Tang Lung (Bruce Lee) has arrived in Rome after some friends of the family asked his father for help, so he dispatched his son, not exactly what the friends, who are restaurant owners, expected. First he has to be picked up at the airport and as he waits he hears his tummy rumble and gives in to his hunger, heading off for something to eat. The trouble is, he doesn't speak Italian, and after failing to persuade a small child to share his ice cream, he wanders into a restaurant and winds up with five bowls of soup by mistake...
This kind of culture clash provided much of the humour in Way of the Dragon, also called Return of the Dragon in the West to cash in on Lee's final completed movie, Enter the Dragon. This one was notable for being the sole directorial outing for the star, having taken up the reins due to dissatisfaction with his previous two leading roles, so you could argue that this represented the manner in which he really wanted to be seen rather than the kung fu killer he was painted as in the film that followed this one. Certainly he was rarely as engaging on film as he was here, playing the movie as charm personified throughout.
Lee wanted to show off his comic chops, hence the first half hour of this not featuring any fighting at all, teasing the audience for the mayhem that will break loose later on. Unlike some movies that employ this approach, here you're probably going to be chuckling rather than rolling your eyes, as in its broad fashion Lee's acting here is genuinely amusing. The big gimmick in this was that location shooting in Rome, not that the whole movie was shot there, just some tourist-y sequences with Tang Lung investigating his new surroundings, usually accompanied by his initially unimpressed lady friend Chen Ching Hua (Nora Miao, Lee's usual leading lady in these Hong Kong actioners).
So you get shots of various Roman landmarks for local colour, but for the most part the plot actually plays out on soundstages back in Hong Kong. That storyline centres not so much on Lung's trouble with acclimatising to the Italian culture as it does with the criminal fraternity, for a gang is forcing Uncle Wang (Huang Chung-Hsin) out of business, hence the request to back home for assistance. They are sceptical that this new arrival will do much good, but we know better, although it does take a while for them to be as convinced as we are, after all the characters have not had the benefit of seeing other Bruce Lee movies before this one. When the villainous boss sets his henchmen on the restaurant workers, however, Bruce springs into action.
Lee must have felt some affinity with the Chinese immigrant experience, because here was a film that told them not to worry about any hassle they may get from less accomodating locals, he proved they could more than handle themselves if push came to shove. Not that the bad guys were going to give up easily, as they recruit three expert fighters to show Lung what for after the other, common or garden hoods get their asses handed to them by the newcomer. The most famous of these is a man who went on to be a star in his own right, martial arts champion Chuck Norris who goes head to head with Lee in one of the most celebrated combat sequences ever filmed: the showdown at the Colosseum, complete with rare footage of the two of them running about and avoiding a cat who bizarrely sticks around to witness the match. There may have been meaner films that Lee made, but this was his most likeable, rough and ready as it was. Music by Joseph Koo.