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Film / Fist of Fury

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Fist of Fury (Chinese: 精武門; aka The Chinese Connection and The Iron Hand in the United States) is a 1972 Hong Kong action martial arts film written and directed by Lo Wei. It starred Bruce Lee in his second major film after The Big Boss.

Set during the Second Sino-Japanese War, Bruce Lee plays Chen Zhen, a student of Huo Yuanjia, who fights to defend the honor of the Chinese in Japanese-occupied Shanghai and to bring those responsible for his master's death to justice. The movie has themes of racism and the consequences of revenge.

Not to be confused with The Big Boss, which was confusingly released as Fists of Fury in some territories.

The movie would be remade in 1994 as Fist of Legend, starring Jet Li as Chen Zen.

Has a belated sequel, starring Donnie Yen as Chen Zen, titled Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen in 2010, which retcons Chen's fate completely in an Alternate Continuity.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: There are at least two female students at the school and they can more than hold their own.
  • All There in the Script: Yuan Le-erh, Chen Zhen's fiancée. The character's name isn't mentioned in the film.
  • Anti-Hero: Chen Zhen has frequent fits of rage, isn't ashamed of using dirty tricks while fighting and even bites his opponent's ankles once he starts losing in a fair fight.
  • Arrested for Heroism: Chen's Roaring Rampage of Revenge ends up escalating things until the violence gets out of control and the authorities become involved.
  • Artistic License Martial Arts:
    • The Japanese school, where people are variously seen practicing Karate, Judo and kenjutsu, describes their martial art as bushido. In real life, bushido is a philosophical concept, not a martial art, unless they decided to create one with that name. A better term would be 'Budō' (武道), which is a blanket for Japanese martial arts, and more accurately describes what the characters are actually doing.
    • Petrov is described as a wrestling champion, and he does have the look and size of one, but whenever he actually fights, he uses zero wrestling (save for a single armbar), instead using karate like the rest of the Japanese.
  • Asshole Victim: It's difficult to feel sorry for the Interpreter during his abuse scenes.
  • Beneath Notice: Chen disguises himself as an Asian and Nerdy telephone repairman in order to infiltrate the home of the man who arranged his teacher's death.
  • Berserk Button: Looking down on Chen for being Chinese. This was one for Bruce Lee as well, and hey, who could blame him?
  • Beware the Nice Ones: People keep being racist, abusive, or disrespectful to Chen. Pacifism clearly isn't working here.
  • Big Bad: Hiroshi Suzuki, the main villain of the movie.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Chen achieves his revenge, but he ultimately sacrifices himself to the Japanese and faces execution to spare his friends from being arrested.
  • Blood Knight: The only reason Petrov dirties his hands in the mess with Chen is because he sees a good fighter and he'd really like a chance to test his mettle.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The film very famously ends with Chen walking outside to be met with a line of Japanese policemen armed with rifles and pistols, trained on him. Realising he's going to die, he lets out a final cry and performs a running jump kick at them, the final frame catching him in mid-air as a crescendo of rifle fire sounds. Given Lee's disdain for the Guns Are Worthless trope, it's very unlikely that Chen survives.
  • Bullying a Dragon:
    • A semi-literal case since they're bullying BRUCE LEE.
    • One which might easily be missed. The Jingwu school is massacred but didn't go down without a fight. The Japanese school is annihilated.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Chen and Yuan Le-erh have known each other since childhood. When she finds him hiding out in a cemetary, she reminices about how they'd go there as children.
  • Combat Pragmatist:
    • Chen, unsurprisingly if you know anything about Jeet Kune Do. While he prefers to use his fists, he makes no attempt to continue fighting 'fair' once the Japanese start cheating.
    • Petrov manages to get Chen in a very decisive arm lock. Chen responds by biting his leg as hard as he can.
    • When Suzuki is coming after him with a sword, Chen's also not above throwing some hard rice into Suzuki's face to briefly disorient him and buy enough time to take out his own weapons to even the odds.
