THE BIG BOSS 3/5
This is Bruce Lee's first major film debut, and if you're looking for tons of Bruce Lee martial arts goodness, then this isn't the film for you. It takes more than half the film to have Bruce display his excellent skill in fighting the bad guys. And this being his first film, Lee seemed a tiny bit nervous and didn't own every moment on-screen like he did with the rest of his films. But everyone has a starting point, right? This 1971 film centers around a man named Cheng (Bruce Lee), who moves to Thailand to live with his uncle. Cheng gets a job at an ice factory, but when one of the blocks of ice falls to the ground and shatters, drugs are found inside. Needless to say, the ice factory is just a front for a major drug trafficking organization, which is run by 'The Big Boss,' commonly known as Hsiao Mi (Han Ying Chieh). Cheng is mostly unaware of this as well as several co-workers who "mysteriously" disappear after questioning the drugs. And after an employee strike, more people turn up dead, including some of Cheng's family members. Well, this sends Cheng off the deep end and soon realizes he has to take out the drug lord and his minions. And finally, we see Lee kick some much needed ass. This is a rough film as it seemed neither Lee nor the director really knew what they wanted to accomplish, but went with it anyway. It's a troubled piece, but is a historic moment for Lee, as this was his step into a giant Hollywood frenzy of fame, money, and power. And the ending might not be what you expect.
FIST OF FURY 4/5
One year after 'The Big Boss' was released, 'Fist of Fury' was shown to the world and instantly shot Bruce Lee to stardom. This is better than 'The Big Boss' and literally has Lee losing his mind constantly throughout the film and destroying everyone in his path. This was originally titled 'The Chinese Connection', with hopes that it would do similar business to 'The French Connection', but alas, it was changed back to 'Fist of Fury'. In this action packed and brutally violent film, we follow Chen (Bruce Lee), who returns to his old martial arts school in preparation to marry his bride-to-be. However, he learns that his old master has suddenly died of a mysterious illness. At his funeral, a rival martial arts school, which is primarily Japanese, shows up to the funeral and begins mocking and taunting Chen and everyone there. This does not go over well with Chen, and he goes by himself to the Japanese school and fights everyone there, destroying everyone. Soon after this, the Japanese school and master who goes by the name of Suzuki wants Chen's head on a stick, while Chen seems to be in way over his head, but can defend himself quite well. But Chen soon finds out that his master was murdered by the rival school, and he vows to take revenge, leaving a path of blood everywhere he goes, not realizing his decisions impact many other people on both sides. This ends similarly to 'The Big Boss', but goes out with a huge bang. 'Fist of Fury' looks great, and Lee seemed to have found his footing and has so much charisma and confidence on screen this time around. This is a classic revenge flick with no good possible outcome and is one of Lee's most iconic films.
THE WAY OF THE DRAGON 4/5
Not even one year later, Bruce Lee released this amazing film 'The Way of The Dragon'. Not only did Lee star in this picture, but he also produced, wrote, and directed this epic action film. And truth be told, it's a solid movie with some great actions scenes, funny moments, and an epic climactic fight between Lee and a young Chuck Norris. What else could you possibly want? Bruce plays a man named Tang Lung who travels to Rome to help his uncle and niece with their restaurant. However, the restaurant is targeted by the local mafia and is being bullied into paying large sums of money. As Tang befriends all of the employees and other surrounding restaurant workers and teaches them martial arts, the mafia boss sends out his henchman to kill Tang. Of course, Tang defeats them. This happens throughout the entire film. The mafia boss sends different assassins to take out Tang, only to have Tang defeat each of them. It's very repetitive and is the film's weakness. But then Tang's niece is kidnapped and the mafia boss sends out three deadly foreign assassins to destroy Tang, the last one being Chuck Norris. Besides its repetitive plot line, 'The Way of the Dragon' is a lot of fun to watch, and even has some silly moments in the film, which Jackie Chan modeled some of his characters and movies after.
THE GAME OF DEATH 1.5/5
This film should have never been made, but unfortunately, Bruce Lee was too big a name, and Hollywood had to cash in on his death and stardom. The story is this: Bruce Lee was starring in this big picture, but was offered to star in 'Enter The Dragon' during filming of 'Game of Death'. Since 'Enter The Dragon' was the first big budget martial arts film in Hollywood, Lee left to film that movie, but suddenly died way before his time. So the producers and director decided to finish the film, but have two stand-ins play Bruce Lee's character, and change the film completely from its original story. Though they used what little footage they had of Lee and some of the fight scenes that were already filmed, nothing seemed to make any kind of sense. The original plot was more or less similar to the film 'The Raid: Redemption', which had Lee playing a guy named Hai Tien, who was offered to travel up a five story building, defeating soldiers in order to steal a prized artifact. Tien agrees, when these thugs kidnap his family. But the version we see often today has Lee (and his two stand-ins), play a guy named Billy Lo, who is a famous actor, who is now being bullied by a local crime syndicate for money. Lo is shot in the face, survives and needs plastic surgery, hence the two stand-ins. There is no multi level building or prized artifact here. And the iconic battle between Lo and a giant Kareem Abdul Jabbar is done in a "restaurant". Besides Lee's impeccable fighting skills and the great yellow and black costume, which Uma Thurman wore in 'Kill Bill', the film is mostly a mess from top to bottom.
