Saturday, June 5, 2010

Chinese Connection 2 [Fist Of Fury II] - 2.5/5

After the death of Bruce Lee a slew of imitators followed to cash in on his death. A number of films even got made to sequelize his few trend setting films. The Chinese Connection (aka Fist of Fury), arguably his best Hong Kong picture, inspired two sets of sequels after Bruce's tragic departure from this Earth. The first film was New Fist of Fury starring young and up-coming star Jackie Chan. The second was Chinese Connection 2 (aka Fist of Fury Part Two) starring none other than Bruce Li. It's highly debated among fans about what sequel is better but most, including myself, tend to go with Chinese Connection 2. I mean the filmmakers here had the balls to put a "2" in the title. To me that says they wanted to make a truer sequel as opposed to a film adding the trendy Hong Kong word "new" to an already popular film title.

The connection to the first film is actually a lot stronger than I expected. To be honest I was just expecting some trashy kung fu film with a Bruce Lee look-a-like that had no plot connection and just used the title just to cash-in on an already popular film. This is not the case. The film starts up right after the amazing ending to The Chinese Connection. For those of you that don't remember, Bruce Lee at the end of the film did an amazing jump kick at a group of policemen only to be shot down. This film begins with his character's funeral where-upon his girlfriend (covered with a hood, no doubt because they couldn't get the same actress) commits suicide on his coffin. Holy shit! Right away the film lets the audience know this isn't going to have the tongue-in-cheek moments that the original had. After his funeral it seems the rival Japanese school is still pissed off at the events of the first film and continue to kill members of Chinese martial arts school in order to shut it down. In comes Bruce Li as Chen Shen, brother of Bruce Lee's character Chen Zhen to save the school from the ruthless Japanese.

I came out impressed on the attempted continuity between this and the first Chinese Connection especially since this is essentially an "unofficial" sequel . Sure it opens with a rather clunky flashback sequence to the first picture using still photographs but after that it jumps right in to continue the story. Actor Chen Zhen returning also helped the connection playing the same teacher character here as he did the first time around. Still, despite this, there are some continuity errors. First of all the martial arts school looks NOTHING like it did in the Chinese Connection. The school in the first film was in an urban environment with cobble streets, street lamps, etc. but here the schools seem to be set in a rural area. I can't be too picky about this as no doubt the filmmakers weren't allowed to use the same sets the original was filmed on due to this film not being a Golden Harvest production. Other than that little quibble I can get past the other little continuity errors.

I was also impressed with actor Bruce Li and not for the simple fact he looks EXACTLY like the late great Bruce Lee. This was my first ever Bruceploitation film experience and I went into it expecting complete shit from its lead star who shamelessly made his stage name look similar to the guy he was replacing. To my surprise he's not a terrible actor, for kung fu film sake, and a damn fine fighter to boot. He definitely lacks the charm and eccentric fighting style of Lee but for a cheap clone, he's not bad at all. Now that I've seen many more films in the Bruceploitation subgenre I can honestly say he is my favorite of Lee's "clones". His character in the film is also the polar opposite of Lee's character in the original. Lee's character was always on edge like he was going to burst out in a psychotic rage and also hid from the law whereas Li's character is calm and collective, trying to figure out differences with words before fists while working with the law. I thought this was an interesting twist by the filmmakers to make his character different and not just some rehash but the Kung Fu lover in me did miss the psychotic episodes of Lee's high strung character.

The film however suffers from a low budget, clunky editing, and what seems to be a novice director who likes to use plenty of shaky zooms. The fight sequences are well choreographed but come nowhere near as good as the classic Lee battles of the original film. I also didn't feel threatened by the films Japanese villains. I truly hated the villains of the original but here they are just wishy-washy and I feel they were no match for Bruce Li's character.

Overall this is surprisingly not a terrible sequel to The Chinese Connection. The film could use some more flair behind the camera, better production values and characters but for the most part I came out being happily surprised the film was better than an average Bruce Lee rip-off. Bruce Li would actually return for one more sequel entitled Fist of Fury III (which was never retitled to Chinese Connection 3). That third film confusingly got released on VHS in America with the title Fist of Fury II on the box art by Video Gems despite this film being Fist of Fury II. It was a mistake on Video Gems' part and it caused a lot of confusion among martial arts fans wanting see the films in order.

Bonus Rant: It seems these Bruceploitation films never got respect when released on VHS and they still don't on DVD. The DVD I have is transferred from a washed out beat-up print which also seems to be cultivated from a few different sources (some scenes even look VHS sourced!). The film was also pan-and-scanned from its original widescreen aspect ratio and this extremely hurts the film. There were sequences where Bruce Li was pointing to some character off camera and I couldn't see what character he was pointing to! I wish some company would pick up these films, clean them up and give them proper release.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

No comments:

Post a Comment