’re actually that good. That said, I am absolutely certain that at least three of them definitely hold up due to their innovative style and for their sheer entertainment value. The most important lesson to learn from Bruce Lee and his movies can be summed up with my favourite quote of his from Enter The Dragon:

Don’t think. Feel. It’s like a finger pointing at the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!

A Decade In Film: The Seventies – 1973

This week Owen gives us a run down on his favourite 5 films from 1973. A year in which Nixon is inaugurated for his second term as President of the USA despite the ongoing Watergate scandal, in a blow to male chauvinists everywhere, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in a game of tennis, and one of the Premier League’s greatest midfielders ever, Claude Makelele, was born. Oh, and some film stuff happened too.

5. Enter The Dragon

Enter the DragonDon’t think. FEEL. It’s like a finger pointing at the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!

What a year for Bruce Lee’s finest film to fall on. Almost any other year in the 70’s and this would be either 1st or 2nd choice.

From the opening bout between Lee and a young Sammo Hung, to its climactic and iconic hall of mirrors scene, this kung-fu classic delivers on just about every level. Charisma oozes out of Lee like blood from Jackie Chan’s face (true fact: Lee actually smacked Chan in the face with a stick in this film). Although he died before its premiere, it’s often the film most people will think of first when asked to name a Bruce Lee movie (not a fact: I may have made that up.)

The plot focuses on 3 central characters; obviously Bruce Lee being one of those; the other two are Roper, a tough, gambling, debt-ridden American played by John Saxon; and Williams, an African American martial arts master played by Jim Kelly. They are invited to take part in a fighting tournament on an island by a mysterious fellow called Han. Lee’s role is to find evidence of Han’s criminal ways, (human trafficking, opium peddling, murder and so on) but instead, he ends up fighting him. YES! Result.

It is truly the master of all kung-fu films, influencing everything from Jackie Chan and Jean-Claude Van Damme films, to computer games and cartoons for years and years after. Fantastic choreography on the fight scenes, particularly a huge brawl in which Lee dispatches about 50 henchmen, with uber cool characters and a memorable score too. It’s brilliant.

4. The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man“Sergeant Howie: And what of the TRUE God? Whose glory, churches and monasteries have been built on these islands for generations past? Now sir, what of him?

Lord Summerisle: He’s dead. Can’t complain, had his chance and in modern parlance, blew it.”

Of the small batch of the “folk-horror” sub-genre of films that came into existence in the mid-late 60’s to its near demise in the mid 70’s, films such as Witchfinder General and Picnic at Hanging Rock, there were none greater than The Wicker Man. Laden with accolades and awards despite being a fairly obscure film for many years, Robin Hardy’s British horror is one of the most influential of its kind not just from this whole decade, but of any decade.

It tells the story of a devout Christian Scottish policeman, played sublimely by Edward Woodward, who answers an anonymous letter from Summerisle, a small, coastal and isolated island. A young girl has gone missing, Sergeant Howie plans to get to the root of the problem.

The Wicker Man is one of those films that no matter when you see it; young or old, in the 70’s, 80’s 90’s or 00’s, it will still have an impact on the viewer. The fact it relies on generating this eerie atmosphere, thanks in no small part to Christopher Lee’s unnerving performance as the pagan Lord of Summerisle, is what helps it to stay quite fresh. Because the plot takes place on a remote island with a community walled off from the rest of the world, it also seems quite a believable story. It could happen, right? There could really be this community of mostly naked, fire dancing, underrage drinking, premaritall shagging, all night partying, free spirited people …. actually, it doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Wait, before you rush off to TripAdvisor looking for the best deal on the nicest sounding Scottish coastal island you can find, it’s probably worth noting the whole sacrificing business these fictional pagans get up to. It seems to put a bit of a downer on Sergeant Howie’s trip, in any case. Makes for a fantastic film, though.

3. The Last Detail

the last detailBuddusky: He don’t stand a chance in Portsmouth, you know. You know that, don’t you? Goddamn grunts, kickin’ the shit outta him for eight years… he don’t stand a chance.

Mulhall: I don’t want to hear about it.

Buddusky: ‘Maggot’ this, ‘maggot’ that… Marines are really assholes, you know that? It takes a certain kind of a sadistic temperament to be a Marine.

