"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Bruce Lee’s 75th

tn_bruceleebruceleeiconI should be back on Monday with my review of CREED, but I didn’t want today to pass without acknowledging what would’ve been Bruce Lee’s 75th birthday. Among his many contributions, consider that pretty much anyone who starred in a martial arts movie in the past, say, 35 years got started after seeing a Bruce Lee movie. So if it weren’t for him I wouldn’t have nearly as many reviews on here.

It seems to me there are alot of people who know of Bruce Lee but haven’t actually sat down and watched his whole movies, and I think they could benefit from them. The bad news is he didn’t live long enough to make very many true starring vehicles, the good news is that makes it easy to catch up with. It’s not like getting into Sun Ra or Frank Zappa or something. I’ve even considered making an instructional pamphlet about it called SO YOU HAVEN’T SEEN A BRUCE LEE MOVIE…

In lieu of that, let me share the links to my reviews of Bruce’s movies, in case you haven’t read them.

THE BIG BOSS, a.k.a. FISTS OF FURY, is the first real Bruce Lee vehicle, and an early example of some of my favorite badass cinema techniques.

FIST OF FURY, a.k.a. THE CHINESE CONNECTION, is his only historical period piece type deal. It has many great and iconic scenes, though does suffer from some serious nationalism. (It has also been remade, including by Jet Li as FIST OF LEGEND.)

ENTER THE DRAGON I bet you’ve heard of. Great movie.

WAY OF THE DRAGON, a.k.a. RETURN OF THE DRAGON is my personal favorite Bruce Lee movie, the only one he directed, and the one where he kicks Chuck Norris’s ass in a textbook-great martial arts duel.

GAME OF DEATH has the iconic fight against Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the yellow and black jumpsuit, but it’s actually a horrible exploitation of Lee’s death and unfinished work-in-progress. You can watch it or not, but be sure not to miss BRUCE LEE: A WARRIOR’S JOURNEY, the documentary that explains the movie he was really trying to make and then reconstructs all of the scenes he shot (the best fights he ever did). There’s also a GAME OF DEATH II which is less morbid and more fun than the first one, but only has a little bit of obviously recycled Bruce footage. It’s mainly about his character’s brother.

Bonus points: MARLOWE, the ’60s take on the Raymond Chandler character starring James Garner has a couple great scenes with Bruce as the villain’s henchman.

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128 Responses to “Bruce Lee’s 75th”

  1. I trying to get hold of CIRCLE OF IRON aka SILENT FLUTE. Can anyone tell me if it’s worth it?

  2. It’s more of an interesting curiosity than an actual good movie. But it’s worth seeing for Bruce Lee and/or David Carradine completists

  3. The Original Paul

    November 27th, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    I can’t believe that there’s a Raymond Chandler adaptation with Bruce Lee in it! (Although he’s only playing a henchman… boo.)

  4. The following originally aired on the History Channel back in 2009:

    http://www.documentarytube.com/videos/how-bruce-lee-changed-the-world

    If you like Bruce Lee’s movies even the slightest bit, you will enjoy this as well. It’s quite thorough.

  5. I agree with Majestyk. CIRCLE OF IRON is more interesting than good, but I’m glad I’ve seen it. It has a little bit of HOLY MOUNTAIN type weirdness in it, too. (A very little bit. Don’t let me overhype it.)

  6. The Eli Wallach scene is memorable.

  7. Bruce Lee comes across as quite corny in MARLOWE. Especially in the scene where he tries to jumpkick Marlowe, msses and plunge to his death

  8. Gotta agree with Shoot, that fight scene has always ruined the movie for me, though in most other ways it’s an excellent Chandler adaptation. I think there may have been a bigger reason US audiences in 1969 wanted to believe Asians could be outwitted in a fight.

    Kung fu-Chandler connection: David Carradine had a small part in the 1973 adaptation of THE LONG GOODBYE.

  9. At least James Garner could say that he’s the only man that has beaten Bruce Lee in a figth – sort of. Just like Dean Martin when he kicked Chuck Norris’ ass in THE WRECKING CREW. Thanks for the comments on CIRCLE OF IRON, by the way.

  10. I went to Hong Kong back in September and visited Lee’s statue on the Avenue of Stars, as well as the temporary exhibition on his life at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum (open until 2017, I think). They are both definitely worth a visit. The exhibition is not huge, but it’s really well assembled and has a lot of Lee’s personal belongings, letters and so on. There’s some amusingly weird (and usually Japanese) toys and assorted tat on show, too.

    I must say I’m consistently amazed how popular Way of the Dragon is. I saw it last out of all of Lee’s films, and was crushingly disappointed by it. There’s so little action, the script is dire and the Norris fight is nothing to write home about, from my point of view. Lee’s legacy is almost entirely in Enter the Dragon and Fist of Fury, I think – those two are near-perfect.

  11. WAY OF THE DRAGON used to bore me a lot when I was a kid but I’ve grown to really like it over the years. There may be little action compared to FIST OF FURY and ENTER THE DRAGON but I really appreciate how richly layered it is with Bruce’s personal philosophies compared to the rest of his movies which also contain those elements but not to such a great extent.

  12. ENTER THE DRAGON is really entertaining, but I’ve always like FIST OF FURY better.

  13. Lee´s choreography and style of action reminds me of the action steged in samurai movies, with short bursts of exploding violence, rather than the more fluid style of conventional kung fu movie choreography. It´s vey effective and give more of an impact

  14. Oh, I gotta get into this.

    WAY OF THE DRAGON’s characters aren’t much to write home about, but it contains some of the most perfect action sequences ever filmed IMO. I like its cast of grotesques as the villains… could take or leave the restaurant lackeys, but at least they’re not the guys from THE BIG BOSS. (I’ve gone into great detail elsewhere why THE BIG BOSS is the worst Bruce Lee movie. I won’t repeat myself here, but it is. Since nobody else has mentioned it in their favourites, I don’t think it’s a minority opinion.)

    I used to be underwhelmed by the Chuck vs Bruce fight, but as time has gone on I’ve come to appreciate it more and more. Partly for its use of cats (yep, cats!), partly for the little touches like the chest-hair pull (makes me wince every time), partly for the buildup-to-payoff structure (which as I think I said in my SICARIO writeup is currently my favorite type of action – the COMMANDO or EXPENDABLES-style of constant one-note action for several minutes at a time gets monotonous after a while for me).

