Even though Bruce Lee needs no introduction, you simply can’t help but give him one every time he’s mentioned in a conversation. His is a name that is inextricably linked with kung fu and martial arts, and over the course of his far-too-brief career, he paved the way for countless Asian stars who would rise in the aftermath of his untimely death, some of whom even got the chance to work with him on a movie or two. Forty-five years after his passing, he continues to remain one of the most revered martial artists ever to walk the face of the planet, and is considered the embodiment and absolute pinnacle of true martial arts mastery and unity of mind, body and spirit for millions of people around the world.
Indeed, despite his career as a leading man consisting of just four (and a half) films, Bruce Lee produced some of the most incredible big screen kung fu battles of all time. Fight sequences were decades ahead of their time, continuing to awe and inspire moviegoers and action filmmakers alike, today. Naturally, that can only mean it’s time…for another countdown. So get your trusty nunchakus in hand and start spinning for this list that absolutely had to happen…without further ado here are KFK’s Top 10 Bruce Lee Movie Fights! (in descending order)
- Way of the Dragon (1972) — Nunchaku Fight
- The Big Boss (1971) — Final Fight
- Game of Death (1978) — Billy Lo vs Pasqual
- Enter the Dragon (1973) — Lee vs O’Harra
- Fist of Fury (1972) — Chen Zhen vs Petrov & Suzuki
- Enter The Dragon — Hall of Mirrors
- Enter the Dragon — Cave Battle
- Game of Death — Billy Lo vs Hakeem
- Fist of Fury — Dojo Fight
Bruce took his first shot at directing with 1972’s “Way of the Dragon”, a film that would be unofficially remade as “Road House” seventeen years later (a martial arts expert steps in as the bouncer for an establishment under siege by a local crime boss, who recruits his own martial arts expert to defeat him – come on, I can’t be the ONLY one who sees this!). All joking aside, we all know that Bruce was never going to let his directorial debut go by without breaking out his trusty nunchaku at least once!
However, Bruce would inject far more comedy into “Way of the Dragon” than we see in the rest of his filmography, and our hero Tang Lung’s back-alley brawl with a gang of mafia enforcers is one of the film’s best highlights of comedy blended with combat. Coiled like a python just waiting to strike, Tang Lung’s foes progressively muster up enough courage to cautiously approach him, only for our hero to inevitably clobber them all, one right after the other. The capstone of the sequence is, of course, the one fellow who foolishly thinks he can wield Tang Lung’s weapon of choice with the same level of technical precision, only to take himself out with a misplaced swing.
Aside from the most obvious featured attraction of (and trust me, we’ll be getting to that one in good time) “Way of the Dragon” not only showed audiences where Bruce Lee was headed as a filmmaker, but also that he had every intention of tickling their funny bones a little along the way.
It’s testimony to Bruce Lee’s charisma and screen presence that his weakest film as the leading man, “The Big Boss”, is not only a relic of a bygone era, but ends on such a yet memorable high of a pulse-pounding duel between kung fu masters.
Imagine the perspective of our hero, Cheng, in this moment – his entire family has been killed, and his cousin has been kidnapped to be sold into prostitution. This is a guy who knows he’s headed straight for a jail cell as soon as he wreaks his bloody vengeance upon the men who have ruined his life, and he simply doesn’t give a damn. Does THAT sound like a guy you’d want to fight? On top of that, the buildup to the final duel between Cheng and the evil drug lord, Mi, teases the audience with a degree of restrained suspense that’s almost unbearable.
Like two gunslingers meeting in a town’s deserted street at high noon, you know that only one of these men is walking away from this confrontation alive, and the film tightens the tension strings of who’s going to take the first shot like a rubber band before Cheng finally springs into action. “The Big Boss” was the film that propelled Bruce Lee into the big time, and almost five decades later, the film’s final duel is as vivid a reminder now of just how electrifying a first impression he made upon audiences back then.
“Game of Death”, the unfinished Bruce Lee masterpiece, is the one time where audiences got the chance to see Bruce duke it out with a few of his own students, and indeed, Bruce’s smackdown with the legendary Dan Inosanto is one for the history books.
Bruce essentially passed the torch of his teachings along to Dan Inosanto, and today, he is one of world’s foremost masters on both Jeet Kune Do and Filipino martial arts. Bruce saw “Game of Death” as a sweeping big screen metaphor for his philosophy of adapting to the circumstances of every fight, with each opponent he faces bringing a different skill set for him to overcome.
