Exactly 40 years ago last Saturday, Bruce Lee passed away. In retrospect, Lee’s sudden and dramatic death (he died unexpectedly just after the completion of his first Hollywood production, Enter the Dragon) immediately gave him a “legend” status. No-one can tell, but perhaps Lee would not have achieved the huge fame that he did had he lived on. Such is the irony of stardom.
Bruce Lee’s death opened the doors for a flood of imitators. Many were Chinese, picked because they looked vaguely like Lee and could imitate some of his body language. Their acting was almost as mediocre as their kung fu, and most were quickly forgotten. For some embarrassing examples, take a look at the so-called “documentary” The Real Bruce Lee (1979). Just don’t come and say I did not warn you.
Bruce Lee’s rising popularity in the early 1970s coincided with the emergence of the blaxploitation movement: movies which were made to appeal to a black audience. The heroes and most of the cast were coloured, and many whites in supporting roles were either crooked or incompetent. (The money made from these films went directly into the pockets of the white financers, of course.)
It was not a far leap for these two genres on the rise to merge, and a number of blaxplo martial arts films were made as a result. One good example is Black Fist. The story is about the young streetfighter Leroy, who starts to participate in illegal fights for money. The fights allow him and his girfriend a life in luxury, but he soon finds that the crime boss and the cops will not let him have his success without paying the price.
This movie is not worth watching because of the martial arts (the fight coreography is almost laughable in some moments, brutally unsophisticated in others), but because it delivers everything you would expect from a good blaxploitation: close-ups of the shady aspects of society, dirty 70s street slang, funky music, and a total lack of sentimentality that almost hurts.
The best thing about Black Fist is that, even though it is a child of the Bruce Lee boom, it does not try to copy the master. Therefore, it is a much better film than many of the Hong Kong “bruceploitation” movies.
This film is best enjoyed on your mobile phone or iPad, since the resolution of the best copy on the Internet Archive is inadequate for viewing on a large screen.
Running time: 1 h 32 min
Directors: Timothy Galfas, Richard Kaye
Stars: Richard Lawson
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Low (416×320)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (699 M)