Chen Zhen (Bruce Lee) returns home to Shanghai after some time away, but when he reaches his old martial arts school, hoping to meet again with the teacher who guided his life, he has a nasty surprise waiting. The teacher has died, supposedly of pneumonia his students say, and he is currently being buried when Chen walks in. The young man is distraught and throws himself on the coffin in the grave, wailing and beating on the lid with his fists; after he has calmed down he refuses food and drink, but he is not simply mourning. He is also drawing up his plans to find out what really happened to his mentor...
So Bruce Lee turned detective after his first major hit with The Big Boss, although in truth his character didn't have to look very far to find out who bumped off the old man. Fist of Fury, also known as The Chinese Connection or Jing wu men as it was originally called, was revered among the star's works for featuring two of his most ferocious fight sequences, but what was often forgotten was that too much of this was taken up with the non action scenes. So there was a lot of dawdling about between the memorable combat in the first half hour and that classic final confrontation at the end.
When Lee was in fighting mode, there was nothing to worry about as far as entertainment went: he was as graceful as Fred Astaire and as powerful as Muhammad Ali, and his moves here were as iconic as anything he ever came up with - naturally, he choreographed himself to show his style off to its best advantage. But reportedly he was not entirely pleased with the way Fist of Fury turned out, mainly due to clashing with director Lo Wei, although there were few fans grumbling about the end result at the time. What may jar with modern audiences will probably not be the longeurs between the flying fists and feet, but the way the villains in this are solely Japanese, which would have struck a chord with Chinese audiences of the day.
Now we're all supposed to be on friendlier terms, their characterisation might make you uncomfortable, although there's also a Russian baddie (Robert Baker) the rival Japanese school adopts late on the in the story. But it's not as if this prejudice came from nowhere, and it's not as if there were no other Hong Kong movies that took the Japanese as their main antagonists, so you simply have to accept this part as a product of the age. We can tell the rival school were the ones behind the murder pretty much from the first act, as they send their representatives to see Chen's Ching-hu lot and give them a present: oh, how nice - er, no it's not, it's a sign accusing them of being the "Sick Man of Asia".
Chen isn't going to take that lying down, stomps over to the bad guys' building with the sign, and promptly wipes the floor with them, in a justly celebrated sequence of Lee's prowess, even if they do resort to having him fling a couple of dummies about at one point - he does manage to pick someone up and throw him over his head without special effects, however. From then on the police are seeking to track Chen down, and he has to hide out in a graveyard, cooking and eating what looks like a monkey (yum!), with only his girlfriend (Nora Miao, Lee's regular leading lady from this period) knowing what he's up to. In addition, he becomes a master of disguise to infiltrate his opponents, giving the star a chance to show off a little range, which is amusing enough but you really want to see him get back to kicking ass. Your patience will be rewarded for that denouement, one of the greatest extended fights ever filmed, illustrating why Lee is so highly rated: such a pity that there wasn't more of it. Music by Joseph Koo.