  • Cycle of Revenge: The object lesson of the film.
  • Death by Racism: Not really deaths in most cases, but the film is all about a bunch of stupid, stupid people being racially discriminating and abusive against the Chinese - and Chen and Bruce Lee personally himself, by extension - and promptly getting the snot beaten out of them. In a more literal case, Chen himself: yes, Chen was guilty of a number of crimes, but there was absolutely no justice in his "arrest" in the film's ending sequence. It is highly likely that no-one in the Japanese school faced punishment for massacring the students at Chen's kung-fu school, seeing as how the Japanese authorities viewed the Chinese as lesser people.
  • Deconstructed Trope: The film shows the hero's Roaring Rampage of Revenge escalating the violence rather than stopping it, to the point that by the end of the movie, Chen is a completely broken man who has lost everything in his desire for revenge... including his girlfriend and his family, who have been brutally slain by the enemy. In the end, he kills the Big Bad and soon turns himself in to the police, having nothing left to live for.
  • Defiant to the End: The film ends with Chen, the villains defeated and his master avenged, agreeing to take all the blame for the deaths of the Japanese school, saving his friends. He walks outside to find a row of Japanese policemen with their rifles and pistols trained on him, then runs right at them and leaps into the air with a kick as gunfire sounds off.
  • Dirty Coward: Virtually the entire Japanese school. They try to team up 20-on-1 with Chen early on, frequently resort to using weapons, murder a rival martial arts master with poison, and otherwise show themselves to be honorless jerks.
  • Duel to the Death: Chen's showdown with Hiroshi and Petrov.
  • Fanservice: A strip-tease by a Geisha in the middle of the movie. No, seriously.
  • Funny Bruce Lee Noises: Notably the first film to feature Lee's future legendary fight noises. Chen and Petrov especially scream at each other a lot while they fight.
  • Groin Attack: Chen crouches and gives the last mook before fighting Petrov the old one-two punch. The mook is so stunned he doesn't move until Chen nonchalantly tips him over.
  • Heroic BSoD: Chen at first seems like he would pull through the funeral once arriving, but then utterly snaps when he sees his teacher being buried, going as far as trying to dig him back up while they were burying him. However, once calmed, he spends most of the movie in this trope. That is until Suzuki's men come to the funeral and insult the Teacher along with the entire Chinese community.
  • The Hero Dies: Chen takes on a suicidal fight against a large group of adversaries in order to retain his honor and protect his school. Notably, the real-life Chen Zhen survived and successfully escaped from Shanghai.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Chen discovers who killed his master and gets his revenge. The public doesn't know about all this, however, and only sees Chen as a serial killer.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Yoshida, the head instructor at the Japanese dojo, attempts to kill Chen with a katana. Chen knocks out of his hands, sending it up in the air and Chen arranges it so it lands in Yoshida's back.
  • Husky Russkie: Petrov is a Russian wrestling champion. He is big and strong.
  • Idiot Ball: The Japanese's first attack on the kung-fu school in retaliation for Chen's first attack. There's no reason for them to believe Chen - who just wiped the floor with the entire Japanese school - wouldn't be there. Only plot contrivance caused them to avoid fighting Chen and lots of back-up.
  • Implied Death Threat: Chen gives one to two Japanese students at a Dojo, all while forcing them to eat pieces of paper with the insult: "Sick Man of East Asia."
    Now you're eating paper. The next time, it's gonna be glass.
  • Improbable Hairstyle: The story is supposed to take place around the early 20th century, but most of the haircuts (or rather lack thereof) are clearly from the time period the film was shot, very evident on Petrov the Russian and Chen's fiancé Yuan. And the hair isn't the only improbability...