One of Jack Nicholson’s finest performances. And there have been a few! The Last Detail is just one of those films that makes you realise how incredible and versatile an actor he really is. Not to take anything away from Randy Quaid as the young offender ‘Meadows’, who is being escorted to prison by two experienced naval officers, Nicholson (Buddusky) and Otis Young (Mulhall). Meadow’s is a great character and Quaid is a good actor, but all 3 of the main cast together are fantastic. They each bring something different to the table, something unique about their characters and their performances.

The main theme that runs through The Last Detail is one of ‘justice’. Not so much what’s right, but what each of them in turn consider to be ‘just’. Whether it’s the scoffing when they learn that Meadows is being sent to prison for 8 years just for stealing $40, or as the journey progresses and Buddusky tries to give Meadows his last taste of freedom. It doesn’t really try to make you think about what’s right and wrong, more that it implies if you have any sense of justice then how much should Meadows be entitled to. Is it just that Buddusky and Mulhall’s characters are overcompensating for their lack of freedom (Otis constantly expresses how much he loves the Navy, it could be implied that he’s lying to himself or trying to convince himself of it) or is it because they genuinely feel that Meadow’s deserves to live a little before his life is ruined over nothing much at all?

It’s an entertaining film that has a lot of points to make, with some really good, complex characters and one of those classic film journey stories.

2. Serpico

serpico2The reality is that we do not wash our own laundry – it just gets dirtier

Sidney Lumet’s biopic of 60’s New York cop Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) who stood up to the corruption within the police force is undoubtedly one of his finest achievements. And this is a director who has also made Network, Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men!

Serpico falls during an unrivalled run of exceptionally high quality films and performances by Al Pacino. The Godfather (72), Serpico (73), The Godfather: Part II (74) and Dog Day Afternoon (75) is just an incredible run of movies. Four straight years, one amazing film after the other. All of them are films almost any other actor would kill to have been a part of. Not only that, but they’re his 4 best performances too. I can’t think of a single film he’s starred in that’s better than any of these.

Pacino is sometimes mocked for becoming something of a parody of himself in his later career. Honestly, I didn’t really think much of his performance in Heat. But when you watch him at the top of his game, such as he is as Frank Serpico, it honestly doesn’t matter. He could only ever appear as a cross eyed, dress wearing, window licker of a sidekick to Rob Schneider in every film for the rest of his career, it won’t matter as he’s still going to go down as (quite rightly) one of the greatest actors of all time.

Oh, and, erm, the film is pretty good too.

1. The Exorcist

The ExorcistThere are no experts. You probably know as much about possession than most priests. Look, your daughter doesn’t say she’s a demon. She says she’s the devil himself. And if you’ve seen as many psychotics as I have, you’d know it’s like saying you’re Napoleon Bonaparte.”

Yes, the greatest film of 1973 is none other than box office record breaking demonic possession horror, The Exorcist. Famous for having ambulances parked outside the cinema ready to rescue those viewers who would pass out from fright or scream themselves to death (maybe)! It does mean that Mean Streets, Westworld and the final Planet of the Apes film (pre-Burton) miss out, but how could they hope to compete with such an immeasurable success as this?

When I first watched The Exorcist as a young ‘en, it was at my mate’s house. Most of my friends at the time had already seen the grainy VHS copy that had been passed around school, and were all scared half to death by it. When I finally got around to watching it, I seem to remember it being a bit silly, not very scary and quite frankly hilarious.

Oh, the folly of youth! Having since then rewatched The Exorcist a few times (including one ill fated attempt at watching it on an outdoor screen on a freezing cold night in a park in Reading) I can safely say it is one of the most terrifying, disturbing and powerful horrors ever committed to film. It never just goes straight into the more gruesome bits, as some might expect. It builds tension and suspense slowly, spending a good chunk of time developing the characters before dumping their situation in front of you.

It’s the gradual realisation that an exorcism is their only hope, and the way it’s portrayed in the characters of the mum (Ellen Burstyn) and the priest/psychiatrist (Jason Miller), both generally rational people, is extremely well written. The transformation that Linda Blair, who plays the unfortunate possessed young girl ‘Regan’, goes through during this process broke the mould of every film that came before it. Not only is it the fact that what’s happening to a young girl that causes the audience such distress, but the sheer brutality and offensiveness of it was like nothing anyone had seen.

