The third Bruce Lee film gets the 4K restoration that it deserves. Does the rest of the disc hold up?
Trailers (18m 54s, HD, Various Aspect Ratios)
We are given nine trailers from around the world:
- American Trailer
- American T.V. Spot #1
- American T.V. Spot #2
- Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer (Uncut Mandarin Version)
- U.K. Theatrical Teaser
- U.K. Theatrical Trailer
- U.K. T.V. Spot
- Japanese Theatrical Trailer
- 1997 Japanese “Revival” Trailer (Double Feature with The Big Boss)
U.S. T.V. Spot (27s, HD, 1.33:1)
Alternate Title Sequence (4m 54s, HD)
Two sequences are presented here with both of them being in English. The first one has different music than the music found in the theatrical version (U.S.) and the second one starts out with credit going to Golden Harvest and Raymond Chow. Most title sequences for Way (Return) of the Dragon feature Bruce Lee’s name at the start instead of listing the companies first.
Celebrity Interviews (4m 34s, SD)
Here Sammo Hung talks about shooting the opening scene from Enter the Dragon while actors Simon Yam and Flora Cheong-leen and director Wong Jing talk about the importance of Bruce Lee in film. All of the interviews are conducted in English and all seem to be taken from another source. (Maybe another doc about Bruce Lee?)
Kung Fu? Jon Benn Remembers the Shooting of the Film (21m 42s, Upconverted 1080i)
Benn plays the villain of Way (Return) of the Dragon. His recollection is really good as he talks about what it was like the shoot a film with Bruce Lee. He filmed his role in two weeks which should be much of surprise as he is not in that much of the film. He also says that there was no script for the film, just ideas and a general direction in which the film should move.
Still Gallery (48 Images)
Japanese Opening and Closing Credits (5m 8s, HD)
Alternate Final Fight Music Cue (1m 16s, HD)
This music cue, that rightfully cut from the film, does not fit at all with the scene and how it plays out.
Audio Commentary with Hong Kong Film Expert Mike Leeder
Leeder, as always, provides us with a lot of good information about the shoot, Bruce Lee, the other actors, and the film’s reception. He does, however, fall back into the one thing that bothers me about some commentary tracks: play by play. I hate it when I am trying to learn something about a particular film and the commentator is telling me what is going on in the film. I have already watched the film. I do not need to be told what is happening.
The front cover is one of the more relaxed covers I have seen in awhile. The font is purple and has Bruce Lee’s name and the name of the film at the top. In the middle, we have Bruce Lee’s head and shoulders, also in purple, in front of a golden dragon. At the bottom are a few stills from the Bruce Lee/Chuck Norris fight at the end of the film. There is one crazy looking photo of Chuck Norris yelling that seems out of place with the rest of the cover.
This release features a reverse cover that features the film’s original theatrical poster (from Hong Kong) and it is a mess. There is so much going on in this poster that it becomes an eyesore. Bruce Lee is kicking while having three arms. The Colosseum in Rome, where the final fight takes place, is at the bottom with stills from two different fight scenes loom over it. The film’s actress, Nora Miao looks like she is chewing on her fingernails.
The back cover features information about the film, special features, and a tech listing, along with two photos from the film.
The disc art is all purple and features a still from the back alley fight scene in which the white mob boss is the only one left after Bruce Lee has defeated everyone else.
The disc is REGION A (locked)
All of Bruce Lee’s films, except for Enter the Dragon, have been ignored by the rights owners. We have gotten the films released on blu-ray, but all of them were in standard definition, but upscaled to 1080p, which is not true high def.
A few years ago, the films were given a proper restoration, and in 4K no less. These restorations were released, on blu-ray, first in Hong Kong in the fall of 2016 and in the U.S., starting in December with Fists of Fury and The Chinese Connection and finishing in May with Return of the Dragon and Game of Death. The blu-rays in the U.S. were released by Shout! Factory as part of their Shout Select line.
Return of the Dragon always looked the worst on blu-ray, so this restoration is an eye opener. The image before was flat and lifeless with no regard to the state of the film. There was a lot of black crush and colors were all over the place. There was no detail whatsoever so everything looked like a blobby mess. There was also a ton of edge enhancement and other digital add-ons applied to the picture. There was also a yellow tint to the picture that turned the blue skies into piss color. To say that Return of the Dragon looked awful would be an understatement. Any version of this film before the restoration were some of the worst blu-rays out there.
