Review: FIST OF FEAR, TOUCH OF DEATH, Bruce Lee Goes Karate Crazy

Fred Williamson, Ron Van Clief, and Adolph Caesar appear in a prime example of Bruceploitation from 1980, directed by Matthew Mallinson and heading to Blu-ray.

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Review: FIST OF FEAR, TOUCH OF DEATH, Bruce Lee Goes Karate Crazy

Let's get ready to use our imaginations!

Fist of Fear, Touch of Death
Available for pre-order on Blu-ray and DVD from The Film Detective website.

Released in U.S. movie theaters in 1980, Fist of Fear, Touch of Death represents a prime example of Bruceploitation .

As many genre film fans know, a flock of martial arts film were released after the tragic death of Bruce Lee in 1973, many featuring actors who assumed sound-alike stage names like Bruce Li, Bruce Le, Bruce Lai, Bruce Lie, Bruce Liang, Bruce Leung, Bruce Thai, Brute Lee, and so on and so forth. Sammo Hung quite properly made fun of the entire phenomenon with Enter the Fat Dragon.

Producer Terry Levene distributed two of those films -- including Bruce Lee Fights Back From the Grave -- through his company Aquarius Releasing, so when his colleague Matthew Mallinson informed him that he found a print of Thunderstorm (1957), a black-and-white family drama, in which the real Bruce Lee appeared, among a large stockpile of footage that Levene had acquired, Levene realized he had something that might prove valuable.

Levene also had rights to a completely-unrelated film, titled Forced to Fight, that he and Mallinson thought was a samurai flick. (Apparently, this is actually about a kung fu swordsman; also known as Invincible Super Chang from 1971.) He also had acquired footage from a television interview with Bruce Lee. And he knew that martial arts instructor Aaron Banks was promoting an upcoming event at Madison Square Garden in New York, where Fred Williamson was already booked to appear.

Levene then brought on a longtime collaborator, writer Ron Harvey, and together with director Matthew Mallinson, concocted a story that could somehow link those two films together with the archival interview footage along with new interview footage, documentary footage from the martial-arts event, and a few newly-shot scenes.

The purportedly "true" story that they concocted is balderdash, to be kind. It pretends that the fictional character played by Bruce Lee in Thunderstorm is actually Bruce Lee as a young man who has gone "karate crazy," to the point that he chooses karate over the prospect of marrying his girlfriend.

What caused Bruce to go "karate crazy"? Why, his Japanese great-grandfather, of course! We can see why Bruce would want to become a karate master when we see footage of his Japanese great-grandfather in supposed samurai (actually, martial-arts) action amidst whirling knives and flying feet and hurtling bodies and ...

Yes, it's risible, but I must admit, it's strangely watchable, somewhere in the same realm as watching a slow-motion car crash in which absolutely nobody was injured. The pieces fly apart and nothing makes much sense, except for the calm, logical-sounding voice of the superb Adolph Caesar, who brings a semblance of sanity to the whole piece.

Fred Williamson's confident presence, playing himself, lends authenticity to the inherent humor of the footage, appearing briefly in new footage from a bedroom to street scenes to Madison Square Garden. The news scenes include an outdoor fight scene with martial artist Bill Louie, pretending to be Bruce Lee in TV's The Green Hornet, defending the honor of a woman who has been attacked by a street gang.

The Blu-ray will include "That's Bruceploitation," a 30-minute featurette that includes interviews with producer Terry Levene, director Matthew Mallinson and writer Ron Harvey, as well as stars Fred Williamson and Ron Van Clief. They know they didn't make any kind of cinema classic -- Williamson claims it was always intended to be a comedy -- but their candor and good memories are appreciated.

The original theatrical trailer (and a great, extended, Spanish-language version) are also included.

I have not seen the film on Blu-ray, since production and replication of the disc has been delayed, due to the pandemic, but a copy on digital video was provided for review. On that basis, I can easily recommend the film for collectors and fans of the exploitation era, especially for those fascinated with Bruceploitation.

For more information about the film, visit the official site.

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Adolph CaesarBruce LeeFred WilliamsonMatthew MallinsonRon Van CliefTerry Levene

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