I’ve always had a slight problem with the ending. I think it’s slightly let down by how suddenly the pace of the film quickens and then stops very sharply; but it’s only really a problem because the rest of the film is at such an already high standard. It is one of the most well written, properly scary and important horror films ever created. A must for any fan of the genre.

A Decade in Film: The Seventies – 1972

A series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade.

This week the podcast’s Owen Hughes looks back on a year when the highest grossing film star of all time made his debut (it’s Samuel L Jackson, of course), the porno Deep Throat was the sixth biggest hit of the year, and Pong became the first ever commercially successful video game (thanks, Wikipedia!)

5. Solaris

Solaris 1972“Man was created by Nature in order to explore it. As he approaches Truth he is fated to Knowledge. All the rest is bullshit. “

I first read about Solaris in a book called Why Aren’t They Here? by Surendra Verma, which primarily explores (amongst other theories) the Fermi paradox. Put simply, if intelligent alien civilizations exist, and the universe is as vast as we think it is, then why haven’t they made contact with us yet? One of the many possible answers for this could be that we have no way of communicating with them, even if it were physically possible to meet them. A famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once proposed that “if a lion could speak, we couldn’t understand it”. What he means is, even if an animal could physically speak a language to us, our points of reference would be so far apart, it would just be gibberish. We wouldn’t be able to understand a word that lion said, much less recognise it was attempting communication.

What does this have to do with Solaris? Well Andrei Tarkovsky‘s enormously important Russian sci-fi film, based on a Polish novel of the same name, is about this giant, living, liquid planet that attempts to communicate with the humans that are trying to study it. Ultimately, as Wittgenstein predicted, it’s impossible for them to fully understand each other. It’s a story of love and loss that explores the depths of the human mind/imagination with some thought provoking imagery and mind-meltingly complex ideas.

I have to admit, Solaris is mostly on this list out of respect for what it achieved and for the concept behind it. I like to think I can occasionally watch these long, slow, art-house films and enjoy them. Truth is, I found Solaris a really difficult film to watch. Patience is a virtue supposedly, but when you’re watching a film where (for what seems like an eternity) all you’re watching is nothing more than a camera attached to the front of a car as it travels down a motorway, you kind of forget that! I think a lot of the more artistic visual elements of the film went over my head somewhat. However, rarely do you see such an intelligent and thought provoking sci-fi film that I think it can just about nudge blaxploitation horror picture ‘Blacula’ out of my top 5 films for 1972.

4. Fist of Fury

Fist of Fury Bruce Lee“Whenever you’re ready, I’ll take on any Japanese here.”

Whether you accept that there are 4 or 5 full feature films, and whichever film of those is your favourite, one thing that seems to be universally acknowledged is that Bruce Lee was an icon of early 70’s cinema. His legacy has endured over the decades, influencing film writers, directors and stars. He made Asian cinema (or at least Kung-Fu films) the phenomena it is in the West. I don’t need to go on about this. I’m not the first to point this out, I won’t be the last, nor am I the most qualified!

What I love most about talking to people about Bruce Lee’s films is everyone seems to have taken away something different from his movies. I watched Fist of Fury, Enter The Dragon and The Big Boss when I was a young teenager, first getting into movies. Before then, he was just someone I knew from the poster my artistically talented uncle had drawn. There was something about that image of Lee (which looked a little bit like this) that drew me in. He just looked so cool in that poster and the young impressionable me wanted to see just how cool he actually was. As I watched those films (and as I got older Game of Death and Way of the Dragon too) I realised how cool he actually was. Answer: very.

Despite being his second major film, and also starring as Kato in his own TV show, Green Hornet, (including cameo’s in the Adam West Batman series) it was Fist of Fury that launched him into movie superstardom. It’s a simple mystery plot in which Lee is subjected to bigotry and prejudice by the Japanese. It’s not the plot that made the film so endurable. It’s Lee. It’s the cool one liners he delivers mixed with the impressive action/fight sequences that he choreographed himself. It’s that recognisable shriek as he kicks someone in the gut, dispatching baddies with one blow. It’s the character of Chen and how nobody other than Lee could’ve played him in the same way. It’s quite simply an excellent kung-fu film that any fan of the genre should watch and adore.

3. Deliverance

deliverance burt reynolds“Goddamn, you play a mean banjo!”

