Lee (Bruce Lee) is a top Shaolin monk who’s sent to investigate Han (Kien Shih) a former member of his order whose suspiciously remote island has attracted the attention of the authorities. To get close to Han, Lee must enter a martial arts tournament, and try to gather information from the compound on the side.
The story feels like an early Bond film, with a deformed villain on an island, a secret underground lair and an array of ladies in sexually subservient roles. But unlike his liberty-taking white counterpart, Lee largely eschews these temptations of the flesh, focusing instead on the mission in hand like a professional.
His supremacy is established by his defeat of the film’s main muscle in an early fight, and his skills during the combat scenes, which Lee (the actor) also choreographed, go without saying. But he also brings sincerity, depth and humour to the part.
The story is straightforward in the sense that the good guys are the good guys and the bad guys are the bad guys, but what looks like a competition movie turns into a more investigatory action film which effectively raises the stakes and keeps the plot interesting.
But the best moments are obviously the martial arts sequences. For those of us whose introduction to the genre was films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, it’s a completely different style and tone. But while it’s not as delicate or refined as those films, Lee is outrageously fast and skillful, bringing a level of grace which would be alien to the heavy weaponry based action films of Hollywood in subsequent decades.