Bruce Lee, a British Intelligence spy and Shaolin monk (!) infiltrates martial arts tournament on super-villain Han’s (Kien Shih) remote island. Han is supposedly into drugs and slavery, and Lee also learns that Han’s goons killed his sister a few years back. Joining Lee in the tournament are Americans John Saxon and Jim Kelly, who see fit to enjoy Han’s whores and hospitality, whilst Lee is sneaking around and scaling the walls outside.
Overrated, now outdated 1973 Robert Clouse (“Black Belt Jones”, a wildly entertaining Blaxploitation kung-fu flick with Kelly) film isn’t really a kung-fu picture, but an attempt to bring martial arts to the US by mixing it with a little faux-007 nonsense (featuring Kien Shah as a rip-off of “Dr. No”). It plays out in hokey, but sometimes exciting (and violent) fashion. Lee is miscast as a super-spy, but is undeniably impressive in the martial arts scenes (particularly the finale) and an imposing presence, and there’s a good small role for a young-looking Bolo Yeung (who actually repeated some of the film’s dialogue in his memorable performance as the badass villain in “Bloodsport”).
A truly goofy John Saxon, who apparently became quite the martial arts student, doesn’t look at all convincing here in a role that screams for a James Coburn (who indeed was a student of Lee’s), and poor Jim Kelly (a real-life martial arts champ) never really was an actor, something perfectly evident here.
The film works in the martial arts action department, and as the film that brought Lee to international stardom, but real martial arts fans know this film is at the end of the day, a poseur (from the screenwriter of “Flash Gordon”, no less). Worth a look, but only for Lee.