• Fist Of Fear, Touch Of Death (The Film Detective) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: The Film Detective
    Released on: May 15th, 2020.
    Director: Matthew Mallinson
    Cast: Bruce Lee, Fred Williamson, Ron Van Clief, Adolph Caesar, Aaron Banks, Bill Louie
    Year: 1980
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    Fist Of Fear, Touch Of Death – Movie Review:

    Adolph Caesar (who appeared in the Oscar-winning The Color Purple and who as nominated for an Academy Award for his work in A Soldier’s Story… but more importantly is the voice of the narrator in the Dawn Of The Dead trailer!) plays… Adolph Caesar. He’s a TV news reporter out to cover ‘The Oriental World Of Self Defense’ exhibition taking place at New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden where, we’re told, a new successor to the late Bruce Lee’s crown will be made king! His first subject is fight promotor and martial arts expert Aaron Banks (who had a supporting role in Mean Johnny Barrows in 1975 and who was legitimately the promoter behind ‘The Oriental World Of Self Defense’) who tells Caesar straight up that he doesn’t believe Bruce’s death was by ‘misadventure’ and that no one will ever be able to replace him. He believes Bruce was actually killed by an obscure martial arts move called ‘The Touch Of Death!’ This never really comes up again in the film, but it doesn’t matter.

    From there, Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson is woken from a healthy slumber alongside a lovely female companion (played by a big haired lady named Hollywood Browde), his wake up call two hours later than it should have been because someone at the front desk confused him with Harry Belafonte (Why Belafonta? Who knows, but Banks did at one point try to launch a singing career and reportedly studied under him so maybe?). At any rate, his lady friend wants a sixth romp in the hay (‘The Hammer’ has serious stamina) but he doesn’t have time, he’s got to get to MSG for the show. He tries to hop in a cab but winds up getting into it with a dork named Jasper Milktoast (writer Ron Harvey). Thankfully for him, Adolph Caesar (who has apparently left his post at MSG) swings by in a Rolls Royce and gives him a lift. Once he’s at the arena, he watches a few fights while Adolph periodically rambles on about Bruce’s history – which is relayed three ways. The first? Footage of Bruce Lee from old interviews, all dubbed to fit whatever context it was that Harvey was trying to create here. The second? Footage from an older Bruce Lee film called Thunderstorm that he made in 1957 before he was a martial arts star. In this footage we learn about his ancestry, how he didn’t always get along with his parents, his girlfriend Sue, and how he’d rather go to the karate tournament instead of do his homework. The third? Footage showing Bruce’s grandfather, a samurai, spliced in from a 1971 martial arts film called Invincible Super Chan. In these clips we see Bruce’s ancestor beat the snot of some people and use his sword like the master that we all know he is.

    At any rate, on top of that we also get a pretty wild scene where ‘The Black Dragon’ himself, Ron Van Clief (playing himself), saves a pretty blonde jogger from potential rapists, a scene where martial artist Bill Louie (aka Shao-Hu Lei, who played ‘Bill’ in the 1981 schlocky Brucesploitation effort Bruce Vs. Bill – oh, and he shows up in Death Promise too!) dresses up like Lee’s Kato from The Green Hornet and fights a street gang, some demonstrations in the ring at MSG where different competitors break blocks and bricks, a kickboxing match and, of course, a big wrap up from Adolph Caesar that winds up defeating the entire purpose of this nonsense in the first place!

    Needless to say, it’s great. Yeah, it’s a complete Franken-film, a total patchwork production, and it doesn’t always make much sense, but it is an endlessly entertaining mess of a movie. Clearly intended as a later effort to cash in on the ‘Bruceploitation’ craze that blew up after Lee’s death seen years prior in 1973, it’s a fairly shameless film but definitely wacky enough to work. The dubbed selections from the two Chinese films cut into the are done horribly, of course, but they’re endless amusing – but not nearly as amusing as the odd set pieces that pad out the movie and have nothing to do with the general idea behind it. Case in point? We don’t need to see Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson brush aside his horny hottie, it adds nothing to the story, but we see it anyway (and Fred is credited as ‘The Ladies Man’ at the end, so… ok?). Ron Van Clief’s odd little escapade in an NYC park, where he saves a lovely blonde lady – again, it adds nothing to the story, but there it is and we see it all, complete with the ‘how can I repay you?’ line from the lass and a knowing smile looking right into the camera from Ron. The escapade wherein Bill Louis dresses as Kato and beats up rejects from The Warriors is the weirdest. The gang guys use binoculars to scope out women with ‘cantaloupe tits’ and subsequently move in on their two targets, only for Bill to show up in a limo, get out of the driver’s seat, beat up one group and then head further into the park to beat up a second (this time using nunchucks, which makes it better!).