    FIST OF FURY has great fights and a strikingly cruel portrayal of an injust society. I would have to really, really work hard to come up with a reason to prefer this to WAY OF THE DRAGON or vice versa. They both have weaknesses but their strengths more than make up for them. I kinda love both movies.

    ENTER THE DRAGON, on the other hand, I love unreservedly. The only lacklustre fight in it is Bolo vs Roper (this would be the highlight of many Van Damme movies, by the way). Every other fight is great, every other fight is different. The characters are fantastic, Han is a superb villain, the pacing is perfect, the plotting is perfect, the casting is perfect. I don’t ever want to be put in a position where I have to choose between ENTER THE DRAGON and DIE HARD, but if I had to, I’d probably go with ENTER THE DRAGON. That’s how damn good it is.

  15. Shoot:

    “Lee´s choreography and style of action reminds me of the action steged in samurai movies, with short bursts of exploding violence, rather than the more fluid style of conventional kung fu movie choreography.”

    YES. Exactly this. long, elaborately-staged action sequences can get monotonous, unless they’re pretty spectacular, if they don’t vary in “tone”. Bruce Lee mastered the art of giving action sequences an “ebb and flow”, creating a build-up or crescendo, then hitting the audience with an explosively violent payoff. This is a completely subjective point – a lot of people like the more balletic traditional kung-fu, and heck, I love CROUCHING TIGER myself – but I think the “build up to a payoff” style works better for me.

  16. I think it’s the humour in WAY OF THE DRAGON that turns me towards FIST OF FURY, if I had to pick one of the two. And period pieces seem to work better over time. For me, anyway.

  17. Granted, I am not the world’s biggest Bruce Lee fan, but mostly what I see in his choreography is arrogance. According to him, his every blow is decisive and deadly and nobody on earth would be able to lay a hand on him, so that’s how the fights play out. Punks step up to get beat down, and beat them down he does. Traditional kung fu choreography is a dance, but Lee clearly rarely thought he had a worthy partner. I’m not necessarily talking about boss battles, but even then the opponent usually needed a gimmick (exceptional reach, metal claws, being Bolo Yeung) to get Lee to concede that he might take a few licks.

    Like I said, I’m not expert, so bigger fans can no doubt point out a million exceptions. The main one I can think of is Chuck Norris, whom Lee obviously respected as an opponent. It’s probably why their fight is the best of Lee’s onscreen career.

    This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Seagal has taken the philosophy of personal invincibility and run with it for 30 years. But when I’m in the mood for a kung fu movie, I want to see intricate movement and amazing feats by well-matched opponents. I watch Bruce Lee when I’m in the mood to see a cocky prick destroy everyone without breaking a sweat.

  18. The Original Paul

    November 28th, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    Majestyk – that’s why ENTER THE DRAGON is so damn good. In addition to Lee himself, you’ve got John Saxon and Jim Kelly, both playing badasses, but both clearly not on Lee’s level. Thing is, they’re such well-portrayed characters that we (or at least, I) genuinely cared about what happened to them.

    So you kinda get the best of both worlds with that film – Bruce Lee at his darkest best, with Williams and Roper on the line to add tension. (Williams’ death still gets me, and I’ve watched that film about fifteen times.)

  19. I am more of a fan of the type of balletic intricate choreography myself. I made an observation of Lees style of choreography and why it works for many people. Like Majestyk, I am more interested in the graceful movements. If Chinese filmmakers has excelled in anything, it is making asskicking look beautiful

  20. I respectfully offer that there is room for more than one type of martial arts choreography. It makes me sad if any of you can’t enjoy the excellence of Lee’s fights just because there’s another thing you like better. It’s like saying you don’t like The Low End Theory because you prefer It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back.

    p.s. I do like that none of us seem to agree on which are his best.

  21. There is nothing wrong with having a personal preference.

  22. The Original Paul

    November 29th, 2015 at 3:00 am

    Vern – I’m not pissing on “traditional” balletic-style kung-fu (again, CROUCHING TIGER is one of my favorites, and contains several fairly long sequences of that). I’m just stating a preference, as Shoot says.

  23. The Original Paul

    November 29th, 2015 at 3:25 am

    And I don’t necessarily disagree with Shoot’s other point, regarding the balletic intricate choreography, either – IP MAN had some great fight scenes, for example. There’s a place for that, just as there’s a place for SICARIO-style buildup with explosive payoff. I can enjoy both.

    I would point out, however, that a lot of western action films have tried to use the “extended action scene” structure without the benefits of balletic kung-fu. At its worst this can be just plain torture (look at the final action scene of the theatrical cut of THE EXPENDABLES as an example – it’s just badly-edited, badly-scored noise that goes on, and on, and on…) I realise this is a long way from “balletic kung-fu”, but my point here is that when it’s done badly, the “explosive” style of action can fall flat; but a bad “long” action sequence can absolutely kill a movie. THE BOURNE LEGACY is another example – I think that film would’ve been much better-regarded if it hadn’t been for that final chase sequence. I’m sure there are other examples too, mostly from western films, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind. Oh, and as for “balletic” action sequences, how about the kung-fu sections of THE MATRIX RELOADED? As boring as they are pointless. Again, western action getting it very, very wrong.

    My point being: if you’re going to have a long action sequence in your movie, you really need to get it right. You need to hold the interest of your audience the entire time, and make sure that the stakes justify the sequence’s length – give us a reason to care about the outcome, etc. Obviously the same is true of short, explosive action scenes to an extent as well, but I feel as though the price of failure is a good deal lower.

  24. I agree that the fight scenes in MATRIX RELOADED serve little narrative purpose. It´s action for the sake of action. But what is wrong with that? Is it so hard to enjoy art for the sake of art?

  25. The Original Paul

    November 29th, 2015 at 4:06 am

    Shoot – not at all. But if it’s bad art? Or rather, badly-made art? The thing about the Neo fights in RELOADED is that I was never convinced that the people in them were doing anything but going through the motions. You can have well-choreographed fights that still have an impact, an edge, a sense of desperation or danger. None of that was true with, say, the fight on the stairs (complete with Ninja Turtle-esque weapons that don’t draw blood).

