Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris represent the two most legendary hardmen in history. While Bruce’s fists were so fast he might as well have been called Sudden Lee, it was also rumored for a time that Chuck Norris actually sported a third fist under his beard. In short, we’re dealing with two movie stars seemingly so tough in real life that they’ve been mythologized as nearly superhuman, even off-screen.
The hype between the two men also differed wildly from the trash talk that dominates these days. Chuck Norris’ blue-corner assessment of Lee was glowing, as he once said, “The truth is, Lee was a fearsome opponent with a chiseled physique and technique. I really enjoyed training and spending time with him.
Adding: “He was as charismatic and friendly in the ring and at home as he was in the film. His confidence and spirit were dazzling, and sometimes even debilitating to others. […] Lee was lightning fast, very agile, and incredibly strong for his size.
And in the red corner, Lee also shone about Norris during their time together as the pair became friends and collaborators in inventing new ways to bring martial arts to the big screen. However, he was unlikely to be in a rush to find out if he would have bettered Norris in a fight, instead living by the philosophy: “Showing off is fools’ idea of glory.” That being said, he also wasn’t afraid to break the rules to make things happen.
In 1972, the duo played opposite each other in The way of the dragon. It was Lee’s third Kung Fu film, and it saw him take full creative control, writing the screenplay and directing the project. The grand finale of Kung Fu’s epic is one of the most iconic scenes in the history of the genre as Lee and Norris face off in the Colosseum. Lee had been inspired by Spartacus and saw the great Roman stage as the perfect place for a physical clash of cultures to occur. The main problem was that it was illegal to film there, let alone fight!
While Norris’ assessment of Lee mentions everything from his blistering speed to his stone-carved abs and philosophical personality, the one key thing he misses is just how resourceful the martial arts master was. So when it came to filming at the Colosseum, Lee fought the law and Lee won. A second philosophy he lived was “where there is a will, there is a way,” and that was certainly in effect during his leadership of The Way of the Dragon.
Lee actually began bribing Roman officials to allow him and his crew into the Colosseum. This fell under the unfortunate condition that any equipment had to be smuggled in via backpacks and they had to pose as tourists. It turns out that at one point, two unassuming tourists stripped to the waist to reveal that they were He-Man incarnate and began to fight each other as a mass of people with video recorders were watching.
On the run in a remote corner of the Colosseum, the couple only had about an hour to film the sequence. So, naturally, things got a bit frantic, and some real hits were landed amidst the melee of fast-paced scenes. With such a short window and the threat of security shutting down at any moment, all of health and safety went out the window, and the two “got it” in one of the martial arts sequences. fastest ever filmed (both ways) .
So now when you watch the zenith of Kung Fu fight footage, very little has actually been cut. The vast majority of Clash of the Titans takes place as it happened in a dark corner of a Roman monument where the law has been temporarily overturned to allow for one of the greatest fight sequences of all time. Additional plans were then assembled in a Hong Kong studio and the rest is history. Good job, they had practiced and sparred together for about two years before in Lee’s backyard.
As Norris would later conclude, “Bruce Lee learned from everyone. He had a very open mind. He never believed in one style of martial arts or that one was superior. He believed that everything had strengths and weaknesses and that we had to find the strengths of each method. Obviously, one of those methods was to do everything to get the job done and The Way of the Dragon definitely benefit from it.
The movie itself was an impressive act of innovation that showed Lee sweating just as much over the finer details as he did the throes of combat. The fight sequences used unique angled lighting to make the fighters look larger than life, and some in-between comic elements were embraced in a way that many other films in the genre failed to master. In the process, he imbued the film with a comic book whose reverberating influence we probably still see in modern Marvel films and action releases.
As a result, the film became a monumental moment for Kung Fu movies and inspired a legion of Americans to take them seriously. As a result, the Asian market has become global and the practice of martial arts has spread by proxy. Thus, it’s a measure of the film that Lee’s new moves, like his legendary side kick, would later enter a real fight when Jon Jones uses it in the UFC. If that doesn’t prove Lee’s prowess, then nothing will.
Now the film is considered Lee’s opus. His wife, Linda Lee Cadwell, agrees with this appreciation and believes it was her husband’s finest work. The zenith of the masterpiece, however, is certainly this secret fight which could be partly the product of a shrewd bribe, but perhaps the bigger picture is the arduous 45 hours that have been devoted to meticulous scrap choreography long before they set foot in fateful Rome.
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