In the case of Pasqual, weapons combat, with both Kali sticks and the nunchaku, would be the challenge our hero would have to fight his way past. However, even “Game of Death” in its (rather debatably) finished form doesn’t give you the full scope of our hero’s battle to the top, only utilizing about a third of the footage Bruce actually completed. For that, you have to go to the documentary, “Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey”, which presents everything Bruce completed on the project in all its glory, including the fight with Pasqual. Even though the film itself may be an incomplete one, viewers are still treated to the chance to see Bruce’s one big-screen skirmish with his most famous disciple that he had in store for us to witness. Not to mention one of his greatest line deliveries – asking to move an unconscious enemy aside “so that the two of us will have more room to groove”. How can you not love that?
Bruce Lee had something of a running collaboration with Bob Wall throughout his career, working with him in his directorial debut, “Way of the Dragon”, with Wall later returning for the reshoots to complete the posthumous release of “Game of Death”. However, the confrontation of the Shaolin master Lee with the sinister henchman O’Harra in “Enter the Dragon” was their most epic, big-screen battle, by far. Aside from redeeming the honour of the Shaolin Temple due to the vicious Han’s treachery, Lee is also on a mission to avenge the death of his sister, Su Lin (played by Angela Mao). Our hero is clearly a believer that revenge is a dish best served cold. You’d have to freeze-frame Bruce’s first punch at the fight’s outset to see that he first pins O’Harra’s arm before landing his strike – played at normal speed, and his blinding speed makes it look like he simply shoots his fist right into his enemy’s very unprepared face. This battle wasn’t without a few genuine injuries – Bruce required stitches after Bob cut his hand with the broken glass bottle at the end. On top of that, Bruce’s side kick against Wall sent the latter backward with such force that both the arms of the man tasked with catching him were broken. “Enter the Dragon” remains one of the all-time greatest relics of martial arts cinema some forty-five years after its release, and having seen the film in a packed theater with an audience full of first-timers, I can attest that Lee’s vengeful trouncing of O’Harra is among the many reasons why that is!
No wonder “Fist of Fury” continues to be one of Bruce Lee’s most enduringly popular movies – now where usually one final battle is plenty to satisfy you audience, this gives you two for the same price! Our hero, Chen Zhen, finally has the chance to enact his vengeance for the murder of his sifu, Huo Yuanjia, while continuing to stand up for the national pride of China against its foreign occupiers. There may be no other Bruce Lee fight that utilizes slow-motion as much as his one-on-one with the nefarious Russian fighter, Petrov, but it only serves to highlight both our hero’s astonishing physical abilities, and the emotional power of the conflict. But Chen’s vendetta isn’t complete until Suzuki has been dealt with as well, which gives way to a katana vs nunchaku smackdown that culminates in perhaps the most incredible flying kick Bruce Lee ever put to film. In its final battle of righteous warriors, “Fist of Fury” not only lives up to its title, but gives viewers an unforgettable finale to one of the greatest martial arts films of all time. And just in case you still doubt the historical impact of the finale of “Fist of Fury”, have a look at the “Lightsaber version” of the film’s final fight below, if you haven’t already, to see how much it continues to resonate with audiences around the world!
“You have offended my family, and you have offended the Shaolin Temple”, our sinewy hero intones as he prepares to unleash his second vendetta of the film, restoring the disgraced honour of the Shaolin Temple from a former monk turned vicious crime boss. By this point in “Enter the Dragon”, the film was essentially nothing but one butt being mercilessly kicked right after another, and the iconography of the final duel between Lee and the evil Han simply cannot be overstated. After our hero just about beats his opponent within an inch of his life (that roundhouse kick Lee slams into Han’s head gets a wince out of me no matter how many times I see the film), Han ‘turns the tables’ against Lee by retreating into a hall of mirrors to gain the upperhand. This would prove to be an especially influential plot device on such recent 21st century action films as “John Wick: Chapter 2” and “Skyscraper”, and anyone familiar with the “Mortal Kombat” franchise knows just how much it paid homage to the film, as well. Even the Hall of Mirrors fight and Liu Kang’s duel with Shang Tsung in 1995’s “Mortal Kombat” essentially end the same way. In terms of vivid and lastingly impactful Bruce Lee movie fights, the finale of “Enter the Dragon” is definitely a Hall of Famer!
Every martial arts fanboy and girl across the globe most certainly knows this one intimately, and anyone seeing “Enter the Dragon” for the first time inevitably walks away with it fresh in their minds for days on end (I know I did)! Bruce Lee had no shortage of opportunities to show off what he was capable of earlier in the film, but the intense fight in the underground cave against the guards of the nefarious Han left an impression like few other fight sequences in history ever have. Our hero simply stonewalls one wave after another of armed guards, leaving the floor littered with dozens of his enemies writhing and moaning in pain. This being Bruce’s first time headlining a Hollywood film, it also marked the point where Western audiences first got to see him break out his trademark weapon, the nunchaku. In perhaps his most poised moment ever on-screen, Bruce spins his weapon through the air practically at the speed of light before returning to his guard position, as if daring his enemy to take one step further, which said enemy foolishly takes him up on. And, of course, we’d be remiss to not mention the unforgettable cameo made by a young Jackie Chan, which sees him on the receiving end of that neck-break ‘heard around the world’. In his all-too-brief career, Bruce Lee never failed to amaze audiences with his astonishing physical gifts, but the cave fight in “Enter the Dragon” was quite arguably him at his most devastatingly sharp.