    Compare any of the kung-fu scenes in that film with, say, the freeway chase in the same film. I have my problems with the chase as well (chiefly the albino twins, who just seem to get in the way for a bit, and then blow up) but the chase is exciting, it has a sense of danger, I believe that the characters involved in it could potentially meet their end in a number of unpleasant ways. I think the freeway chase is a really good example of an effective extended action sequence in a western action movie. Neo fighting the guy in the tea-house or the thugs on the stairs… not so much. I guess that in these days of shakycam we should be grateful that we can even see what’s going on… but I’m not going to give scenes that feel like “kung fu-by-numbers” a pass just because somebody knew how to hold the camera steady.

  26. Can I get something off my chest? I like Bruce Lee movies, but it’s because he’s got a cool, badass aura, not because I’m blown away by his fighting. Maybe if you’re a real martial artist you see something special in it that other kung fu movies don’t have, but to my eyes it looks pretty basic. Probably a big deal at the time, but I wasn’t there for that so I can’t say. When I hear people saying Bruce Lee is still the greatest onscreen martial artist of all time, I feel like I’m listening to the Texas Chainsaw family brag about having Grandpa is the best at slaughtering people. It just seems like blind hero worship, completely removed from the evidence at hand.

  27. I think that’s because Lee very early became a face on posters people could buy at IKEA and hang on their bedroom wall besides Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Humphrey Bogart. They weren’t that great either, but they’re still legends to a lot of people who doesn’t nescessarily know that much about them.

  28. I feel the same way about Jimi Hendrix so your poster theory checks out.

  29. I think my problem with Bruce Lee fights is the same problem I have with Steven Seagal fights. They’re awesome and I enjoy watching them thoroughly but they never put themselves in the position where you think they might not win the fight. Vern, has there ever been a fight where Seagal looks weak?

  30. The Original Paul

    November 29th, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Sternshein – I’ll take this one. Seagal got a bit banged up against Screwface #2 in MARKED FOR DEATH. But he still came out of that fight without a scratch on him (despite being pushed through three sets of glass shelving, complete with bottles, and one tower of beer glasses.)

    In all fairness, though, Screwface comes off considerably worse, getting:

    1) blinded (by thumbs, no less);
    2) snapped vertebrae via classic backbreaker wrestling move;
    3) thrown several storeys down a lift shaft, and
    4) impaled on a very large and nasty-looking spike.

    I think that’s the most punishment I’ve ever seen Seagal take, and afterwards he’s in a helluva lot better shape than his partner Keith David (who’s limping from a bullet wound in the leg – I think bullets just bounce off Seagal’s hide, so he’s basically impervious.) If there’s a fight where Seagal took more damage than this, I can’t recall it. Apart from MACHETE, of course, and that hardly counts since Seagal is the villain in that film.

  31. The Original Paul

    November 29th, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    And thinking back, I can recall several instances where Bruce was in severe trouble. The fight with the American in FISTS OF FURY has him basically being used as a punchbag for a good third of it. The fight with Han in ENTER THE DRAGON mostly goes well until the hall of mirrors, although Bruce takes one or two scars; once the mirror-stalking starts though, he seems to be in a helluva lot of trouble, and takes a couple of really nasty-looking wounds. Compare that to Seagal, who (again excepting MACHETE) has basically never suffered so much of a scratch – which is kinda surprising given how much broken glass he’s dealt either been thrown through or thrown other hapless unfortunates through himself.

  32. Tied to a chair in ABOVE THE LAW he got roughed up quite a bit. If that counts.

  33. Paul- you shpuld know Seagal is glassproof by now.

  34. I remember hearing that Bruce Lee developed a form of martial arts that was supposed to be efficient and brutal. I guess the entire idea was to develop a kind of martial arts that could really fuck someone up in real life. I agree with others in that generally I prefer the more balletic back and forth choreography of other martial arts films, but I have learned to really love how pissed off Bruce Lee gets. You can really feel his anger, which can be pretty cathartic.

  35. The Original Paul

    November 29th, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    Shoot – I’m pretty sure that David Dunn from UNBREAKABLE was based on Seagal. Presumably you’d have to drown the fucker to finally beat him (not sure about that one though, ’cause I’m not sure if anybody’s actually tried it. They probably have, they just couldn’t hold him under for long enough.)

  36. EXECUTIVE DECISION proved that he was vulnerable to plane crashes.

  37. Scorsese, Bruce Lee, now Jimi? I think you’re putting me on, Majestyk. Who else is overrated, Muhammad Ali? Leonardo Da Vinci?

  38. Fucking Stephen Hawking, man. “Oh, look at me, I’m the smartest man in the world!” He didn’t even train for that! He was born with such a high IQ! That’s genetic nepotism! What a loser.

  39. The Original Paul

    November 30th, 2015 at 2:27 am

    Majestyk – can’t believe I forgot about that. Plane crashes! Of course!

  40. The Original Paul

    November 30th, 2015 at 3:19 am

    And personally I always thought Jesus was kinda overrated.

    **ducks…**

  41. Um, yes, I think I’ve got to call Pegsman on Bogart too. Maybe Bogart’s genius really was just in taking the parts George Raft turned down, and somehow working with directors like Howard Hawks, John Huston, Raoul Walsh, Nicholas Ray, Billy Wilder even, but that led to a dozen or so great movies.

    If the point here is – and I don’t think that’s what’s being said – that people these days idolize without really knowing the work, I’m with you. But that shouldn’t blind us to the work itself.

  42. Bogart was at his best when he didn´t play the good guy. Look at his performance in TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE.

  43. I’m pretty sure you can’t call me on the fact that thousands of people have Bogart on their bedroom wall, and all they know of him is that he played opposite Ingrid Bergman in one of the most (my words) overrated movies of all time.

  44. To be honest, I don´t think most people even know who the fuck HUmphrey Bogart is

  45. The Original Paul

    November 30th, 2015 at 8:55 am

    All of a sudden I feel really sorry for Humphrey Bogart…!