THE BIG BOSS 3.5/5
'The Big Boss' comes with a decent 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The detail looks mostly sharp here, with well-defined closeups of the actors. There is a fine layer of grain throughout that gives this release a filmic look. The colors seem to pop off screen and are well balanced and saturated. Skin tones look natural, with the black levels running deep and inky. There have been some upgrades from the previous releases with some higher end color correction, that make this film brighter and sharper. The image looks good and seems mostly free of any compression issues.
FIST OF FURY 3.5/5
'Fist of Fury' comes with a decent 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The detail looks a bit soft and has a good bit of grain, although it looks natural with this release. The picture itself, while softer, looks darker throughout than I remember it. Closeups look a bit soft as well, and don't provide a lot of fine detail. Colors also seem to be a bit muted as well. Skin tones look natural while the black levels more or less run deep and inky.
THE WAY OF THE DRAGON 3.5/5
'The Way of the Dragon' comes with a great 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There was a lot of cleanup on this print from previous releases, although there are portions that seem to not have been touched. For the most part the detail is sharp, with well-defined closeups of the actors. However, some of the scenes, seem to be out of focus and messy. Not sure what happened here. The colors look very good and seem to be well balanced. The skin tones are natural here as well. The picture has a good layer of grain that seems to natural to its release with the black levels running mostly deep and inky.
THE GAME OF DEATH 2/5
'The Game of Death' comes with a shoddy 1080p HD transfer at best and is presented with 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Unfortunately, this film, as discussed above was spliced with archival footage from other Lee films into this one. So there are many problems and different picture palettes throughout. There is always a layer of grain that seems to fluctuate from heavy to light. The colors seem washed out too. There isn't a whole lot of sharpness to the detail either, even in the closeup shots. The black levels here too are fairly bright and don't run deep. There are plenty of compression issues here too. This isn't the worst version of the film, but it's certainly not up to today's standards.
THE BIG BOSS 3.5/5
There are six different audio options here. I would stick with the DTS-HD 5.1 options, and you can pick whether you want to hear it in Mandarin or English. I prefer the Mandarin, as the dialogue was clearer and didn't seem as corny as with the English. The surrounds get a tiny bit of play with some of the music from the film and sound effects, but it doesn't happen often. This is not an exceptionally loud mix, nor is the dynamic range truly wide, but it gets the job done. The new English dub just sounds strange and rough.
FIST OF FURY 3.5/5
Again there are six different audio options here, as you can choose between English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. Also again, I would go with either the Mandarin or Cantonese 5.1 audio mixes, both in DTS-HD. I wouldn't choose one of the English tracks, as it sounds muted, awful, and silly. The dialogue on the 5.1 tracks do come in clear and are easier to understand, oddly enough from the English. The surrounds only get a little play in the form of the music score and sound effects from time to time. There are a few pops, cracks, and hissing sounds here too.
THE WAY OF THE DRAGON 4/5
This disc has seven audio options, and oddly enough, the English DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix is probably the best selection, with the Cantonese 5.1 track coming in second. Since a lot of the film was spoken in English, the English track sounds better here. The dialogue comes in clearer than the rest and is easier to understand, however there are still a few pops and cracks. Again the surrounds aren't fully used either with only a little bit of the score and sound effects coming through sporadically. The dynamic range and LFE are a bit better on this release though.
GAME OF DEATH 4/5
'Game of Death' has four audio options this time and the English 5.1 DTS-HD audio mix sounds the best, and might in fact be the best sounding option in the set. Dialogue seems to be clear and smooth, with only a couple of instances of pops and cracks. The surrounds have a little more wiggle room, and the whole experience is louder. The LFE and dynamic range sound great here as well. That being said, it seems like the 5.1 audio track is faster than the picture here, but the sync still matches up. Still, it's off putting.
THE BIG BOSS
FIST OF FURY
THE WAY OF THE DRAGON
GAME OF DEATH
If you're looking to upgrade your Bruce Lee films to Blu-ray, then by all means, this is the set to get. You get four of his most famous films, plus the recent documentary about his life, plus many hours of bonus material. Not to mention a booklet and cool packaging. The video and audio presentations are upgraded, but are not always as good as they should be. The extras are fantastic though. Shout! Factory has done a stellar job with this collection. Highly recommended.