Blaxploitation and Kung Fu come together as "Brucesploitation" in THE BLACK DRAGON'S REVENGE, out on BD-R from The Film Detective.
The premature death of martial arts legend Bruce Lee just as his first Hong Kong features were reaching the states and six days after the release of ENTER THE DRAGON from an allergic reaction to medication sparked a number of conspiracy theories as to the real cause of death. In the aftermath, a number of actors were being promoted as the next Bruce Lee – including many who changed their names to the likes of Bruce Le (RE-ENTER THE DRAGON), Bruce Li (EXIT THE DRAGON, ENTER THE TIGER), Bruce Lai (ENTER THREE DRAGONS), and Bruce Liang (CALL ME DRAGON) among others – some of whom even played the actor himself in unauthorized speculative biopics. In THE BLACK DRAGON'S REVENGE, American martial artist Ron Van Clief (given the name "Black Dragon" by Lee himself) is paid $100,000 by the mysterious Mr. Yen to go to Hong Kong and find out who murdered Bruce Lee. In Hong Kong, he hooks up with former army buddy Charlie Woodcock (Charles Bonet, SNUFF BOTTLE CONNECTION) who runs an antique shop as a front for his dojo. They find their attempts to question Bruce's close friend Miss Tang are blocked by bodyguards, and their interrogation of the opera singer in whose home Lee died leads to an ambush by a gang lead by a bald, eye-gouging sadist, his snake throwing, poison dart-blowing lover, and cowboy-hatted hitman Chicago. They are not the only party investigating since a clan that includes one of Lee's students have also refused to believe the official medical findings and are looking into the various theories about Lee's death, including his murder by a drug kingpin who wanted to bring him into the syndicate and an accident that had him on the wrong end of the "Iron Fist". The clan and Van Clief eventually cross paths as the gang's leader orders their deaths to keep the truth of Bruce Lee's death forever a mystery.
An American/Hong Kong follow up to THE BLACK DRAGON (SUPER DRAGON) in name only – the UK title of the film is THE BLACK DRAGON REVENGES THE DEATH OF BRUCE LEE and the alternate US title is simply THE DEATH OF BRUCE LEE – THE BLACK DRAGON'S REVENGE sports many excellent demonstrations of Van Clief's ability amidst otherwise laughably choreographed, clumsily-photographed, and bluntly-edited fight scenes. The expository scenes are deadly dull and can barely be said to provide forward momentum from one fight to the next. It is really only in the last third of the film that the R-rated grisliness shows its face and culminates in an extended fight set-piece that not only boast tighter editing and some creative compositions but also suspenseful and visceral. The dubbing is so stilted – even more so when it has to sync to flubbed takes – that it almost seems like a parody with some of the most nonsensical proverbs spouted by the clan leader and some twists that suggest chunks of the script are missing but Van Clief is both athletic and personable enough to make up for the inadequacies of the dubbed cast. He would appear in a handful of other Hong Kong productions including WAY OF THE BLACK DRAGON (also with Bonet) and Bruce Li's ENTER ANOTHER DRAGON as well as Antonio Margheriti's New York-lensed heist film THE SQUEEZE (alongside Lee Van Cleef). Director Chin-Ku Lu's exported filmography also includes the later HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD and BASTARD SWORDSMAN in which presumably demonstrated more adeptness as a director since they were both Shaw Brothers productions. Screenwriter Norbert Albertson Jr. also wrote DEATH PROMISE, a star vehicle for "La Pantera" Bonet who also appeared in Bruce Li's BRUCE LEE: A DRAGON STORY and FISTS OF BRUCE LEE, and the American horror film DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE (for which he also choreographed stunts). Producer Serafim Karalexis switched to the grindhouse with films like these after importing I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW) and the ensuing obscenity trial.
Released theatrically in the States by Howard Mahler Films and on VHS by Sun Video Corporation, THE BLACK DRAGON'S REVENGE first hit DVD under the title THE DEATH OF BRUCE LEE through BCI in a Ron Van Clief Collection double feature with WAY OF THE DRAGON in a disappointing panned-and-scanned transfer (THE BLACK DRAGON was released by BCI in an Exploitaiton Cinema Double Feature disc with CHINESE HERCULES). Code Red doubled the film on DVD with THE BLACK DRAGON in a new widescreen transfer from the negatives. The Film Detective's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen BD-R is reasonably colorful given the 1970s filmstock and uninspired photography, although there is a nice sense of depth in the compositions (the film was shot using one of the older Scope processes which causes straight lines to bow in wide angle shots and rippling barrel distortion during a couple wide angle panning movements). A few shot changes reveal splices at the top of the frame and there are occasional vertical scratches, but the most significant damage dates back to the time of the film's release when the distributor scratched the optical track to remove Lee's surname for fear of a lawsuit from his family. This only affects the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track which is fairly clean apart from persistent hiss. Optional English SDH subtitles are included and their grammatical peculiarities arise from the transcription of the terrible dubbing and line readings. Although a trailer does exist with the title THE BLACK DRAGON'S REVENGE, the theatrical trailer (2:58) overlays English narration and dialogue over the image track of the film's Italian trailer titled BRUCE LEE: LA VENDETTA DEL DRAGO NERO. The disc also includes the featurette "Bruce Lee Dubs" (2:03) which includes a selection of scenes where Lee's name was literally scratched out of the optical track along with The Film Detective's jokey "less than satisfying" attempts to rectify this (thankfully the feature audio track remains and has not been further augmented). (Eric Cotenas)
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