  46. I’m not saying they’re overrated. They just don’t do all that much for me personally. I don’t think everyone else has rated them wrong. I just rate them differently. And for different reasons. Jimi is just too overplayed and omnipresent for me to feel much attachment to him. Most of his songs might as well be “Jingle Bells” by this point. Scorsese’s movies are good for one watch because he’s a great filmmaker but most of the time they don’t interest me, either in tone or subject matter, so I rarely return. And Bruce, I never said I don’t like him. His movies are entertaining and rightfully influential. I just don’t see how anyone can look at Jet Li or even Jackie Chan, whom you know I have problems with, and say Bruce Lee was superior. I don’t see where that comes from other than reverence for his icon status over the reality of what’s onscreen. He was the first, sure, but first doesn’t always mean best. Others built on what he did and impressed me far more.

    I think what I’m talking about is the problem of canon. Some artists or works get so celebrated that they become encased in amber and it’s hard for me to engage with them. I admire their contributions but that doesn’t mean they connect to me personally. That works for all of you, too, in different ways. I’ve said this before, but if objective value was more important than subjective opinion, everyone’s favorite movie would be CITIZEN KANE. There’s gotta be room for each of us to rate the saints and sacred cows of any art form according to our own real feelings, not according to the weight of decades of public canonization.

  47. For what it’s worth, I am a huge fan of martial arts movies, but I stand with Mr. M on the Bruce Lee issue. Lee was maybe a great movie star, but not a single one of his actual movies would make it on my list of the best martial arts films. He worked with mediocre directors like Lo Wei, and his own contributions to directing and fight choreography are minimal and not enough to suggest if, with time, he could have proved himself as a Jackie Chan-type multi-talent.

    If you compare his movies to the movies of contemporaries like Lau Kar-Leung or Chang Cheh, it’s not even close. There are tons of better made, better choreographed, better looking, more interesting and entertaining kung fu and wu xia movies from the 60’s and 70’s. And though Lee definitely had star power and charisma, and seemed like the baddest motherfucker alive, there are plenty of martial arts stars from roughly rthe same time (say, David Chiang, or Ti Lung, or Chang Pei-Pei) who were better actors with more range, who have a much better track record for movies.

  48. Yeah, but Bruce Lee made martial arts more acceptable at the time for a mainstram western audience, thanks to his more direct John Wayne-approch where power were more important than intricate choreography. At least that is how I have seen it. But people growing up in the exploiation circles in the early seventies where dubbed Shaw Brother smovies were shown has a different take on it.

    My theory is he knew as a chinese diaspora he thought what people wanted in the west. It was babysteps towards making that kind of intricate choreography being accepted in the west. Jackie Chan knew how to blend comedy in to make it work for an western audience. It wasn´t until THE MATRIX and CROUCHING TIGER it struck. Even though DRIVE came a few years earlier and did it amazingly. But that movie was shelved for a long time because nobody thought that type of actio was acceptable until, the founder of HKL dug it up and released it in the wake of said movies.

  49. I also believe Bruce Lee had a chip on his shoulder, due to his past experiences in Hollywood, and wanted to prove he could make it in the west as an actor. That is why his style seem more adapted to western senisibilites than the usual chinese style.

  50. Dan – none of his movies? I can see that argument working with WAY OF THE DRAGON and FISTS OF FURY, both of which are flawed movies (yeah, I love ’em, but they’re far from perfect). And THE BIG BOSS is fundamentally a bad movie that isn’t unwatchable purely because of the fact that it stars Bruce Lee – other than that, I’d say that it has very little going for it.

    But ENTER THE DRAGON? “Western sensibilities” or not, it’s still probably the best kung-fu movie I’ve seen. (And while I’m sure there are people here who’ve seen a lot more kung-fu movies than I have, I’m also pretty sure I’ve seen a lot more kung-fu movies than the average moviegoer.) For a whole variety of reasons: it probably relies the least on a single “style” of fight, meaning that every action sequence in it is unique. It has a fantastic Lalo Schifrin score, an awesome setting, a great sense of scope, memorable and likeable characters (I love how Han’s character reflects the worst parts of each of the three protagonists – Roper’s cynicism, Williams’ vanity, and Lee’s appetite for pain and humiliation), one of the all-time great “raise the stakes” deaths (and one of the most brutal – vainglorious Williams gets beaten to death while surrounded by Han’s harem of “daughters” – and if you believe that, you’ll believe anything), etc. I could go on and on. The point stands. Look, I think IP MAN is – well, very good at least; I think CROUCHING TIGER is great; I think KILLZONE is great; I think THE YOUNG MASTER is great; I think 37TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN is great. And I would rather watch ENTER THE DRAGON again than any one of them.

  51. Paul,

    ENTER THE DRAGON is a fun but corny-ass motherfucking movie more enjoyable for it’s silly tone and design than for any action in it. It’s cool if it floats your boat, but I wouldn’t even call it special by Lee’s standards, and don’t think it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as any of the actual classics from the era.

  52. I will always love ENTER THE DRAGON because without it we wouldn’t have the “fighting contest with a criminal influence” subgenre which has led to a lot of my favorite movies to watch.

  53. Dan – I don’t think you’re giving ENTER THE DRAGON enough credit – I think that just by being a weird mishmash hybrid of cultural influences from every which way, it transcended some of the limitations of its more “serious” contemporaries (like HK-era John Woo, etc). Not that I’m criticising Woo or his ilk, you understand – Woo did what he did extremely well (at least until he started making MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE sequels). But that I think is something we might have to agree to disagree on – it’s a wholly subjective point.

    (I am assuming here that your comparatively negative view of EtD isn’t influenced by 1) its lack of “thematic weight” compared to the likes of HARD-BOILED and its ilk, or 2) its status in popular culture. Because if either of those things factors into it, then I won’t agree to disagree – I’ll say, flat out, that you’re wrong.)

    Two more quick points – well, one point and one question:

    1) “a fun but corny-ass motherfucking movie more enjoyable for it’s silly tone and design than for any action in it”? I hope you realise that you just described DIE HARD.

    2) What would you consider the “actual classics from the era”? I’m not asking so that I can argue with you or anything; I’m curious as to how our tastes differ.

  54. Am I invisible or something?

  55. Paul,

    No, neither of those has to do with why I think EtD isn’t a particularly great movie. Lots of great martial arts movies lack dramatic heft, and plenty of the most popular ones are actually great movies. Frankly, EtD has as much in common silly 60’s spy movies as it does a classic martial arts movie.