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Virtually the entire kung-fu school other than Chen. They react remarkably well to a pretty horrific series of events, Yuan Le-erh especially.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: It rains at master Huo Yuanjia's funeral.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Chen does this twice, once on the two men that killed his teacher. It didn't work because Chen got too emotional and beat them to death. The second time, he does this with the Interpreter by throwing him and his rickshaw, demanding information on Suzuki. He succeeds, but ends up killing him anyway, because the Interpreter tries to sneak attack him with a brick once let go.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: Chen disguises himself as a telephone repairman to infiltrate the Japanese school.
  • Katanas Are Better: Played with. When they're wielding katanas is the only time the two heads of the school are ever seriously threatening to Chen, yet the weapons aren't portrayed as inherently awesome, just...well...swords in a fist-fight.
  • Kick the Dog: The Japanese school is responsible for a RIDICULOUS number of these. Here's a short count: poisoning Chen's master, crashing his funeral, trying to get Chen to bark like a dog to enter a park forbidden to Chinese ("No dogs and Chinese allowed"), siccing the police on Chen, plotting to MURDER the entire Kung Fu school. The list goes on and on.
  • Kingpin in His Gym: Petrov is seen bending metal bars and hammering nails into a board with his bare hands.
  • Knuckle Cracking: The Japanese disrespect the kung fu school and the recently deceased master. Chen takes the insults but with a knuckle crack to show how angry he is getting and to step up the tension.
  • Last Disrespects: A variant. During Huo Yuanjia's memorial service, the Japanese arrive to insult the Chinese and present their "gift" of the "Sick Man of East Asia" sign.
  • Left Hanging: According to the opening narration. What was the motive for Huo Yuanjia's murder?
  • Man Bites Man: When Petrov puts Chen in a leg-lock, Chen responds by biting Petrov's ankles.
  • Master of Disguise: Chen disguises himself as a rickshaw driver, an elderly man and a Japanese telephone repairman.
  • Mighty Whitey: An interesting aversion. While Chen is the absolute biggest badass in the movie, the ONLY person who gives him a hard time is the Russian expatriate. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Russian is the only one who actually fights him alone and with pure martial arts. Chen also has no grudge against Petrov. He's just a bystander visiting the Japanese school.
  • The Mole: Tian and Feng Guishi, the school's cook and caretaker respectively, were working for the Japanese all along and were the ones who poisoned master Huo Yuanjia.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Chen keeps trying to avenge his master's death, only for the Japanese school to retaliate against his dojo rather than him.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Horribly averted with the Japanese school. There's a particularly horrible one where they humiliate their Interpreter who has been nothing but supportive, just because he's Chinese.
  • No Animals Allowed: Subverted. When Chen Zhen decides to visit a park in Shanghai, the guard bars him while pointing out a sign forbidding dogs or Chinese from entering. But then a woman with a dog enters the park without trouble. A Japanese guy then suggests Chen might get in if he acts like a dog.
  • Oh, Crap!: Wu En damn near craps his pants when he sees that his rickshaw driver is a very pissed-off Chen.
  • One-Man Army: After Chen kicks the ass of the Japanese school, you think that the latter either sucks or Chen's school is better. No, it turns out Chen is just that good.
  • Pacifist Dojo: The Jing-Wu school, whose founder was recently poisoned to death. There is a lengthy lecture early on in the film that stresses what their founder was really aiming for. Their current sensei does not take kindly to finding out that Chen decided to take matters into his own hands toward the Hon-Kyu school, at least, not until after he sees the results of their dojo's retaliation. It's also a chilling example of Bruce Lee, as Chen, straddling the fine line between Martial Pacifist and Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise:
    • Chen uses quite a few while infiltrating Hon-Kyu. Interestingly, whether Suzuki is fooled by the disguise or not isn't made clear, as he shoots a long, ambiguous stare to Chen when he leaves.
    • And the Hon Kyu students get the idea of raiding Jing Wu...wearing the kind of attire the Jing Wu would!
  • Present-Day Past: The story is set some time in the early twentieth century (1908 or the 1930s, depending on who you ask), but makes no effort to disguise 1970s cars and fashion. This may have been because of budget limitations.
