Today is an auspicious occasion because the International Martial Arts Championship is being staged in Madison Square Garden, and outside, interviewer Adolph Caesar (as himself) is talking to one of the men who organised the event, Aaron Banks (also as himself). Banks has some controversial views on the death of the man whose shadow looms large over the fighters here: Bruce Lee. He thinks that Lee's demise was no accident, and that he was in fact murdered by a move known as the "Death Touch" which only an extremely skilled practitioner of martial arts can perform...
Way back in 1937, when Jean Harlow tragically died after not quite completing her film Saratoga, the studio were going to cancel the production altogether, but fan pressure persuaded them to shoot the remaining scenes with a double and it was released after all. In the case of Fist of Fear, Touch of Death, however, the star was long dead, nobody was clamouring for it to be made, and the idea of marketing a film with a deceased leading performer was not so much a tribute as a ghoulish cash in. There was far more of the Plan 9 from Outer Space about it, in fact.
Especially when you see what the footage the producers here were using, which was essentially an interview with Lee, and an old black and white film he had made when a teenager, before he was an international star. Obviously this was not going to satisfy anyone wanting to see him kicking ass, and as there is only about two seconds of him doing so in the entire movie, a compromise had to be reached: dub the clips with an impersonator and fill out the rest with the championship and an unidentified kung fu movie from Hong Kong, purporting to be the story of Bruce Lee's great-grandfather, a famous samurai warrior (huh?).
The filler doesn't simply take up part of this film: it is the entire film. The new stuff includes match judge Fred Williamson and his trouble in getting to the tournament in the morning (played for laughs - he keeps being mistaken for Harry Belafonte), not one but two attempted gang rapes only foiled at the last second by top fighting skills from Ron Van Clief and Bill Louie (the latter dressed as Kato from Lee's Green Hornet television series) and interviews with the stars, who all seem to think Lee was murdered. Needless to say, to call this shoddy is an understatement, but to call it unintentionally hilarious is just about right.
This has a break in the middle for a breather from all the "ring action" as Caesar unfortunately puts it, well, we must have had about five minutes of it at least (it consists of staged karate combat and fighters smashing blocks of wood), and then are unuspectingly launched into what seems like hours of that redubbed old movie and the "grandfather" footage. The drama is made to look as if it is the early life of Bruce Lee as he struggles against his unsympathetic family and girlfriend in his striving to be the best "karate" fighter in the world, but a child of five could see through the subterfuge. It all climaxes with a boxing match which Caesar informs us will judge who is the next Bruce Lee, but seeing as how the winner was never heard of again we can suppose it didn't quite turn out that way. A cash-in of the worst kind, this does have the value of being funnier than quite a few comedies, even to the end credits: listen out for someone swearing their head off in that crowd noise. Music by Keith Mansfield.