    By far the weirdest of the sequences in the film, however, is when, though the magic of editing, we see Aaron Banks and Bruce Lee converse about who has done more for the martial arts community! It’s clear from the backgrounds that they’re in different locations and, well, Bruce was dead, but that doesn’t stop the film from trying to convince us that this is a legitimate conversation. Tinting the two different sequences edited together using the same color helps a little bit, but only a little bit. It’s utterly bizarre and genuinely hilarious. It’s interesting to see Banks here, given that he really did play a big role in popularizing martial arts on the East Coast of the United States and really did bring these events to MSG and to television. He had hand in launching Chuck Norris’ career. He is, however, not much of an actor.

    This is pure exploitation. The facts of Bruce Lee’s death mean nothing hear, never mind the fact that Bruce was Chinese and karate is Japanese and the fact that there really weren’t any Chinese samurai! It’s all nonsense, a bizarre attempt to cash in on a phenomenon which cares not for cultural or historical accuracy. But if you’re the type who enjoys goofy knock offs and cash ins, those films that show no shame when it comes to making a quick buck, no matter how goofy they might get, then this is one you’ll probably get a real kick out of.

    Fist Of Fear, Touch Of Death – DVD Review:

    The AVC encoded 1080p 1.85.1 widescreen transfer on this disc is taken from a new 4k scan of the original 35mm negative. Given that this movie is a total hodgepodge of a production, using elements from two different feature films as well as newly shot material, most of which looks like it was shot on 16mm and then blown up to 35mm, this transfer looks pretty solid. There’s some print damage and some color fading but overall the image is pretty solid given the film’s origins. There are no noticeable compression artifacts or issues with edge enhancement or noise reduction to complain about and the newly shot footage in particular looks quite good.

    Note that the screen caps below are taken from an online screener because my BD-Rom drive wouldn’t cooperate with this disc for some reason (it played just fine on my standalone player). The caps give you a pretty good idea of what to expect but it has to be pointed out that the compression artifacts noticeable in the screen caps are no present when you watch the movie on Blu-ray.

    The 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track is in the film’s native English and it sounds fine. Optional English closed captioning is also provided. The Chinese films cut into this picture are dubbed, and quite ridiculously so, but the levels are balanced well enough. There’s some occasional hiss and a pop here and there but overall, it sounds clear enough and is perfectly easy to understand.

    The main extra on the disc is a half-hour featurette entitled That’s Bruceploitation that is made up of interviews with Fred Williamson and Ron Van Clief, producer Terry Levene, director Matthew Mallinson and scriptwriter Ron Harvey. It’s a pretty interesting look at the odd history of the film, with Harvey talking about how he was tasked with creating a story out of the newly shot footage and the two Chinese films that Levene had the rights to and wanted to use, as well as how he wrote a part for himself (he’s the one who gets roughed up by Fred Williamson in front of MSG!). Williamson and Van Clief talk about how they more or less played themselves in the film and talk about how the martial arts training world has changed over the years, while Mallinson talks about the difficulties of trying to spearhead all of this as a director. Levene notes how and why he had the film created using the different source elements. We also learn that the crew that made their way into MSG to shoot the very real martial arts tournament footage that we see in the film did so by posing as a TV news crew – apparently they showed up with their gear and no one questions them. Interesting stuff!

    Outside of that, we get two trailers for the feature, menus and chapter selection.

    Additionally, the disc comes packaged with a color insert booklet containing an essay on the picture by Justin Decloux and Will Sloan, hosts of The Important Cinema Club podcast. It’s a well-written piece that is a mix of appreciation for this screwy film and history lesson about its origins. Some cool lobby cards are used to illustrate the book and a full page ad mat is reproduced on the last page – a nice touch – and for those who are into such things, this release comes packaged in a keen red case.

    Fist Of Fear, Touch Of Death– The Final Word:

    Fist Of Fear, Touch Of Death is pretty wacky stuff, nothing more than exploitative silliness, but a little exploitative silliness can and does go a long way sometimes. This is one of those times. The Blu-ray release from The Film Detective presents the picture in nice shape and the accompanying documentary and liner notes are worth extras. Recommended for Bruceploitation aficionados!

    Note that this Blu-ray release is limited to 1,500 pieces.

    Click on the images below for Fist Of Fear, Touch Of Death screen caps taken from an online screener link because my BD-Rom drive wouldn’t cooperate for this review!