“Game of Death” might very well have been Bruce’s crowning achievement as both an action star and a filmmaker had he lived to finish it, but sadly, we can only fantasize about what might’ve been. However, while he wasn’t able to fulfill his vision of “Game of Death” as a grand, cinematic metaphor about the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do (JKD) and the adaptive nature of water, he at least got far enough to film a few of his best fight sequences. And for being an incomplete film, the climactic battle with the towering Hakeem, played by Bruce’s student and future NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, sure left quite the lasting impact (including topping KFK’s list of the Top 10 Greatest David vs Goliath Movie Fights). However, as with Bruce’s battle with Dan Inosanto, fans owe it to themselves to check out the documentary “Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey”, which presents everything Bruce completed on the project in all its glory, including the final duel with Hakeem. It’s still an unfinished rendering of Bruce’s vision for “Game of Death”, but it delivers everything he lived to complete in the most satisfying form possible, including a more comprehensive final battle with Hakeem. We may never get to see the finished film that precedes it, but the final David vs Goliath smackdown of “Game of Death” is still among Bruce Lee’s greatest big screen showdowns, by far.
If “The Big Boss” made Bruce a Chinese super star (or, rather, a “super actor”, as he preferred to be called), “Fist of Fury” made him a Chinese national hero. It wasn’t just that Bruce mesmerized audiences with a dazzling command of martial arts, it was just that, broadly speaking, the fight sequences of “Fist of Fury” were on a level audiences had simply never seen before that time.
It was from that, and the film as a whole, and the dojo battle specifically, that Bruce became the heroic avatar of the people of China finally standing up against their foreign occupiers. Bruce didn’t simply demolish an entire dojo full of enemies in what is still one of the greatest fight sequences in cinema history, he forced them to both figuratively and literally eat their own words of Chinese people being the “Sick Men of Asia”. Indeed, the message didn’t just resonate with Chinese audiences. With the film debuting in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, “Fist of Fury” would prove massively popular in the African-American community, as well. Bruce never had the slightest difficulty in stunning viewers with his physical gifts, but the dojo fight of “Fist of Fury” would prove to be the most densely layered and symbolically powerful fight sequence of his career – on top of just being one of his most awesome, period!
…and in at #1 is…
Way of the Dragon — Tang Lung vs Colt
The finale of “Way of the Dragon” is, like the two men pitting their might against one another onscreen, simply the stuff of legend – Bruce Lee versus Chuck Norris in the Roman Coliseum. Like two ancient gladiators, the two warriors do battle, with our hero eventually adopting a more relaxed posture in order to adapt to the foreign nature of his enemy’s approach to combat.
As he would later do with “Game of Death”, Bruce used the finale of “Way of the Dragon” as a vehicle to communicate his philosophy of martial arts and the need to adapt to the specific circumstances of the fight and the particular skill set the opponent brings to the table.
Long before achieving his own Hollywood fame of the world’s most famous Texas Ranger, Chuck Norris made his first major impact on audiences in “Way of the Dragon”, and it still remains the greatest big screen brawl of his career, also taking the number one spot on KFK’s Top 10 Chuck Norris Movie Fights list. Decades later, the ultimate meme that is “Chuck Norris Facts” have given him an internet afterlife that few of even the biggest mega-stars ever achieve (my personal favorite – “Chuck Norris once urinated in a semi-truck’s gas tank as a practical joke; that truck is now known as Optimus Prime”), but it all began with his simply timeless, and uncommonly clean-shaven, role as Colt in “Way of the Dragon”.
Bruce also injected a level of physical brutality that, even by his own standards, was shocking for audiences in 1972, and still plenty powerful today. Rest assured, with Bruce both on-screen and in the director’s chair, he makes dead certain you feel it when both he and his opponent take it on the chin. For martial arts aficionados, “Way of the Dragon” is truly a timeless classic, pitting one legend against another quite literally in a gladiatorial arena. The only thing that would’ve made it any better would’ve been for both Bruce and Chuck to turn to the camera at their fight’s conclusion and loudly proclaim to the audience, “Are you not entertained?!”
So there we have it folks, 10 of Bruce Lee’s best movie fights! It’s always a hot topic debating Bruce’s battles, so let us know your favourites in the comments below; Like, share and join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter & Instagram. (Fan of the ‘King of Kung Fu’? Then make your one-inch click right over into KFK’s Top 10 FUniverse!)