A 1972 Bruce Lee movie with John Derbyshire in a bit part

Tim W. writes:

I surfed over to NRO tonight and at The Corner there was a note about the 1972 Bruce Lee martial arts film The Way of the Dragon. John Derbyshire had a bit part in the film, playing a thug. He was about 26 years old at the time. The entire film is available on YouTube.

To see Derbyshire, scroll though the film to the 1:00:00 (one hour) mark. There, you’ll see the bad guys trying to force the damsel in distress to sign some papers. At about the 1:01:00 mark Bruce Lee arrives for the rescue. Derbyshire is one of the bad guys, wearing a shirt with horizontal stripes and with moderately long hair. The thugs are shocked when Lee shows up, since they thought they had killed him earlier. A martial arts fight begins. At the 1:02:07 mark Derbyshire knocks out one of the lower tier good guys. But moments later Lee beats Derbyshire up, sending him flying over a chair with a kick to the face (though it may have been a stuntman taking that fall).

This film also features American martial arts champion Chuck Norris. The damsel in distress is played by Nora Miao, a Hong Kong actress who was a favorite of martial arts film fans in the 1970s.

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A female reader writes:

That was just hilarious! I was laughing aloud all the way through! I wonder if all the martial arts films are like that.

LA replies:

I’ve never seen a Bruce Lee movie before. It seemed extremely amateurish to me. I didn’t get the comedy.

A. Patterson writes:

To your female reader who wonders if all Hong Kong chop-socky flicks of the ’70s are as laughably bad as The Way of the Dragon, well, most are worse. I’d call this one above average. And not just because it has Bruce Lee and John Derbyshire. Yes, the dubbing is terrible—but compared to subtitling, the dubbing of foreign-language films is almost always terrible. The stilted delivery of the dubbed “Engrish” adds enjoyably campy comic relief to the usual brooding melodrama and chronic martial-arts violence of HK’s pulpy epics in this genre.

Want to see a martial-arts movie that’s actually good? Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee’s first American film—and his last, due to his untimely death. Something I appreciate about Enter is not only that it isn’t dubbed, but also because of a bit of philosophical dialog which has always stuck with me—dialog which I think expresses a very conservative worldview. Our hero Bruce Lee has gone to participate in a kung-fu tournament on an island belonging to an extremely wealthy East Asian narcotics trafficker named Han. Although Han is a criminal, he’s also a cultured and thoughtful man, in the Oriental manner. At one point, pondering the fighters assembled for his amusement, this powerful man ruminates …

“Sparta, Rome, The Knights of Europe, the Samurai … They worshiped strength, because it is strength that makes all other values possible. Nothing survives without it. Who knows what delicate wonders have died out of the world, for want of the strength to survive?”

Who knows, indeed? That’s a more profound piece of brain-work than I’ve heard in a dozen “great,” “important” “art films” combined.

It’s almost enough to make up for not having John Derbyshire show up with long hair and a horizontally striped shirt.

Tim W. writes:

The heyday of martial arts films of this type was the mid-sixties through the mid-eighties in Hong Kong. Two companies dominated the market: Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers. These films were popular throughout Asia and also in the United States. Most have a large amount of comedy. Some go even further in the comedic direction, such as The Drunken Master, which was the film that launched Jackie Chan’s career. There are also more serious films, such as Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee’s most famous movie.

Nearly all of these films from this era appear amateurish by American standards. The fans mainly just wanted to see a lot of fights. The storyline was usually routine. Bad guys show up and begin bullying people, stealing, or whatever. Eventually the good guy whips them. There’s usually a cute girl in there somewhere (though not always). Often there’s an elderly master who has to impart wisdom to the hero before he can thoroughly rout the thugs. There were also some films featuring pretty girls as martial arts experts. Pei Pei Chang became the most famous of these actresses in a late sixties film called Come Drink With Me.

There are always loud sound effects accompanying the martial arts blows. Sometimes there are gravity defying moves, too, such as ability of the fighters to stay afloat, even high in the trees, for impossible periods of time. This was more common in films set in earlier centuries than ones set in the present day. I’ve noticed that the films come off more comedic when dubbed in English. If you watch them in Chinese (Cantonese) with English subtitles it reduces the unintentional comedy somehow. I guess these films are what we might call “campy.”

These movies declined in popularity in the late eighties. But around the year 2000 the genre began to make a comeback, though this time with much bigger budgets, good scripts, and top tier Asian actors. The big comeback film was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This movie was a huge hit worldwide and made actress Ziyi Zhang a major star in films of a variety of genres (such as Memoirs of a Geisha). The female villain Jade Fox was played by Pei Pei Chang, who had been a female heroine in the earlier era’s films, providing sort of a link to the past.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 05, 2011 05:20 PM | Send

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