    And HOW DARE YOU say that DIE HARD is silly.

  56. Shoot,

    There’s no doubt that Lee was hugely influential and helped bring martial arts movies popularity in the west. But that’s not the same thing as actually making some of the best martial arts films of the time.

    And, by and large, I’m not sure his influence on martial arts movies was a positive one. The glut of cheap, often crappy HK/Chinese/American/Japanese/etc kung fu movies that started pouring out in the 70’s and 80’s can in some large part be blamed on his popularity.

  57. The Original Paul

    November 30th, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Dan – I will answer your DIE HARD rebuttal the only way that I can: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.”

    I’d never considered the 60s spy movie comparison before, but thinking back to some of the old TV shows like THE PERSUADERS and THE MAN FROM UNCLE… yeah, I can kinda see it.

  58. I really respect Paul’s opinion on this. I really like Bruce Lee movies but they’re never my go to movies because I have a different preference for the type of martial arts movie that I enjoy watching. I just could never get behind Enter the Dragon being the greatest martial arts movie of all time. Quite frankly, I don’t think you’ve really made a clear point on why it’s the greatest other than it have a varied fight style and that it’s pretty fun.

    Wait? Is there a difference between kung fu movie and martial arts film?

  59. I feel I have to add that I like Bogart, Lee and Dean as actors, but not as fashion accessories.

  60. The Original Paul

    December 1st, 2015 at 3:23 am

    Sternshein – I didn’t say it was the “best of all time” exactly. I said it was the best one I’d seen (having seen less kung-fu / martial arts movies than some people here I imagine), and that it was the one I’d go back to watching again and again over all the others. Obviously that’s subjective, as is my preference for its score over – well, pretty much anything else really. It’s Lalo Schifrin’s best work, and that’s saying a helluva lot in a world where DIRTY HARRY and TRUCK TURNER exist. That said, does anybody disagree with me on the score? On a technical level alone I wouldn’t think there’s any question that ENTER THE DRAGON is one of the greats. The pacing, the sense of geography of the island, the gorgrous cinematography, the scoring, the fight choreography… at least in the theatrical version, all of those things are pretty much as good as it gets. Add to that Bruce Lee’s best performance, John Saxon’s best performance (with all apologies to lovers of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and MURDER SHE WROTE series, both of which had Saxon as a recurring actor), all the little character touches (my personal favorite being Saxon’s face when Williams signals to him that he has to let himself get hit a third time to raise the betting odds), and much, much more…

    I dunno guys, I’m befuddled here. Having to defend ENTER THE DRAGON feels like having to defend DIE HARD or something. I just didn’t ever think I’d need to do it, especially to this crowd. Can we still be friends?

  61. Paul, I’m afraid this is what it’s like to be a lover of movies from the 60’s and 70’s. Most people (this is of course a gross generalization and not directed to anyone on this sight, their family, friends or neighbours) you meet online have grown up with late 80’s and 90’s blockbusters and more often than not prefer slick filming and seemless editing over the more plot driven efforts of yesterday.

  62. pegsman,

    FWIW, I’m not comparing Enter the Dragon to modern movies. I’m saying, compared to all the great martial arts movies of the 60’s and 70’s, it does not stand out as one of the best.

  63. Paul, please stop referring to your scissor-happy country’s arbitrarily butchered version of ENTER THE DRAGON as “the theatrical version.” That’s like calling the non-Mr. Falcon version of DIE HARD “the extended edition.”

  64. Dan, as I said, my comment wasn’t directed at anyone, I was just trying to be supportive of Paul.

  65. Yeah, I just meant as a lover of 60’s and 70’s movies, I can also be a negative dick

  66. Out of general interest, what are the best martial arts movies of the 60’s and 70’s?

  67. Mr Majestyk, the American VHS version is even shorter, so I wouldn’t get too nationalistic here.

  68. I don’t want to live in the world where the Vern collective doesn’t unite in sweet harmony over Bruce, his films, and his accomplishments.

    Now, everyone hold hands and tell the guy to your left one thing you love about him.

  69. Jeez, let me try to keep this brief.

    Come Drink With Me
    Crippled Avengers
    The Deadly Duo
    Heroes of the East
    New One-Armed Swordsman (really the whole trilogy)
    36th Chamber of Shaolin (also a great trilogy, but the sequels are 80’s)
    The Young Master

    I could keep going, those are just some personal favorites from that era. Some might be considered more wu xia, but the genres are pretty closely related.

  70. The Original Paul

    December 1st, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    I do love that you put THE YOUNG MASTER on that list. I’ve always regarded it as the best Jackie Chan movie that nobody’s ever heard of. (It was particularly gratifying to see it featured in the recent movie KUNG FU KILLER.) I’d expect it to have its fans here, but it seems to be pretty obscure elsewhere.

    Majestyk – sorry. It’s habit. Inaccurate, I know. On my EtD DVD, the extended version is referred to as “Bruce Lee’s cut” (although why Lee or anybody else would consider it beneficial to the film as a whole to waste the audience’s time with a two-minute grave-visit scene that’s cribbed directly from THE BIG BOSS, I have no freakin’ idea.)

  71. The Original Paul

    December 1st, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Also, I had no idea that 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN had sequels. Are they any good? Having the Shaolin master go off to fight more Tartars seems to be an extraordinarily bad basis for a sequel to that particular movie.

  72. The Original Paul

    December 1st, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    To clarify, obviously Dan thinks they’re good, given his comments… that last question was more directed to the rest of the field.

  73. The 36th Chamber sequels are both great, and the interesting thing is they are both comedies. Part 2 is even kind of a parody of the original: Gordon Liu plays a different character who pretends to be a monk, ends up being trained in Kung fu and taught to be a man by his character from the first movie.

  74. Paul- YOUNG MASTER is a pretty famous movie that most people should have heard of. It´s certainly not NEW FIST OF FURY in terms of obscure Jackie Chan films.

  75. Paul, where in KUNG FU KILLER did you find THE YOUNG MASTER reference? If it is the movie that is shown on television in the background, that is DRUNKEN MASTER

  76. I know I am late to the party on this one, but as mush as I love Bruce I kind of agree with Majestyk. Bruce’s swagger is unapproachable it is so off the charts and it is a big part of what made him an icon, but his on screen marital arts are not as strong as Jackie or Jet. That is not a knock on Bruce, he paved the ways for Chan and Li, but they expanded on what Lee did as martial artist and took it to the next level.