  • Punch-Clock Villain:
    • Petrov, the Russian friend of the Japanese dojo.
    • Subverted with the Interpreter. He tries to plead for his life, invoking this trope. It does not work.
  • Punctuated Pounding: "WHY?! WHY, WHY, WHY, WHY, WHY???!!!"
  • Pyrrhic Victory: In line with Chen's Bittersweet Ending. He did manage to save Jing Wu in the process, so there was a Happy Ending for the academy.
  • The Quisling: The Interpreter is a Chinese who supports the Japanese dojo.
  • Rank Scales with Asskicking: Yoshida, the head instructor of the Japanese dojo, is the only Japanese who gets somewhat resembling a Curb-Stomp Cushion in the initial Chen Zhen, landing a wrist lock throw on Chen and generally making him work more than the rest.
  • Red Baron: Fist of Fury is the title Chen is given after he beats down the Japanese school.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Played with. It's obvious the Japanese school considers the Interpreter no better than any other Chinese person and abuses him during a party. The Interpreter gleefully laps it up.
  • Rival Dojos: Combines with You Killed My Master to be the premise of the movie. It's a fairly one-sided rivalry as well with the kung-fu school seemingly unaware of the seething hatred the Japanese school bears them at the start of the movie.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Several.
    • Chen heads to the Jaoanese school after they interrupt his master's funeral and proceeds to kick the entire school's ass by himself.
    • It gets worse when he discovers his master was actually murdered. He goes back to the Japanese school, grabs the first guy he finds, and immediately beats him to death while demanding information.
  • Sarashi: In some edits, Chen is able to figure out someone is a Japanese spy when he spots them in a sarashi. Not so much by what he's wearing but in how he's wearing it. The man's nipples were exposed, as is standard for Japanese men (as in the page image); Chinese prefer to keep them hidden.
  • Satellite Love Interest: While Yuan Le-erh is well-acted, it's fairly obvious she's only there to add pathos to Chen's plight; her name isn't even mentioned once in the dialogue.
  • Screw the Rules, They Broke Them First!: Chen takes this stance. When it's clear pacifism isn't getting him anywhere in finding out the truth about his instructor's death, he goes on a one-man rampage against the rival dojo.
  • Shovel Strike: The priest at master Huo Yuanjia's funeral does this to Chen when he goes beserk and starts attacking the coffin.
  • Suicide by Cop: Chen didn't really have a choice, though.
  • Thug Dojo: The Hon Kyu school. Surprisingly, despite being honorless jerks, their actual techniques aren't much different than Jing Wu. The main difference is that Hon Kyu have inflated egos and go out of their way to cause trouble.
  • Title Drop: Chen becomes known as "Fist of Fury".
  • Too Dumb to Live: Wu En, Suzuki's translator and a normal man, tries to attack Chen with a rock... after Chen had just decided to spare his life!
  • Tragedy: Certainly one for Chen Zhen.
  • Tranquil Fury: Played with. Chen absolutely SEETHES virtually every moment he's on screen but only shows it in small ways. There's one exception, when Chen tries to throw himself on his master's coffin.
  • Translation Matchmaking: In America, the film was retitled The Chinese Connection (after The French Connection). The title (Chinese Connection) was actually intended for The Big Boss (since the plot of that film involves drug trafficking just like The French Connection), but the American distributor messed up and ended up accidentally switching the titles for both films.
  • You Killed My Master: Combines with Rival Dojos as the plot of the movie.
    Chen: I have come here to avenge my teacher.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: In the fact that there was a martial arts master in China named Huo Yuanjia, who was beloved and died under mysterious circumstances (most famous is his portrayal by Jet Li in Fearless (2006)). A note at the beginning of the film (that says that otherwise This Is a Work of Fiction) mentions that the writers created the story using one of the various theories that were flung around at the time (that he was assassinated).