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The Way of the Dragon (Chinese: 猛龍過江, released in the United States as Return of the Dragon) is a 1972 Hong Kong martial arts action comedy film written, produced and directed by Bruce Lee, who also stars in the lead role. This is Lee's only complete directorial film. The film co-stars Nora Miao, Robert Wall, Paul Wei, with Chuck Norris playing his debut screen role. Way of the Dragon was released in Hong Kong on 30 December 1972.

Way of the Dragon
Hong Kong film poster
MandarinMěng Lóng Guò Jiāng
CantoneseMaang5 Lung5 Gwo3 Gong1
Directed byBruce Lee
Produced by
Written byBruce Lee
Music byJoseph Koo
CinematographyTadashi Nishimoto
(as Ho Lang-shan)
Edited byPeter Cheung
Distributed by
  • Golden Harvest
Release date
  • 30 December 1972 (1972-12-30)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryHong Kong
Box officeUS$27 million



In Rome, Chen Ching-hua and her uncle Wang experience trouble with their restaurant from a crime boss who wants their property. When Chen refuses to give it up, the boss sends gangsters there to scare away the customers. Appealing to an uncle in Hong Kong, Chen receives help in the form of a young martial artist, Tang Lung. On his first arrival he is disoriented by his new surroundings and appears to be nothing but a country bumpkin. Disappointed, Chen asks what help he can be, but Tang confidently assures her that he is capable enough. At the restaurant, Tang learns that the staff have begun to learn karate, much to the annoyance of Quen, an employee who favors Chinese Kung Fu. Tang advises Quen to be open-minded and make use of anything that works.

Before long, the gangsters appear at the restaurant and threaten the customers away while Tang is using the bathroom. Upset by Tang's poor timing, the staff question his skill and the usefulness of his style. When the gangsters later return, the staff engage the thugs in a fight, only to be beaten. However, Tang single-handedly defeats them, causing the staff to decide to train under him. Uncle Wang warns them that the gangsters will seek revenge, but Tang vows to protect the restaurant. Chen and Tang grow closer, and she takes him on a tour of Rome, though Tang is unimpressed by the city.

Ho, the crime boss's subordinate, returns with armed men and takes the restaurant staff hostage. Ho gives Tang a ticket to Hong Kong and tells him to go back. However, when his men escort Tang outside, Tang fights back and defeats the thugs with his two nunchakus, followed by the help of the restaurant staff. Tang warns Ho not to return, and the thugs leave the restaurant. The staff celebrate their victory, but the gang boss threatens to have Tang killed unless he leaves by Chinese New Year, and Uncle Wang urges Chen to convince Tang to leave.

When Tang refuses to abandon the restaurant, an assassin tries to kill him from a nearby rooftop with a sniper rifle. Already fidgety from nearby fireworks, Tang survives the attempt. He then tracks down and defeats the assassin after tricking him into wasting his ammunition. When he returns to the apartment, he finds that Chen is gone. Assuming that Ho has kidnapped her, Tang goes to the boss' headquarters with the restaurant staff, defeating his men. Tang issues a final warning to the boss to leave the restaurant alone. The staff again celebrate, but a telegram for Tang cuts this short when they learn that he has been summoned back to Hong Kong. Tang assures them that he will not leave until the situation is resolved.

Ho hires two martial artists to challenge Tang - Japanese and American karate masters who initially refuse to work together. When the mafia boss indicates that money is no issue, Ho also recruits a world-class martial artist named Colt. Ho leads some of the restaurant staff to an isolated spot under the pretence of a truce, where the two martial artists ambush them. These initially defeat the staff, until Tang intervenes and leaves the staff to finish the last one off. Meanwhile Ho lures Tang away to fight Colt at the Colosseum.

Left behind, Uncle Wang knifes the two remaining members of the staff, as he wants to sell the restaurant to the crime boss and return to Hong Kong a rich man. In a decisive ten-minute battle, Tang disables Colt. When Colt refuses an opportunity for mercy, Tang kills him with reluctance. Tang then places Colt's gi and black belt atop his dead body as a gesture of respect, before discovering Ho and chasing after him out of the Colosseum. As Tang and Ho return to the ambush site, the mob boss arrives and shoots both Ho and Uncle Wang. Then the police drive up, led by Chen, and arrest the boss as he tries to kill Tang.

With the matter finally resolved, Tang sets out to return to Hong Kong. As he leaves, Quen tells Chen that Tang is a loner who will never settle down.



