LEGACY OF RAGE (1986) is Ronny Yu’s Hong Kong action movie that’s in a crime/martial arts type vein, written by Clifton Ko (ONCE A THIEF) and Raymond Fung (later art director of Yu’s CHINA WHITE). It’s also the first starring role for then-21-year-old Brandon Lee, following his father’s path from American television (he was in KUNG FU: THE MOVIE) to Hong Kong cinema. Of course, we can also draw a parallel to Yu’s travels between Hong Kong and the U.S., which is part of the reason producers Linda Kuk (HARD BOILED) and John Sham (YES, MADAM!, ROYAL WARRIORS) thought they might work well together.
But Lee’s character Brandon Ma is not specified to be an immigrant, and I think his mouth movements are Cantonese (though both that and the English soundtrack seem to be dubbed by someone else). I was nervous when the opening had some nerd rollerskating through traffic listening to a Walkman, but luckily that’s just some drug courier and not Brandon. He gets a much more macho introduction controlling the machine that lifts and smashes cars at a junkyard.
This Brandon is a good-hearted guy – when his girlfriend May (Regina Kent, A BETTER TOMORROW 2) is angry at him for being late he doesn’t even bother to explain that he was delayed by heroically carrying a toddler to the next bus stop after she was left behind by her mother. That’s just the kinda shit he does, so it wasn’t even worth mentioning.
Brandon and May work together at a hotel restaurant called Casablanca, as a waiter and a dancer, respectively. Is the junkyard demolition thing part time? I’m not sure, it’s not mentioned again. Other than maybe having two jobs, you could call him a slacker – he sleeps on a mattress with no bed frame and has two posters of motorcycles on his walls – but he gives May a ring, which I think indicates engagement.
Like some of my favorites of the genre, LEGACY OF RAGE is not afraid to go off on tangents from the main story if they lead to fight scenes. A great classical martial arts movie confrontation happens when a gangster comes into the restaurant and starts threatening the manager for protection money. We know right away that this is gonna be a problem customer because he’s played by none other than Bolo motherfuckin Yeung. When Bolo knocks over nerdy-bow-tie-wearing-waiter Brandon’s tray of beers, Brandon is apologetic and takes the blame
until Bolo punches him in the stomach. Then Brandon completely transforms from geek to legacy of rage. He gives Bolo a straight up Bruce Lee stare of death.
His face of fury is so intense that, check this out – it seems to scare Bolo!
You see that? That’s the look of Bolo suddenly remembering fighting Brandon’s father in ENTER THE DRAGON and subsequently appearing in the Bruceploitation films BRUCE AND SHAOLIN KUNG FU, THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE, BRUCE LEE IN NEW GUINEA, BRUCE THE SUPERHERO, TREASURE OF BRUCE LEE, BRUCE THE KING OF KUNG FU, ENTER THE GAME OF DEATH, WAY OF THE DRAGON 2 and BRUCE LEE’S DRAGONS FIGHT BACK.
The manager breaks it up before any more shit goes down, and Brandon tries to go back to being a mild-mannered waiter, but then Bolo throws a beer in his face, leading to this Great Moment in Customer Service History:
Don’t worry, there will ultimately be more than one punch each. Man, I love that they recognized that having him point at somebody sternly would be a way to remind us of his father. They even put it on some of the posters.
Bolo challenges Brandon to a fight in the alley. Brandon pulls off his (turns out to be clip-on) bow tie like a sheriff taking off his badge and goes outside to fight Bolo and all his friends with fists, feet and garbage can lids. Honestly I think all service people should be allowed to do this in certain situations. And on the clock, even. I don’t think it should count as part of his lunch break. Taking the tie off symbolizes Brandon taking responsibility for his actions, but dealing with this motherfucker is still official restaurant business.
Brandon and May are visited by their douchey rich friend Michael, played by Michael Wong (ROYAL WARRIORS, KNOCK OFF), who is also an American-born actor who went to Hong Kong to get into movies. There’s tension between Brandon and Michael (the characters, not the actors) because back in the day Michael (wearing sunglasses and flipping the collar up on his polo shirt) failed to woo May right before Brandon succeeded by being nice to her. Michael is pretty blatant about still wanting her and even tells Brandon “I don’t mind sloppy seconds.” Nothing but class.
But there are worse problems with Michael. His work with his gangster father (Wai-Man Chan, FIST OF UNICORN, FIST OF FURY II, BRUCE’S DEADLY FINGERS, BRUCE LI THE INVINCIBLE) gets the three of them beat up on the beach (hats off to the attackers’ vehicles for catching serious air when they drive up). Worse, he shoots a drug dealing rival who’s a cop (Lam Chung, THE NEW GAME OF DEATH, NEW FISTS OF FURY, THE LEGEND OF BRUCE LEE, BRUCE LEE’S DEADLY KUNG FU, CHINESE CONNECTION 2, FISTS OF BRUCE LEE) and sets up Brandon to take the fall.
