Fist of Fear, Touch of Death (aKa The Dragon and the Cobra) is a 1980 Bruceploitation film co-written, edited, & directed by Matthew Mallinson (Caged Fury, Trapped Alive, The Order of the Black Eagle, & Joker’s Wild). The Bruceploitation sub-genre had a variety of martial artists/actors which included Bruce Li, Bruce Le, Bruce Lai, Bruce Lie, Bruce Liang, Bruce Leung, Bruce Thai, Brute Lee, & many others that looked like the legendary Bruce Lee doing similar films trying to trick the general audience making it look like a brand new feature from the action star, exploitation at it’s highest level. This film used older footage of Bruce Lee from Thunderstorm, television interviews, & a various other Bruce Lee material mixed in, it tried to present it like it was some unreleased project before he died. It has footage from the Forced to Fight (aKa Invincible Super Chang) feature in it. It was co-written by Ron Harvey (Zombie Holocaust/Doctor Butcher M.D. & Nature). It was produced by Terry Levene (Zombie Holocaust/Doctor Butcher M.D., The Tough Ones, Women in Cell Block 7, & The Bodyguard) for Aquarius Releasing. The film set at the “1979 World Karate Championships” at Madison Square Garden that will determine the “successor” to Bruce Lee. The budget was $122,500 & it grossed $2,000,000 at the box office!!!!
TV reporter Adolph Caesar (Che!, The Color Purple, A Soldier’s Story, & Tales from the Darkside) is outside Madison Square Garden before the start of a martial arts tournament that will apparently determine the “successor” to the legacy of Bruce Lee (Enter the Dragon, The Green Hornet, The Way of the Dragon, & Game of Death). He interviews martial arts promoter Aaron Banks (One Down, Two to go, The Bodyguard, Mean Johnny Barrows, & Greenwich Village Story), who says that Lee was actually killed by a kung fu move called “The Touch of Death.” Banks describes the move as being effective in “three to four weeks.” The segment contains a sequence of flashbacks to Bruce Lee. Caeser flashes back to earlier in the day, where action star Fred Williamson (From Dusk Till Dawn, MASH, Vigilante, & Original Gangstas) seen having to traverse through a number of obstacles to get to the tournament while being repeatedly mistaken for Harry Belafonte.
Ron Van Clief (Way of the Black Dragon, Enter Another Dragon, The Black Dragon Revenges the Death of Bruce Lee, & Fight to the Death) is also profiled & interviewed. Van Clief is then seen saving a woman from four hoodlums in a New York park. The feature gets a devoted to “The Bruce Lee Story” in the middle, a chronicle of Bruce Lee’s early years in China, where he is depicted as being “karate crazy”. The life of Lee’s grandfather is also portrayed here from Invincible Super Chan. They bring up Bruce Lee’s success on The Green Hornet. It has actor Bill Louie (Bruce vs. Bill , Death Promise, Dragon’s Realm, & The Old Master) dressed as Kato saving two female joggers from being raped by a gang near the World War II memorial in Battery Park. After “The Bruce Lee Story” portion is wrapped up, the film goes back to Madison Square Garden where a number of fighters are showcased. Caesar interviews Fred Williamson about the tournament & Bruce Lee. Louis Neglia (A Hard Way to Die, Double Vision, & One Down, Two to go) wins the grande finale in a two-round kickboxing match! Will he become the next Bruce Lee????
Fist of Fear, Touch of Death is a very odd production. It’s not really one whole film, it’s a Frankenstein feature. It’s a variety of different movies like Forced to Fight/Invincible Super Chang & Thunderstorm mixed together with all kinds of interviews plus a karate tournament. It also has archive footage of Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Raquel Welch, & Liza Minnelli in it. I remember when it originally seen the title with Bruce Lee, Fred Williamson, & Ron Van Clief attached to it, it grabbed my attention right away. This is exploitation at it’s finest because it tricked lots of people into seeing it back in the day. The truth is, all the Bruce Lee footage is old & poor plus it’s dubbed at some points which is unintentionally hilarious. Fred Williamson, & Ron Van Clief are barely in this, they have fun with their little cameos but don’t expect to see much of them in this. Oscar nominee Adolph Caesar honestly had a bigger role than anyone in this & he was solid as the announcer plus he did some interview during Fist of Fear, Touch of Death. I thought the actual fights during the World Karate Championship were the best part of this bizarre production to be honest. Bruceploitation was very popular at the time & this took full advantage of it. I think it’s something worth checking out once just because how weird it is but I would never watch this again.
Let’s talk about the high definition presentation & special features from The Film Detective! This 1080p (1.85.1) transfer is from a new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. I’ve seen this on VHS & DVD, this brand new release is the best it’s ever looked on the home video. It’s a major improvement over any version from the past. It mixes several different sources so the quality does chance through out the feature. The English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is better than expected. All of the dialogue & dubbing is crystal clear. The music has a nice boost to it. It also has English subtitles. “That’s Bruceploitation” is a little over 29 minutes & I think it’s better than the actual film to be honest. It’s a short documentary on the movie directed by Daniel Griffith (Celluloid Wizards in the Video Wasteland: The Saga of Empire Pictures, They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé, Let There Be Light: The Odyssey of Dark Star, Return to Eden Prairie: 25 Years of Mystery Science Theater 3000, & Return to Oldfield: Making from a Whisper to a Scream) from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures. It has interviews with director Matthew Mallinson, producer Terry Levene, writer Ron Harvey, actors Fred Williamson, & Ron Van Clief. Terry Levene says he consulted on Enter the Dragon when Warner Bros had it ready to go. They chat about Aquarius Releasing being one of the first to do Bruceploitation features with Goodbye Bruce Lee & Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave. They chat about finding the Thunderstorm film in a vault while doing inventory & realized they never used it before so that’s how this project started. They had additional material they wanted to use so they put it all together as one complete feature. They joke about mixing Chinese & Japanese cultures then not worrying about it. Aaron Banks was doing an exhibition karate tournament so they decided to make that main focus then have everything else as flashbacks & apart of their origin story for this. They go over how they put together the cast & got the main actors for Fist of Fear, Touch of Death. Fred Williamson, & Ron Van Clief talk about how they got involved in this. They tell a funny story about not having nudity because they were hoping for TV sales later. Fred asked Terry “Are you a friend of this girl’s father?” They bring issues with Adolph Caesar & how they had to change stuff on the spot because of it. They go over dubbing problems for it. They chat about it’s release, premier, & reception. It has the original “Theatrical Trailer”. It also has a red case & a booklet with information about the production. This is a very limited edition release, only 1,500 copies were pressed. It’s available everywhere right now but it will probably sell out soon so don’t hesitate to buy this if you are interested!!!!