If there’s one thing writing these Decade in Film articles are good for, then it’s for forcing me to finally get around to watching some classic films. The flip side to that is films I really love and originally included in my top 5 have to make way for films that, as it turns out, are just undeniably better. Take, for example, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which is now losing out on a top 5 ranking position thanks to John Boorman’s Oscar nominated film about 4 guys who go on a trip down the Cahulawasse river in the arse end of the American south that they won’t forget.

Until this week, I’d only ever seen clips of Deliverance. Hell, I could even play part of the duelling banjos song on my guitar despite never having watched the whole of the film! Now that I have seen it, as Matt Lambourne so accurately predicted would happen, I now “understand a number of long-standing cultural references towards it that may have gone over my head before”. It is so influential on other survival films.

I love Burt Reynolds anyway, and even without his moustache, he was still awesome here. He has all the best lines, looks the most bad-ass and has probably the most interesting character too. Although John Voight may have something to say about that; he also has a very interesting character. There’s a lot that makes this film memorable, from the “skweeee” scene, to the fantastic soundtrack. Don’t be like me. If you get the chance to watch Deliverance, do it!

2. Aguirre: The Wrath of God

aguirre“I, the wrath of God, will marry my own daughter and with her I’ll found the purest dynasty the earth has ever seen.”

I don’t have much knowledge of the Spanish conquistadores beyond what is taught at a very basic level at school and what the BBC kids sketch show Horrible Histories has educated me in! So what struck me most in Werner Herzog’s tale of the notorious Don Aguirre and his quest for the mysterious cities of gold (dododo do doo doo, aaahhh) was how real the film felt. I can only liken it to something like the David Simon HBO TV series, The Wire (bear with me here…) It’s a culture and a place I have virtually zero experience or knowledge of beyond fictional representations through TV and film etc, yet the world they have created is so utterly believable that I never question it. I accept that it is mostly likely exactly how these people lived, how their journey unfolded, how the jungle and the river sounded, how it looked, etc.

The title character, Aguirre (played sublimely by Klaus Kinski,) is incredible and it’s not difficult to believe he was as “mad” as he is portrayed as being here. He’s a constant and menacing presence throughout the whole film. The way the film is shot is almost like Aguirre is breathing down your neck, watching your every move, and it’s very uncomfortable. Effective! But uncomfortable.

One other thing I loved about this film (there are much better parts of the film involving all manner of themes about betrayal, love, history, slavery and all that jazz, but something that stood out for me) was the music! I loved that bloke playing the pan-pipes. That tune he whistles is infectious. The whole film is superb though and fully deserves to be on this list.

1. The Godfather

The Godfather“Michael: My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.
Kay Adams: Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don’t have men killed.
Michael: Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?”

The Godfather. Of course, The Godfather. What else but The Godfather? It had to be The Godfather. A film so critically and commercially successful that only the insane would leave it off a list of their favourite films from 1972, never mind not have it as first choice. I mean, come on. As enjoyable as the British horror film ‘The Asphyx‘ starring Robert Powell is, or as deeply disturbing as Wes Craven’s directorial debut ‘The Last House on the Left‘ is, there’s no way any film was going to top Francis Ford Coppola‘s masterpiece.

From the very first scene to the last, The Godfather is undeniably a fantastic example of film making. The swagger that all the characters carry with them, thanks mostly the faultless performances of some unbelievably well written characters by absolutely everyone involved, makes the film feel so real. It’s a tragic story about the collapse of man, the sense of being trapped in a “family” that you can not escape, a destiny that you are doomed to, but at the heart of it is this ideal of love and togetherness.

There are massively conflicting emotions you get from the film, things you know that are not right, but you can’t help it anyway; wanting characters like Don Corleone to recover, to improve, to do well, despite knowing that he is exactly the sort of person that you hope you never have to encounter in your life, is testament to the creativity that has gone into creating this iconic character from the make up, to the costume, the setting, the direction and least of all the acting. It’s a breathtaking performance from Superman’s dad and Oscar winner Marlon Brando, which is rightly regarded as one of the absolute best in cinematic history.

I’m not sure I can actually say all that much else about it that hasn’t been uttered a million times before by people able to put into words their thoughts much more eloquently than I could, so I’ll cut my review short right here. But suffice to say, it’s a film that is timeless and a classic for a reason.

You can read Owen’s choices for 1971 here, and find the entire Decade in film series here.