When wealthy philanthropist Mr. Chan is jailed in Bangkok on a phoney drug trafficking charge, his only hope lies with faithful chauffeur Ah Fong Pao (Bruce Li), who happens to be a master of martial arts. Since Mr. Chan’s sexy but wayward young wife (Dana) is only too happy to let her elderly husband rot in jail so she can inherit his estate, Ah Fong opts to look after his boss’ obnoxious little son Shao Lung (David Cheng Dai-Wai). Unfortunately, Ah Fong’s neighbours judge him guilty by association and thus force him and his dear old mum out of their home. Meanwhile, smooth-talking crime kingpin Mr. King (Yasuaki Kurata) is out to retrieve some stolen opium last seen in Mr. Chan’s care (so clearly he wasn’t so innocent, after all). He offers Ah Fong a nice new apartment and a job working security at his funky disco, but turns nasty once it is clear the kung fu hero has no idea where the missing drugs are.
Among the many Bruce Lee imitators that proliferated Hong Kong cinema in the wake of the great man’s death, by far the most fondly remembered is Ho Chung Tao, or Bruce Li to give his stage name. Bruce Li began his career as a “Lee-alike” in relatively sober biopics like Dragon Story (1974) and Bruce Lee: The Man, the Myth (1977) but his films grew progressively more outlandish as time went by, mixing real-life events with comic book fantasy and outright schlock to produce such wacky concoctions as Bruce Lee Against Supermen (1975) and Bruce Lee in New Guinea (1978). Together with Li’s own directorial effort, The Chinese Stuntman (1981), Edge of Fury is commonly cited as one of the star's better movies.
Fans rate this film as a tense and involving film noir style mystery layered with social commentary on the suffering of Hong Kong’s working class at the expense of its privileged few. Unfortunately, such perceived subtext flounders given the supposedly humble, hard-working peasantry on view come across as insufferably priggish, self-righteous and judgemental. Ah Fong Pao is practically the neighbourhood saint, but everyone he knows turns on him in the space of a second, even though there is no evidence connecting him to the drug ring. Our hero feels indebted to his boss since the old man actually paid for his mother to have a life-saving operation, but his loyalty earns him a snippy “You’re so stupid!” from his girlfriend (Michelle Yim). Remember, she’s meant to be the saintly good girl contrasted with scheming rich bitch Mrs. Chan. Things opens promisingly like a police procedural and the script, written by respected filmmaker Ting Shan-Si - best known for his all-star caper film Queen’s Ransom (1976) and the sprawling Shaw Brothers epic The Battle for the Republic of China (1981) - packs a compelling plot twist or two. But excessive flashbacks and needless detours (do we really need to watch Ah Fong take Shao Lung to Sea World?!) rob the film of momentum.
Whereas in his biopics, Bruce Li sought to uphold Bruce Lee’s image as an unstoppable Chinese superman, here he is far more vulnerable than the real Bruce ever was. He regularly loses fights or else barely escapes with his life. In fact, Ah Fong Pao is something of a doormat. Given that he endures the taunts of his callous girlfriend, hands all his hard-earned cash to his selfish mom, and inexplicably tolerates whiny, annoying little Shao Lung, it is no surprise he groans: “Why is my life never easy?” His explosions of kung fu fury seem as much motivated by pent-up frustration as heroism. Perhaps unwisely, Ah Fong also teaches Shao Lung kung fu so that when the little lad catches his stepmother kissing boyfriend Jimmy, he beats the adulterous woman senseless then pelts her with mud.
Sexploitation starlet Dana was so very beautiful Hong Kong audiences automatically assumed she was up to no good. She was often typecast as a sultry femme fatale in movies like Shaw Brothers’ Girl with the Long Hair (1975) and Fangs of the Cobra (1977), but eventually got to show off some range playing a sexy cyborg in Shaw’s Super Infra-Man (1975), a dynamic policewoman performing her own stunts in Deadly Angels (1977), and reunited with Bruce Li in Bruce Lee in New Guinea, playing a wholly angelic albeit sexy island princess dressed in a memorable leopardskin bikini with matching thigh-high boots. While Edge of Fury finds Dana in sexy seductress mode, it is actually her character who unmasks the film’s mystery villain. Ah Fong never learns the identity of the man who caused him so much trouble since he is sidetracked into rescuing his girlfriend.
The fights were choreographed by actor-stunt coordinator Tommy Lee. No, not that halfwit drummer from Motley Crue. Lee later moved to Texas where he became a chef but in his heyday was something of a fan favourite following a stellar turn in the cult film Hot, Cool and Vicious (1976) which was also directed by Lee Tso Nam. Nam previously directed one of Bruce Li’s best known movies, Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger (1976) but is perhaps most fondly remembered for making schlock gems like Challenge of the Lady Ninja (1984) and Kung Fu Wonderchild (1986). His skill is apparent in the suspenseful finale wherein a hand-held camera follows Bruce Li’s battle with both Tommy Lee and Yasuaki Kurata throughout an abandoned ruin, but Edge of Fury remains something of a mixed bag.