It Came From the Delete Bin: Fist of Fear, Touch of Death (Part 2)

Chinese Samurai Midget PartyPreviously on Fist of Fear, Touch of Death, “Bruce Lee” was having trouble dealing with his film family. His film brother and film parents could not come to terms with “Lee” being karate crazy. Meanwhile, a barely related series of flashbacks saw one of “Lee’s” ancestors plying his trade as a Chinese samurai. Great-grandfather “Lee’s” flashbacks are in colour because people had more exciting lives in those days. They flew through the air and shit!

Bruce Lee’s “father” is one of many reasons to see Fist of Fear… He never fails to be entertaining, whether he’s outing a teenaged girl as a slut or being insulting to his wife. Lee’s “father” also doesn’t do what his woman wants him to, acting like a Chinese Archie Bunker. In reality, Lee’s father was a Cantonese opera star and introduced Bruce Lee to both martial arts and acting, but facts have no place in a Bruceploitation picture. Eventually, “Bruce” runs away and manifest destiny reveals itself.

Get Off the Damn RoofThe train derails completely when “Bruce Lee” goes to Hollywood to try his luck as an actor. Even if Fist of Fear… is a complete pisstake of “documentaries” like The Real Bruce Lee, the humour is firmly in Bizarro World territory. Don’t believe me? “Bruce Lee” had no luck finding an acting job before a Hollywood producer placed him in a low-budget Chinese film, or something. I don’t know, Fist of Fear… stopped making sense long before this point. Lee actually spent a few years in the American entertainment system before going back to Hong Kong to work for Golden Harvest. Either Matthew Mallinson and Ron Harvey did absolutely no research on this film or they were purposely trying to get everything wrong to amuse themselves.

Back to “Bruce Lee’s film debut,” a clip of a guy jumping off a roof. That one image – which has become the URBMN masthead, it’s so etched in my mind – underlines the bizarre nature of the film. Is that supposed to be a joke? Were viewers set up by an overlong splicing of two Asian films for a three-second punchline? Fist of Fear… is full of these non sequiturs.

Bill Louie as KatoWe’re now at the Green Hornet/Bill Louie segment of the film, where Louie wears the Kato outfit but forgets to shave that moustache of his. Fake Kato’s enemies are gangbangers and they round up their intended victims, two girls jogging. What follows is the least convincing rape scene ever – both a gangbanger and a victim have their clothes on – and Bill Louie beats the gangbangers up for their troubles. Naturally, the gangbangers are shitting bricks over Louie cosplaying Kato, regrouping with weapons but without success. Louie winds up saving the day, which should be obvious to anyone with or without a pulse.

AARON BANKSAaron Banks introduced Fist of Fear… by intimating that the winner of a fight between Louis Neglia and John “Cyclone” Flood would become the next Bruce Lee. He also says during the film that Bruce Lee was murdered by the Touch of Death, since cerebral edema isn’t as fun to exploit. Banks is known in New York for his karate school and has quite a history behind him. Banks still seems like a shameless promoter as “Bruce Lee” extols the virtues of his promotional skills.

Speaking of shilling, Fist of Fear… is a long-form commercial for Banks’ “Oriental World of Self-Defense” show, as that’s what Mallinson is actually filming. Teruyuki Higa and Richard Barathy do some demonstrations. Louis Neglia and “Cyclone” Flood fight an uneventful kickboxing match, with Neglia winning in the second round via a kick to Flood’s head. No matter how good Neglia or Flood were back then, Fist of Fear… cheapens both them and Banks’ show by using Bruce Lee to bait-and-switch casual martial arts fans. Way to go, Banks – you’ve undercut your own promotional strategy! Good job!

The film ends as Adolph Caesar prefigures the Ric Flair “to be the man you gotta beat the man” speech. See, you can never be Bruce Lee since he’s dead and never lost an official fight. Rarely does a film outright tell you you’ve wasted your time watching it, but that’s what Fist of Fear… does here. The only person exiting Fist of Fear… with any dignity is Ron Van Clief, whose appearances are limited to chasing off a street gang and pointing out that Bruce Lee should never be imitated. Adolph Caesar quotes Clief and exits the now-empty arena as Fist of Fear, Touch of Death passes into budget-DVD limbo, still holding a place in the bowels of all who watch it.

Cameron Archer

Cameron Archer

Owner/Writer at Gloryosky
Cameron Archer runs this site, and is a freelance arts writer. He has contributed to Canadian Screenwriter since 2011. He is a CMG Freelance member.
Cameron Archer