    Pegsman, CIRCLE OF IRON works as an interesting glimpse into an ambitious passion project Bruce never got to see to fruition, but I wouldn’t call it a good movie. It is more of an interesting curiosity than an enjoyable film.

  77. Dan, that is a nice list. Off the top of my head I would also submit MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER for consideration.

  78. There were some magnificient old school martial arts epic made in the early 80´s that one should not ignore. THE ODD COUPLE and 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER come to mind

  79. Charles- I find the comedy in MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER to be surprisingly charming. I think it has to do with Fan Mei´s portrayal of Beggar Su. It´s a great movie! It´s not as obnoxious as Sammo´s previous IRON FISTED MONK, which is a movie I find hard to stomach these days. I think one rape in a movie is bad enough, but when you have two prolonged ones I check out.

  80. Maybe I need to see MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER again because I really hated it. I’m still fairly allergic to Sammo Hung to this day. He’s a great fighter and choreographer and I’ve liked more than a few of his films and performances but just knowing his comedic stylings are waiting right around the corner makes it hard for me to want to give his movies a chance. It’s the mugging I can’t stand. The fucking mugging. I can pretty much only enjoy the Hong Kong sense of humor when it’s used as WTF juxtaposition to over-the-top melodrama or shocking violence. On its own it’s an efficient movie-killer.

  81. Shoot, those are some good ones. I would also recommend the mid 70’s Brian Trenchard-Smith HK hybrid THE MAN FROM HONG KONG aka DRAGON FLIES starring Jimmy Wang Yu.

  82. Speaking of annoying Hk comedy, there are plenty to be had when Dean Shek shows up in THE ODD COUPLE. I would not mind if they cut out all his scenes in that film. Jesus, that is one dude I cannot stand. Except for A BETTER TOMORROW 2. That is a perfect use of Shek. Otherwise I prefer my kung fu movies un-Shek-ed

  83. Mr. M, I see your point MB features a level of silliness and comedic mugging that might not be your cup of tea, but the martial arts are impressive. In general I enjoy Sammo as a martial artist but find his comedic stylings hit or miss. However, I agree with Shoot that there is something charming about his performance in MB. I think it might be one of Sammo’s more balanced performances where the silliness doesn’t detract or overshadow the exceptional physicality on display.

  84. The Original Paul

    December 2nd, 2015 at 10:28 am

    Shoot – I thought it was THE YOUNG MASTER? I thought I recognised Chan’s outfit from it. But IMDB does indeed confirm that you’re right – which is a hit to the ego for me. Apparently it’s even more obscure than I thought.

    And my experience is that if you ask anybody about Jackie Chan, then depending on who you ask, you’ll get the DRUNKEN MASTER, POLICE STORY or RUSH HOUR films. Mention YOUNG MASTER to them and they’ll stare at you blankly. Very few people seem to have even heard of that movie, let alone seen it, at least in the circles that I run in. But maybe things are different where you are.

  85. Paul- I wasn´t sure if I wanted to tell you that to break the illusion. If it helps, I think THE YOUNG MASTER is awesome. It has probably my favourite villain entrance of any movie. When Wong In-Sik is set free he means business. I mean , Jesus Christ does he kick ass!

  86. Charles,

    I’m just not a big Sammo Hung fan. As an actor/martial artist I enjoy him sometimes, but I don’t think he was ever much of a director or choreographer. MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER has some cool stuff, but personally I would not hold it up as a classic.

  87. And yeah, the 80’s had some great martial arts movies. 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER and the 36TH CHAMBERS sequels are great examples, also you have POLICE STORY and some of Jackie Chan’s other best work.

    I would also really like to single out SHAOLIN INTRUDERS as a phenomenal 80’s kung fu movie that seems under recognized.

  88. Not a huge fan of HK humour either, but I do have a soft spot for the ACES GO PLACES movies.

  89. Oh, and if we’re talking the 80’s, 5 ELEMENT NINJAS might be my favorite kung fu movie of all time. It’s the one that turned me from casual fan to obsessive.

    Also, let’s throw DUEL TO THE DEATH and LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA in there.

  90. Speaking of classic HK martial arts films, have either of you seen John Woo’s REIGN OF ASSASSINS? It is a modern martial arts epic produced by Woo and supposedly partially ghost directed by him as well. It stars Michelle Yeoh and features some excellent fight scenes. It is my favorite of the modern Xuxia films that have come out since HK reverted back to being part of China. It has the same elegant presentation found in CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON or HERO but the action is much more dynamic and plentiful.

  91. To be fair to Bruce, and his fans, he did pave the way for everything that’s been mentioned here for the last 24 hours.

  92. Charles- I was also pleasantly surprised by REIGN OF ASSASSINS. There is also a Ringo Lam directed piece from the 90´s, which I can´t recall the name of, but was a Dante Inferno esque verasion of how captured Shaolin monks were treated. Like a prison kung fu film. IMdb does not help the fuck out by insisting on original titles.

  93. Charles,

    I’ll have to track that down.

    Honestly, I’m pretty lukewarm on a lot of modern HK stuff. As you’ve noted, they are sucking up to the mainland more and more and trying to appeal to them. A lot of the martial arts and wuxia stuff now are these serious, desaturated war epics, instead of the colorful adventure stories of yesteryear.

    Also, by and large it feels like the unique, stylish-but-elegant HK visual style has been going away; they are looking more and more like American movies every year.

  94. BURNING PARADISE perhaps? Excellent film

  95. I want to say that 5 ELEMENT NINJAS and a number of the classic Shaw Brothers films mentioned in this thread are available streaming on Netflix right now.

  96. As the guy who accidentally started this whole debate, I want to agree with pegsman. I cannot and will not downplay his influence on the genre. But I also want to agree with Charles. Being a pioneer and being the best are not always the same thing. I doubt anyone would call the Model T the best car ever made. Its importance to all cars that came after cannot be denied, but put it in a race with most of those cars and it will lose.

