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Film / Way of the Dragon

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Two of the greatest martial artists clash.

Way of the Dragon (traditional Chinese: 猛龍過江; literally, "The Fierce Dragon Crosses the River"; also known as Return of the Dragon in the United States) is the third film to feature Bruce Lee, as well as being his only complete directorial film and the last one to be released during his lifetime.

Tang Lung (Lee) is sent from Hong Kong to Rome to help his friend's niece Chen Ching Hua. She and family friends operate a Chinese restaurant which the local mafia wants to own. In order to force them to sell, the mafia has been trying to bankrupt them by having mooks frighten away any prospective customers. They then scarper before the police arrive. Lung is a Fish out of Water, speaking no English or Italian. This leads to some humorous moments prior to him engaging the mob, such as accidentally ordering five bowls of soup at an airport cafe and mistaking a prostitute's advances for mere friendly gestures (this is probably the most humorous of Bruce Lee's films, possessing an almost Jackie Chan-like feel during its first quarter or so). Chen, initially, is irritated by his cultural incompetence and doesn't trust him, but later comes around to him. After Lung and the restaurant staff beat up the first batch of mooks, the mob boss pays a visit with a bigger batch of mooks. When Lung beats up these as well, the mob boss calls in some of the top fighters in the world. This leads to what some consider one of the greatest moments of martial arts cinema, as Bruce Lee dukes it out with Chuck Norris at the Colosseum.

This film provides examples of:

  • Author Appeal: A lot of Lee's personal philosophy about the value of different martial arts and the inherent superiority of guns is reflected on the film.
  • Aside Glance: At the beginning of the film, Tang Lung stares at the camera before it zooms out to reveal passengers in the airport.
  • Battle Strip: Tang Lung and Colt prepare for their big fight by taking off their shirts.
  • Big Bad: The Boss, leader of The Mafia group harassing the restaurant.
  • Bowdlerise: In the original Cantonese version, Tang Lung uses several times the vulgar term 屎坑 (si hang, literally "shit hole") to refer to the toilet, which shows that he is an uneducated peasant. However, the English dub and the subtitles of the Criterion release use simply the word toilet. (In certain subtitled versions, the word is more correctly translated as shitter.)
  • Bringing in the Expert: The Mafia hire Colt in order to get rid of Tang Lung after their men have failed to make him leave Rome.
  • But Now I Must Go: Tang Lung at the end.
  • Calling Your Attacks: "Movement number four: dragon seeks path." THWACK! "Dragon whips his tail!".
  • Camp Gay: The Mafia boss's effeminate right hand man.
  • Carpet of Virility: Chuck Norris proudly displays one during the climactic fight with Bruce Lee. It becomes a liability for him, though, as Bruce is able to grab onto it as a combat move.
  • Cute Kitten: A cute little kitten lurks about in the background during the Lee/Norris fight scene for no discernible reason (aside from Rome having a fairly large stray population).
  • Dark Is Not Evil/Light Is Not Good: In the climactic fight scene, Tang Lung wears black clothes while Colt is clad in white. Also ties in with the Good Colors, Evil Colors convention.
  • Dinner Order Flub: Tang Lung goes into a restaurant in Italy and accidentally orders every soup on the menu (which later makes him have to pee a lot).
  • Don't Make Me Destroy You: Tang Lung radiates this vibe at Colt during the final moments of their fight. Colt doesn't listen, and instead smiles.
  • Duel to the Death: Tang Lung vs. Colt.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: The crime boss has an effeminate, Chinese lackey and thugs that are both white and black who scare away the customers and beat up the staff. After Bruce deals with these guys, the crime boss flies in an American to kill Tang Lung.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Uncle Wang betrays and kills two of the staff, as he wants to sell the restaurant to the mafia boss and return to Hong Kong.
  • Fanservice: The Italian prostitute briefly appears topless and her bare chest is visible.
  • Finger Wag:
    • Lung does it to some gangsters and follows it up with a very intimidating clinched fist, complete with cracking knuckles.
    • In the final fight, Colt gives one to Tang Lung, after knocking Lung down for grabbing his chest hair.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Averted. Until Colt, guns are the only method the Mafia has to fight Tang Lung, who has to take exceptional precautions to avoid being gunned down. Even although he often manages to disable gunmen by using special darts, his final exchange with the crime boss leaves very clear that guns are the superior weapon of the two.
  • Hair-Contrast Duo: Bruce Lee had black hair, while Chuck Norris has brown hair.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: After seeing Tang using his footwork to turn the tables in the fight, Colt attempts to employ that same footwork. Unfortunately, he is unable to grasp Tang's application of it,note  so not only does his kicking power severely drop but within seconds, Tang easily counters it with a jab followed by several more blows to the face.
  • I Am Not Leonard Nimoy: As shown on this very page, people are often unaware that Tang and Colt are the names of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris' characters, focusing far more on the martial arts legends and their battle at the end.
  • Knuckle Cracking: During their fight, Tang Lung and Colt step up to each other take off their shirts and then turn around to warm up. Norris only does some knuckle cracking before starting on some karate moves but Lee goes on to crack his entire upper body and show off his muscular definition.
  • Language Barrier: While at an airport restaurant, Tang Lung is unable to read the menu and the waitress can't understand him so Bruce just points to several items on the menu. He ends up getting several bowls of soup which get devoured quickly.
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: Tang Lung and Colt take a few moments to stretch out and warm up before going at it. Also, if one opponent is knocked down, the other stands back and lets him get up before re-engaging. Justfied because most striking techniques force an attacker to overextend to reach an opponent on the ground, making them more vulnerable.
  • The Mafia: The antagonists of the movie are part of it.
  • Monumental Battle: Tang Lung and Colt duke it out in the Coliseum.
  • Neck Snap: Tang Lung defeats Colt by getting him in a guillotine choke, then pushing his hips forward sharply, breaking his neck.
  • Need a Hand, or a Handjob?: An Italian prostitute smiles at Tang Lung, then puts an arm around him. Lung thinks these are just friendly greetings, so he reciprocates her gestures and follows her to her apartment. He is shocked when she appears topless in front of him.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: Any time a mook wields a gun against Lung, he is able to knock it out of his hand.
  • New Old West: The film has the classic western plot of a lone hero arriving in a foreign town to help the downtrodden. It even ends with Tang Lung walking off into the distance.
  • Nice Guy: Tang would rather eat up several bowls of soup rather try to explain that he mis-read the menu (that, or his claim that he was angry was an understatement). In general he's really amicable unless you piss him off.
  • Offhand Backhand: Tang Lung does it multiple times, with nunchaku and a short staff.
  • Post-Final Boss: After Tang and Colt's climactic duel, Tang faces off very briefly against the Mafia boss in a short gun vs throwing dart bout before the boss is arrested and taken in.
  • Spaghetti and Gondolas
  • The Quiet One: Colt only speaks once, explaining that the American karate user is his student.
  • Recycled Soundtrack:
  • Shirtless Scene: Lung flexes his muscles out on a balcony. Later, he and Colt take their shirts off before engaging in their fight.
  • Sissy Villain: Mr. Ho is quite effeminate, especially when he feels Tang Lung's stomach and says, "Ohhhh, what rippling muscles!"
  • Tempting Fate: The Asian interpreter assures the big boss that Colt can defeat Tang and even says that he'll bet his life on that. Guess what happens to the interpreter after Tang kills Colt?
  • Took a Level in Badass: While they're still nothing compared to the more highly trained Tang and Colt, the staff manages to go from being easily floored by Mooks to being able to put up a decent fight after some training from Tang.
  • Translation Matchmaking: It had its name changed to Return of the Dragon in the US to make it seem like a sequel to Enter the Dragon (which was actually made after this film but released in the US prior to it) in order to capitalize on that film's success.
  • The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: Bruce Lee vs Chuck Norris
  • Underestimating Badassery: For a while, nobody at the restaurant takes Tang Lung seriously due him being a Fish out of Water, and the first group of thugs think it'll be easy to defeat him due to being just another "Chinese boxer". This ends the moment one of the thugs actually tries to fight him and is knocked out so fast nobody has a clear idea of what Lung did him exactly.
  • Villainous Valour: Say what you want about Colt, but the guy is not a coward. Even when it becomes clear that he's outmatched, he never tries to flee, surrender or use dirty tricks (which Lung often uses, though not in this duel). Even with an arm and a leg severly wounded (perhaps broken), he still decides to stand up and fight. This impresses Lung, who drapes Colt's gi top over him as a sign of respect after killing him.
  • Wham Shot: Uncle Wang pulling out a knife, right before stabbing two of his employees In the Back.
  • With Catlike Tread: One mook that Lee nails is right on course to brain him from behind... until he says that he's got him.
  • Worthy Opponent, After killing Colt, Lung drapes his gi top over him as a sign of respect.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Uncle Wang cuts himself with his own knife and plays the victim when Tang Lung shows up. He then tries to stab Lung In the Back like he did to two of his employees, but Lung gets alerted of it after the arrival of the Mafia Don. Then Wang gets shot by the Mafia Don he was in cahoots with.
  • You Have Failed Me: The Mafia Don gets so fed up with Mr. Ho's failures that he just shoots him dead. And then he shoots Uncle Wang as well.

Did we mention that Bruce Lee pwned Chuck Norris?

Alternative Title(s): Return Of The Dragon