Fist of Fear Touch of Death (The Film Detective) (Limited to 1500) Blu-ray Review

One of the most notorious "Bruceploitation" films out there, Fist of Fear Touch of Death, finds its way to blu-ray via The Film Detective. Come join us as we take in this release and see if the film is worth your time.

Studio: The Film Detective
Release Date: May 23rd, 1980 (theatrical) / May 15th, 2020
Run Time: 87 mins
Region Code: FREE
Picture: 1080p (1.85:1 aspect ratio)
Sound: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
Slipcover: No
Digital Copy: No
Starring: Bruce Lee, Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, Ron Van Clief
Written by Ron Harvey
Directed by Matthew Mallinson
Rating: R (martial arts violence)


TV reporter Adolph Caesar is outside Madison Square Garden before the start of a martial arts tournament that will apparently determine the "successor" to the legacy of Bruce Lee. He interviews martial arts promoter Aaron Banks, who says that Lee was actually killed by a kung fu move called "The Touch of Death." Banks describes the move as being effective in "three to four weeks." The segment contains a sequence of flashbacks to Bruce Lee ostensibly supporting Banks' assertion. 
From inside Madison Square Garden, Caesar discusses the competitors . He talks about the legacy of Bruce Lee, and shows what he describes as "interview footage" he did with Lee shortly before his death. Then, Caeser flashes back to earlier in the day, where action star Fred Williamson seen having to traverse through a number of obstacles to get to the tournament while being repeatedly mistaken for Harry Belafonte. Next, Ron Van Clief is also profiled and interviewed. Van Clief is then seen saving a woman from four hoodlums in a New York park. 
The middle section of the film is devoted to "The Bruce Lee Story," a chronicle of Bruce Lee's early years in China, where he is depicted as being "karate crazy," much to the dismay of his parents. The footage from this section of the story is from the 1957 Bruce Lee film Thunderstorm, which has also been redubbed.[2] This act of the presentation purports that Lee was learning karate to live up to the legacy of his great grandfather, who was "one of China's greatest Samurai masters" (an anachronism as China did not actually have Samurai, these were in fact Japanese warriors).[3] The life of Lee's grandfather is also portrayed in this act at alternating points, in scenes lifted from Invincible Super Chan. Later, Lee leaves home and lands a career as an actor. This segues into a scene of Bill Louie, dressed as Kato from The Green Hornet, saving two female joggers from being raped by a gang near the World War II memorial in Battery Park in broad daylight. This segment ends after Louie apparently murders the last conscious gang member with a throwing star.

Shameless promoters are going to promote shamelessly. This is an undisputed fact. Some promoters will take an already existing film, shoot new scenes and repackage the film under a new title, and release this "new" film to unsuspecting audiences who will pony up the bucks to see a film that they have technically already seen before. Al Adamson and Sam Sherman were pros at doing just this.

Sometimes you would get just a normal re-release under a new title. This is a bit more shameless as nothing new is being added to the film. Just a name change.

The most shameful thing promoters would do was try to capitalize on someone's death. We are seeing this today with the cringe-worthy films like THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE and THE MURDER OF NICOLE BROWN SIMPSON. Granted, these films are made decades after the murders but they are shameless nonetheless as they try to turn these horrific crimes into entertainment.

Nothing, however, holds a crown to Bruceploitation.

When Bruce Lee died in 1973, it sent shock waves through the entire film industry in Hong Kong. Bruce Lee had become the very reason that people went to the movies. How was the industry going to survive? Make films that "feature's Lee while hiring actors to "be" Bruce. There are countless films out there that follow this formula to a "T". There are other films where the producers wanted the actors they hired to mimic Lee, like Jackie Chan. Before Chan hit it big with SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW, he was tasked with "acting like Bruce" in films like NEW FISTS OF FURY and DRAGON FIST.

Coming at the end of the Bruceploitation era, FIST OF FEAR TOUCH OF DEATH takes footage of Lee from a film he shot when he was a teenager and redubs the film so it tells the story of Lee and his family. Well, it does a horrible job of doing so, telling us that Lee's grandfather was a great samurai warrior and that Lee studied karate, both of which are Japanese martial arts. Footage is also taken from Lee's television guest spots and repurposed to float the egos of the people who were involved with this film. At one point, a martial arts guy has a "conversation" where Lee tells this douchebag that he is an inspiration to Lee and that is one of the greatest martial artists Lee has ever seen. The guy, who I won't name because of his douchebaggery, is running a martial arts tournament the film claims is trying to find Lee's successor. This tournament is basically the wraparound story to the newly dubbed old footage.

This is supposed "satire" but I saw none of that while I was watching this dreck. The film does feature Fred Williamson and Ron Van Clief in roles that don't really matter in the end other than to pad the runtime. The rest of the film is an assault on Lee's name and everything that he stood for. I understand why most of the Bruceploitation films were made, but this one sinks to a new low. At least they could have gone the route of GAME OF DEATH which used cardboard cutouts to make us believe that Bruce Lee was actually in the film. It didn't work but we would have had something to laugh at. FIST OF FEAR TOUCH OF DEATH is lazy unimaginative slop that belongs below the bottom of the barrel. This is a curiosity piece at best.

Just to show how stupid this film either is or thinks its audience is, the host interviews Ron Van Clief through a television set.


Sporting a brand new 4K restoration, and presented in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (not the 1.66:1 the box claims), FIST OF FEAR TOUCH OF DEATH looks good, but not as good as one would expect. The newly shot footage looks fine for the most part. Colors and skin tones look fine and there is a nice layer of grain throughout. The THUNDERBOLT footage, on the other hand, looks fairly bad with lots of DNR applied. I don’t think that is the fault of The Film Detective but a fault of the materials themselves. I mean, why would The Film Detective apply DNR to the older footage but not to the newer footage. That being said, I think that the film looks fine.

The included English DTS-HD Master Audio track sounds good with dialogue coming through loud and clear.




That’s Bruceploitation!: Making Fist of Fear, Touch of Death (29m 12s, HD) Ballyhoo comes through again with this look back at the making of FIST OF FEAR TOUCH OF DEATH. Producer Terry Levene talks about having footage from a slew of different films and tv shows that Bruce Lee was in and intrusted director Matthew Mallinson to craft a story around the footage. The tournament that bookends the film was real, it just wasn’t what the film said it was. This is a good making-of and well worth the watch.

Trailers (3m 34s, HD) We get two trailers, one in English and one in Spanish.

Also included is an 8-page booklet featuring an essay from Will Sloan and Justin Decloux of The Important Cinema Podcast.


I really hated FIST OF FEAR TOUCH OF DEATH. I think that it is a film that offers almost nothing of value other than eye strain from the amount of eye-rolling you will do watching this trite garage. Fred Williamson and Ron Van Clief do nothing here and that is a shame as both men are capable of doing so much more than what is on display here. The blu-ray is pretty good overall. Too bad it’s for this and not something more worthwhile.


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