Poor Brandon does an 8-year manslaughter bid believing he’s protecting Michael and that the organization will take care of May. Instead Michael tries to rape her while it turns into a prison movie for a while. You got the typical story of Brandon making a friend who shows him the ropes, being targeted by another con, getting thrown into solitary for fighting, having emotional visits through the plexiglass, making escape attempts, etc. Meanwhile, May secretly gives birth to his son and is convinced by her boss (Teddy Yip, POLICE STORY 2, THE KILLER, SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT) that she’s in danger and needs to go into hiding. So she goes to Brazil with an old rich guy (Hak Chu, PORKY’S MEATBALLS) who needs a “companion” (turns out to be totally innocent – he’s a selfless, doomed protector like O’Malley in HARD TO KILL).
When Brandon finally gets out he goes back to work, this time at a gas station where he happens to encounter Michael rocking out in his yellow Ferrari and acting like they’re still friends. So he quits and gets another job working in a garbage dump, where maybe he won’t be bothered. I love the way Yu and cinematographer Hau-Ming Chan (MUMMY DEAREST, FRACTURED FOLLIES) shoot this horribly unromantic place for his reunion with May and first glimpse of his son.
If you’re worried there won’t be much of an action payoff, let me tell you this. He hooks up with Hoi (Mang Hoi, FIST OF UNICORN, ENTER THE DRAGON, CALL ME DRAGON, ENTER THE FAT DRAGON, WAY OF THE BLACK DRAGON), his arms dealer buddy from prison, who tells him “I’m afraid this is all I have” as he opens up this cache of weapons:
That’s it!? Just the one can of WD-40? You’ve got to be kidding me.
The action in the climax includes a car and foot chase, an exploding gas truck, a fucked up part where he has to dump live chickens on henchmen to slow them down, alot of high speed driving in reverse, hand grenades, guns powerful enough to blow up cars, firing a machine gun while standing up in a Jeep and steering using his foot, shooting a chandelier onto a guy, a guy getting shot and then sliding down a banister, getting his head bashed through glass cases, knocking Michael through a railing, and smashing a piano. It ends up on a set that seems possibly influenced by the SCARFACE mansion and/or an influencer of the TRUE ROMANCE hotel shootout.
After thousands of bullets are fired he punches a guy in the stomach and lifts him up on his fist as he yells for Michael.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen that move before. That may be the titular rage.
The title, we can guess, is meant to emphasize the idea of this being a torch-passing, a new generation of the most iconic martial arts actor. In some countries the title was a variation on SON OF THE DRAGON, with posters actually depicting Bruce and completely centering around Brandon being his son.
This is unfair to poor Brandon, not only because no one could’ve lived up to that billing, but also because it’s the last thing he wanted! According to Yu, because he knew English from going to college in Ohio, the producer flew him to the states to meet leather-jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding Lee, who said he hated martial arts and didn’t want anyone to mention his father to him. So Yu had to change his mind.
“I think I aged 10 years making that movie,” Yu said. “I had to push myself to be the psychiatrist, the professor, and the filmmaker, the artist, everything! I had to use any trick possible in order to make Brandon fight.”
Luckily for us, Lee did do some great fights, both in this and subsequent films. Luckily for Lee, he still managed to step out of the shadow of his father and build a separate legacy despite his much-too-short time on earth. But I think it’s fair to say that LEGACY OF RAGE successfully capitalizes on Brandon being the Son of the Dragon. They never mention his character’s father or do any crass Bruceploitation type shit, but he does poses and moves that are certainly inspired by his dad and his own training in Jeet Kune Do. And it’s undeniably exciting to see hints of Bruce when you’re looking at Brandon.
A few months before the release of LEGACY OF RAGE, John Woo revolutionized the genre with A BETTER TOMORROW, the surprise smash hit that turned Yu’s frequent collaborator Chow Yun-Fat into a superstar. It kicked off a new movement in Hong Kong action cinema that would soon be celebrated internationally and make Hong Kong directors desirable to Hollywood. That summer Corey Yuen (YES, MADAM!) was already dipping his toes in with NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER, the ludicrous and wonderful movie about a kid from California being trained in martial arts by the ghost of Brandon Lee’s dad.
Brandon was headed back to Hollywood too, but not necessarily on the strength of his work with Yu. He just had to go back to starring in updates of Kung Fu and doing the b-movie LASER MISSION. That’s too bad, though, because LEGACY OF RAGE is a good one, more than worthy of being a star making vehicle if international audiences had been more into movies like this at that time.
Next week in Uncle Sam Wants Yu: We’ll take a look at a non-Ronny Yu Brandon Lee movie I love, then another of Yu’s ghost comedies, then back into action.
March 30th, 2023 at 6:29 pm
Legitimate Vengeance is not a bad title either.
You did Showdown in Little Tokyo last year so does this mean you’re revisiting Rapid Fire?