    Bruce did have more style than the Model T, though. So maybe he’s more like a Mustang: not the fastest or the most agile, but possibly the coolest.

  97. Bruce Lees influence was that on western action, not on the domestic. They still did their thing long after he was gone.

  98. Thanks shoot, I will have to check BURNING PARADISE out. I really like Lamb, and I have not seen that one.

  99. Yeah, it takes that all familiar tale of how Shaolin monks were persecuted by the Manchus after the burning of the temple in a new fresh way. I remember liking it a lot.

  100. Shoot,

    I believe you are correct. Bruce’s impact is that he made the genre popular worldwide. It was already thriving in HK long before he came along, and his movies didn’t introduce anything new to the template, except arguable his cocky, indestructible persona. And like Mr. M, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of that persona.

  101. Dan: I do enjoy his work but something about his persona kind of rubs me the wrong way if I think about it was too long. He gives me a John Lennon vibe: trying so hard to be perceived as pious and wise but coming off as conceited and pompous underneath.

  102. Pegsman, sorry to be late with the apologies – this discussion has clearly moved on – but I wholeheartedly retract my calling you out. I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying “Young people today know nothing etc.”, but I hear what you’re saying about fashion accessories. Even so I felt bound to say some of the work is truly great.

    Taking the point about older movies being more plot driven and looking less seamless, does anyone care to suggest movies that totally work for a modern audience? My kids were blown away by BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, but I think they were really just loving William Goldman’s smartass dialog.

  103. I still believe that Bruce carried a ginormeous chip on his shoulder to prove to a western audience why he could work in the west as a leading man. And that is why the style he chose to be the one. Nobody knows how well he could pull off the intricate choreography. But it sure as hell been interesting to see a Bruce Lee movie directed by Lau-Kar-Leung! Fuck yeah!

  104. Shoot,

    If only!

    I do believe that if Lee had signed to the Shaw Bros, he would have had better odds of making an actually great movie.

  105. Dan -you are dead right. They made pictures that were wellmade. And would have made him a star in the east. But Bruce chose not to. That could only be desribed to his egotistical claim to prove himself. I don´t care what he said in interviews

  106. Yeah, I mean I’m sure Lee never regretted the decision, because who knows if he would have become an international star with the Shaws? But the movies would have probably been better.

  107. Bruce did some shoots for a blind swordsman, like Zatoichi, so I don´t think he was entirely thinking of the west. I just think that was his main concern.

  108. While I wouldn’t disagree with you guys that Lee never made a masterpiece, I do think you’re undervaluing the power of his charisma as a performer. I mean, the guy is just magnetic on-screen. There’s a physicality to his performances, an innate body intelligence and expressiveness of movement, that I don’t think has ever been matched. Even if it never made it into an actual cinematic classic, just watching him on-screen is electrifying no matter how mediocre the context.

    Since Mr. M mentioned Seattle’s other genius son, Jimi Hendrix, I’d actually like to accept that comparison: plenty of people have played faster than Hendrix ever did, plenty of people have played more technically, plenty of people have a more consistent catalog of classic songs. But only Hendrix had that ineffable and overwhelming personal force which turns standard guitar noodling into something forceful and searing and unique. It’s not about technique, it’s about an innate and deeply personal understanding of the art which a unique persona inextricably to that artform. A mix of personality intrinsically tied to performance, and topped off with startling brazenness and charisma. Both Jimi and Bruce had that in a way which no one else has, since.

    Yes, both of their early deaths and their pioneering status definitely contributed to their subsequent god-like rep, but I think the majority of the hype is well-earned. Others would make better movies and better songs, but as icons of a particular talent, they’re both pretty untouchable IMHO.

    By the way, have you guys seen the reconstruction of Lee’s original GAME OF DEATH in A WARRIORS JOURNEY? Watching about 45 minutes of that, do you think it’s fair to say that it would have been his best work, and probably a legitimate classic? Those are terrific fights, and they communicate so much about the dynamics of each conflict simply through the physical performances and the way they’re staged and shot. I think there’s a brilliance there which pokes through in some of his other movies but is present there in a sustained form.

  109. Mr. S, I completely agree with you in regard to Bruce’s charisma. I want to be clear, I am a huge Bruce Lee fan. I think Lee is one of the coolest most charismatic people to ever grace this planet, and I can’t think of another film star/martial artist that can even come close to capturing the same type of intangible cool that Bruce possessed. It is the reason Bruce crossed over as an international martial arts film star in a way that no one had before him or after him for that matter. However, the fights from Bruce’s films seem pretty pedestrian from a technical and physical standpoint when compared against many of the fights from Li or Chan’s filmography. That is not a knock on Bruce, just an observation on how what he once presented on screen has evolved over time.

    The reconstructed footage from A WARRIORS JOURNEY is awesome. I do think it is some of Bruce’s best work and wish he had the chance to complete it before his unfortunate passing.

    Another thing I think Lee deserves a lot of credit for is not just popularizing martial art in cinema for American audiences, but making martial arts themselves cool is America. Lee believed that martial arts where for everyone at a time when there were still a number of Chinese that felt that martial arts like Kung Fu shouldn’t be taught to people that were not Chinese. I rember growing up

  110. Mr. S.: Perhaps I am just inherently distrustful of icons that are presented to me readymade, with mythology and imagery set in stone and all I have to do is sign on the dotted line and agree that everyone else has been right all along and there’s nothing you need to bring to the discussion. Lee and Hendrix might have the magical macmuffin that set history aflame or whatever but they didn’t make art that particularly appeals to me so why should I care? If they hadn’t been entombed in their own reputations I would say “That’s pretty decent but what else do you have?” and move on. Why should their icon status change my honest assessment of their output?

  111. Borg9, no need for apologies. we’re all friends here. My kids liked a lot of Hitchcock’s movies from the 50’s and 60’s, early James Bonds and Coburn’s Flint movies.

  112. Alright, let’s really fight this out: in terms of HK stars, Chow Yun-Fat (while not a martial artist) has loads more charisma, star-power and cool than Lee. Discuss.

  113. Why? This seems stupid. I am not in the fucking mood.I like them bothy. Allright!

  114. Dan, that is a good point. Chow might be as charismatic as Lee and he has star power in spades but I would argue he never crossed over and made the mainstream cultural impact international or stateside that Bruce Bruce did. However, I think Yun-Fat has the stronger filmography.