With this new restoration, Return of the Dragon looks better than ever. Detail is back in full swing and the colors aren’t overdone. The picture has a new life breathed into it and even has a slight 3D effect to it. No more black crush or digital enhancements to be found. The film is finally able to come alive once again.
Like the previous non-English Bruce Lee films, Return of the Dragon has many different options in terms of language and mixes:
- Mandarin Mono
- Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Cantonese Mono
- Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1
- English Mono (English Dub)
- English Mono (Japanese Theatrical)
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
That is a lot of options, but they need to boiled down some more. First thing to do is to take out any of the 5.1 tracks as that tech didn’t exist when the sound for the film was recorded and released. Next is the Cantonese track as that is not the language of origin. If we do that, though, we would have to take out the English track too. So we take out the 5.1 tracks and we have a good selection of how the film was presented upon its release in 1972.
I took a sampling of all the tracks, but the ones that I looked at the most were the original Mandarin Mono and English Mono (English Dub) tracks. Both of them over a cultural experience and both are good tracks. The English Mono track is how I have always seen the film, so this would be the first time that I would watch the film in its original Mandarin.
I liked the Mandarin Mono track as well. It gives the performances the credence they deserve and allows the film to play out the way it was intended. I found no fault in either of the tracks that I watched outside of some hissing. There were no “sound farts” nor distortion to the tracks either.
Tang Lung arrives in Rome to help his cousins in the restaurant business. They are being pressured to sell their property to the syndicate, who will stop at nothing to get what they want. When Tang arrives he poses a new threat to the syndicate, and they are unable to defeat him. The syndicate boss hires the best Japanese and European martial artists to fight Tang, but he easily finishes them off. The American martial artist Colt is hired and has a showdown with Tang in Rome's famous Colosseum.
Way (Return) of the Dragon is considered one of Bruce Lee’s best films, but when one only has four finished films under their belt, it is too hard to choose this one. I, however, don’t think that of the film. It is a good film, don’t get me wrong, but not one of Lee’s best.
The film was Lee’s first as full-on director (it is said that he directed much of his first two films.) and he has the same problems that any first-time director would have. His screenplay is non-existent (something that happened in Hong Kong all the time.), many of his comedic scenes fall flat (the soup scene is pretty good, but what is up with scarring that kid?) and his pacing is all over the place.
That isn’t to say that the entire film is all sloppy. The fight scenes are very well put together with the stand out of the crowd being the fight between Lee and Chuck Norris at the Colosseum in Rome. Even though the fight doesn’t even look like it takes place at the Colosseum, the fight itself is exciting, with Lee giving it as much as he can take it. The fight is a very level fight. We know that Lee is going to win at the end, but Lee doesn’t cheap out like some directors today would. Lee gives us a balanced fight that would go on to become one of his best-known fight scenes.
Outside of the fight scenes, there really isn’t much else to this film. The film plays a bit like a remake to Fists of Fury (The Big Boss). Lee shows up to help some family out, gets into some fights, and wins. Repeat this for the entire film and you have yourself and brand new film. I wish that Lee had done something different with this film. There are bits of his philosophies here and there, but I would have loved to have seen that taken to its fullest. He still could have had kick-ass fight scenes, but the story would have been different. He also could have had better characters. Outside of Nora Miao and Chuck Norris, I don’t remember any of the characters. In all of Lee’s other films, there were better characters, but here he does nothing with the cast he has put together.
Way (Return) of the Dragon is a good film, but it could have been a lot better. I think that Lee should have gotten an actual script together instead of shooting with just ideas. It makes for a film that doesn’t seem to know where it's going. The end of the film is the goal, but the film takes all different types of avenues to get there. Most of those avenues are just not that great. Still, I think that film is a good watch just to see Bruce Lee do Bruce Lee things.
SummaryWay (Return) of the Dragon is a good film that could have been better with more work done to the screenplay. The action scenes are good, especially the fight between Lee and Norris, but the scenes surrounding them are not very good. Still, I think that people should see the film just to see Lee in action.
The blu-ray, from Shout! Factory, is a bit of a step down from the previous Bruce Lee blu-rays that the company released. That isn't to to say that the blu-ray is bad, it isn't, its just that the previous blu-rays were so good that this one had some tall shoes to fill. That being said, the picture and sound quality are excellent and the special features are good for a single watch.