Bruce Lee formed his own production company, Concord Production Inc., with Golden Harvest founder Raymond Chow, and Way of the Dragon was the company's first film.[3] As well as acting as its producer, Lee also wrote the script, directed the film and played percussion on the soundtrack.[4]

The film was originally intended as only for the Asian market,[5] but was ultimately "responsible for maintaining the momentum of martial arts films in America".[6] What makes it particularly memorable is the treatment of the fight in the Colosseum, with Chuck Norris making his film debut there. Lee filmed it "in long takes, framing it so that you could see their entire bodies. He used dramatic lighting, making both of them look larger-than-life."[7]

Box office

The film earned HK$5,307,350.50 at the Hong Kong box office, beating previous records set by Lee's own films, The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, and making it the highest-grossing film of 1972 in Hong Kong.[8] Its Hong Kong gross was equivalent to US$1,031,154.[9] In the United States and Canada, the film earned US$5.2 million in rentals.[10]

In France, it became the eighth highest-grossing film of 1974 (below Enter the Dragon at #5 and above Fist of Fury at #12), with 4,002,004 box office admissions.[11] At an average ticket price of 12.22 F,[12] it grossed approximately 48.9 million F (US$10.17 million)[13] in France. In Germany, it was the 13th highest-grossing film of 1975, with 1.5 million box office admissions.[14] At an average ticket price of US$2.05,[15] the film grossed approximately US$3.08 million in Germany.

In Japan, the film grossed ¥772 million (US$6.99 million) at the box office,[16] becoming the ninth highest-grossing film of 1975.[17] The film was also a commercial success in India when it released there in 1979.[18] At least one Bombay theater, New Excelsior, earned approximately ₹1,204,000 from the film in its first eight weeks,[18] equivalent to US$148,166.[19] Combined, the film's total worldwide gross revenue was approximately US$27 million, equivalent to US$145 million adjusted for inflation in 2018.[20]

Reception and legacy

Rotten Tomatoes reported an 89% favourable critics' response, commenting on Lee's work that it shows “a surprising change of pace from his usual hard-hitting action fare because it favors humor as much as it does kung-fu”.[21] Roger Ebert, reviewing the film in the Chicago Sun-Times, found the plot simplistic and its conventions unbelievable but commented that "this sort of stuff is magnificently silly, and Lee, to give him credit, never tried to rise above it."[22]

At the 11th Golden Horse Awards, it was judged a runner-up Best Feature Film and was recognised for Best Film Editing. Later on, it ranked #95 in Empire magazine's list "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010.[23]

In 1978, following Lee's death, an exploitation sequel was released titled Way of the Dragon 2, starring Bruce Le and Bolo Yeung.

See also


  1. ^ Thomas, Bruce (1994). Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit : a Biography. Frog Books. p. 147. ISBN 9781883319250.
  2. ^ Derbyshire, John (15 October 2003). "Thug (Uncredited)". National Review Online. Retrieved 13 October 2008.
  3. ^ Lee, Bruce; Little, John; Little, John R. (15 November 1997). Words of the dragon: interviews 1958–1973. Tuttle Publishing. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-8048-3133-8. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  4. ^ Tom Breihan, AV film club
  5. ^ Almar Haflidason, BBC home page
  6. ^ Jo Berry, Empire Magazine online, 3 Mar 2006
  7. ^ Tom Breihan, AV film club
  8. ^ "劉偉強談香港電影時代拐點不再讓時裝片孤單". Sina News. 11 May 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  9. ^ "Official exchange rate (LCU per US$, period average)". World Bank. 1973. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  10. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 46
  11. ^ "Charts - LES ENTREES EN FRANCE". JP's Box-Office. 1974. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  12. ^ Film World. 17. T.M. Ramachandran. 1980. p. 276. France attracted a total of 180 million spectators—2.2 billion francs in receipts
  13. ^ "Official exchange rate (LCU per US$, period average)". World Bank. 1974. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  14. ^ "The Way of The Dragon (1974) - Europe". JP's Box-Office. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  15. ^ "Adjusting for Movie Ticket Price Inflation". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  16. ^ 『キネマ旬報ベスト・テン85回全史 1924-2011』(キネマ旬報社、2012年)332頁
  17. ^ "ドラゴンへの道/猛龍過江(1972)". KungFu Tube (in Japanese). 21 April 2010. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  18. ^ a b Khalid Mohamed (15 September 1979). "Bruce Lee storms Bombay once again with Return Of The Dragon". India Today. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  19. ^ "Official exchange rate (LCU per US$, period average)". World Bank. 1979. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  20. ^ "Adjusting for Movie Ticket Price Inflation". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  21. ^ "Return of the Dragon (The Way of the Dragon) (1974)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  22. ^ Ebert, Roger (8 August 1974). "Return of the Dragon Movie Review (1974)". Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  23. ^ "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema: 93. The Fourth Man". Empire.

External links