  115. Mr. M — I get that. By the time both you and I came along, a lot of the icons of the previous generations — especially the ones who were already gone by then — were already enshrined in a mythology which unquestionably bleeds into any kind of critical appraisal of their works. Anytime there’s an artist so untouchable that even saying something mildly critical about them can inspire people to shout at you like a heretic, we’ve got a problem.

    Even so, though, I’d say that even when we strip away the cultural trappings, both those guys were still something really special. Sometimes mediocre talents get involved in great works of art — I mean, Ryan O’Neal starred in a Kubrick film for fuck’s sake. Other times, great talents don’t quite add up to great works of art, as with Bruce. But even so, just watching the raw talent is breathtaking. I’ll go ahead and use the word: genius. I think both Bruce and Jimi had a genius for what they did, and I think it’s always mesmerizing watching true genius in action, even if the context ends up being more mundane.

    And I’d say the same to you, Dan — Chow Yun-Fat is one of history’s greatest cinematic dynamos, but I don’t think he comes close to Bruce in terms of pure magnetism. Chow is like Robert Plant, a tremendously gifted artist who created a great body of work. Bruce is like Freddie Mercury, a guy on a whole different level, completely unique, incomparable. Chow made way better movies, which I enjoy way more, and he’s ridiculously cool and charismatic in all of them, but Bruce is an icon, an archetype, a legend. That’s not by mistake, it’s a reflection of just how potent he comes off on-screen, even in movies which aren’t that great. Some people just have “it,” and he’s got some of the most “it” that anyone ever had.

  116. Also, Mr. M — I should always note that you’re in no way required to like things that you don’t like. There are plenty of sacred cows which don’t do it for me, either. In fact, I’m mostly immune to the charm of wuxia movies in general (I find most of them about as enjoyable as going to a ballet; yeah, yeah, nice choreography, is that really all there is here?), so that’s probably an even more heretical statement than dishing on Bruce.

  117. I’m not arguing that Chow has had more impact, although I find it weird that you all keep appealing to Lee as an “icon” and “legend” with a ton of influence, as if being really popular is some sort of sign of goodness. Hint: it’s not.

  118. Let me put it this way: James Dean is an icon and hugely influential. Would anyone here actually consider him the best actor of his time?

  119. Mr. S, I don’t think that is heresy. There is a lot of xuxia films that are graceful and technically impressive but kind of boring and overly choreographed. I actually tend to prefer more grounded and physical martial arts in film than a lot of the more stylized and deliberate presentation in xuxia. For example I love THE LEGEND OF FONG SAI YUK and it has some great fights in it, but I prefer the fight scenes in FIST OF LEGEND.

  120. Divisive things are the worst. Why the dichotomy?

  121. I’d argue that Brando was one of the most iconic, magnetic and talented actors who also made great works of art. Nunchuk that. (And eat a snickers, Shoot, before you collapse!)

  122. Dan — For me it’s not a matter of influence; as Mr. M said above, lots of things which were the first were by no means the best. I don’t really care who had the most influence on cinema history. For me it’s a simple matter or Bruce’s power as a performer. Not even as a martial artist, per se, simply as a screen presence. He’s iconic and legendary not because of the hype, but because that’s just how he comes across on-screen, bigger than life. Vern mentions Mohammad Ali above, and I think that’s an apt comparison; I don’t care at all about boxing, but Ali is just an arresting persona independent from any of that.

  123. Ha ha, I really didn’t expect this post to start a debate.

  124. The Original Paul

    December 2nd, 2015 at 11:47 pm

    Shoot – going back to your earlier post about THE YOUNG MASTER for a sec – I love that villain entrance! The best thing about it is the reaction of the guards. They know they’re fucked. One of them has this expression on his face that conveys perfectly: “This is way above my pay grade.”

    When you’re debating whether or not a guy classifies as 1) an action star, 2) an action pioneer, 3) an iconic performer or 4) a legendary screen presence, it’s fair to say that there’s something about him.

    And no, Chow Yun Fat does not have more charisma or star power than Lee. That’s a given, it’s obvious, and it’s settled. Ok? I don’t mean to knock Yun Fat, who’s starred in a lot of movies that I really enjoy. But c’mon now.

    “Cool” is not so cut-and-dried, because Lee wasn’t cool. He didn’t need to be. But then neither did Chow Yun Fat, at least in anything I’ve seen him in – and I’ve seen him in a lot. (Maybe THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS, but honestly, is that what we’re using as a standard of the man’s work?)

  125. Since I was around when both phenomenon occured, I can safely say that Chow’s heroic bloodshed movies had just as big – if not bigger – impact around the world as Lee’s kung fu films. This was of course before the internet, and had Chow died after HARD-BOILED (instead of being brought to Hollywood and stripped of all his cinematic power) he would have become an even greater poster boy than Lee.

  126. “Sinmce I was around”, I can hear your rocking chair creak from here,pegsman. I imagine you as Paul Newman in THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN sitting on a porch with a shotgun anda blanket across your knees

  127. I usually sit in front of the TV, but otherwise that’s pretty accurate, Shoot…Always knew you would pick up on that sentence.

  128. While I don’t think any of Bruce Lee’s movies are amazing by any stretch of the imagination, he did have a powerful presence. I feel his acting was just average, but he made up for it with his gigantic charisma, and there’s no denying his phenomenal fighting skills, either; however, that in turn lead to his choreography in his movies (Except for Enter The Dragon and Game of Death) averaging from so-so from great, simply because there weren’t many people in those films who could even stand a chance against Lee as far as fighting skills were concerned.

    With that said, The Big Boss is perhaps the most likable movie in the bunch, if only because of it’s overall politically incorrect tone, mainly as far as Cheng (Bruce’s character) is concerned. Sure, Cheng gets billed as the “hero”, but he still gets drunk, feels all mighty and powerful because of his promotion in the factory, and he does not hesitate to gruesomely kill a lot of thugs if they piss him off. Oh, and before his final showdown at the boss’ house, he makes one last visit to the brothel and makes love to another Thai prostitute. None of this presented under a moral lenses, as the movie simply demonstrates Cheng’s animalism. He’s certainly no role model, but he’s definitely human.

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