Either there’s a good story behind Fist of Fear, Touch of Death’s production or it’s exactly what it seems to be, some producers got ahold of the rights to an old Chinese movie, 1957’s The Thunderstorm, starring a teenage Bruce Lee in a non-martial arts role (in fact, it’s incest melodrama), and couldn’t figure out how to make any money off distributing it as is. So in what’s both the most creative thing screenwriter Ron Harvey does for the entire film and the most staggeringly awful (arguably), the old footage becomes a “biography” of Bruce Lee. Starring Bruce Lee. Dubbed by someone terrible. It tells the story of a “karate crazy” teenage Lee bringing shame and ruin to his family because of that enthusiasm, which has its roots in Bruce’s pride in his great-grandfather… the Chinese samurai.
Because the producers also had the rights to a wuxia movie, which had already been released in the United States as Invincible Super Chan, but the more accurate English title is apparently Forced to Fight. Who knows where Harvey got the story for the dubbing in it—maybe it’s the original story, doesn’t matter. It’s really boring. And there’s a lot of footage from it. And it seems rather poorly made. Fist of Fear, Touch of Death is a martial arts cash-in without a single bit of good martial arts. There’s a moment when it seems like—if director Mallinson weren’t so shockingly inept his roles of director and co-editor—it might be good. Martial artist Bill Louie, dressed up as “Kato #2” in a grim and gritty homage to Lee’s “Green Hornet” character, who patrols New York City in a limousine, saving random woman from being gang-raped in public places in broad daylight by twenty assailants. During that lengthy, terribly paced, terribly edited fight sequences—where the background action of victim Annette Bronson trying to get her purse away from one of the bad guys is more interesting than the fighting—in that scene, there’s a moment where it’s obvious Louie’d be fun to watch in a better production.
This sequence comes towards the end of the film, after all the Bruce Lee flashbacks. They start talking about his fame and didn’t want to show any of his actual movies in case someone would sue them so instead they do the averted rape. It’s the second averted rape on the sidewalks of New York City in the middle of the day; the first one has another martial artist, Ron Van Clief, saving a random woman. The difference between Louie and Van Clief? The “saved” woman has to sleep with Van Clief to thank him, which is… not unexpected for a production of Touch of Death’s caliber.
The movie’s got this framing sequence with Adolph Caesar as a reporter named Adolph Caesar, who’s covering the 1980 World Professional Karate Organization’s world welterweight title fight at Madison Square Garden—not the main hall and I’m not confirming it’s the Hulu Theater because I already spent seven minutes figuring out the name of the organization—but all he wants to talk about is Bruce Lee. It opens with him talking to promoter Aaron Banks, real-life promoter who’s running the WPKO, so when—late in the film—there’s a fake conversation between Banks and Bruce Lee, where Lee profusely lauds Banks as the most important figure in martial arts history, you’ve got to imagine the filmmakers threw it in to get access to Banks’s event.
Banks also says Lee died from the “Touch of Death.” Or “Vibrating Palm.” It’s a secret martial arts move where you touch someone and then three weeks later they die. I think the movie says Lee died the year before, so 1979, but it was actually 1973 but whatever.
Fred Williamson shows up as Fred Williamson, his introduction being him waking up late because the hotel thinks he’s Harry Belafonte and gives him the wrong wakeup call but Fred’s still got time to bed his lady. The sixth time.
You’ve got to wonder if Williamson knew what he was in for.
When the movie finally gets to the fight… it’s terribly edited kickboxing bout. The guy who wins seems like he’s getting his ass kicked for most of the fight because of how Mallinson edits the reused footage of the fight. Though I supposed it’s possible its original footage of the fight, which is terrifying because it’s so poorly directed, especially for a televised fight.
There’s no reason to watch Fist of Fear, Touch of Death unless you’re a Bruceploitation completest or want to be amazed at how Caesar’s voice is so good you believe the nonsense he’s spewing. There’s some nice stock footage of late seventies New York City too. And the opening titles music is… the CBS/FOX Home Video music from the eighties and nineties.
But, yeah, either all the deals it took to get this movie made are either real interesting or real sad.