The Way of the Dragon

(Redirected from Way of the Dragon)

The Way of the Dragon[4] (Chinese: 猛龍過江, originally released in the United States as Return of the Dragon) is a 1972 Hong Kong martial arts action comedy film co-produced and directed by Bruce Lee, who also stars in the lead role. This is Lee's only complete directorial film and the last one released during his lifetime. The film co-stars Nora Miao, Robert Wall, Wei Ping-ou and Chuck Norris (playing his debut screen role).

The Way of the Dragon
Hong Kong film poster
Traditional Chinese過江
Simplified Chinese猛龙过江
Literal meaningFerocious Dragon Crosses the River[a]
Hanyu PinyinMěng Lóng Guòjiāng
JyutpingMaang5 Lung5 Gwo3 Gong1
Directed byBruce Lee
Written byBruce Lee
Produced by
CinematographyTadashi Nishimoto
(as Ho Lang-shan)
Edited byPeter Cheung
Music byJoseph Koo
Distributed byGolden Harvest
Release date
  • 30 December 1972 (1972-12-30)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryHong Kong
Box officeUS$130 million[3]

The Way of the Dragon was released in Hong Kong on 30 December 1972, and in the United States in August 1974. The film went on to gross an estimated US$130 million worldwide (equivalent to over $700 million adjusted for inflation), against a tight budget of $130,000, earning a thousand times its budget. It was the highest-grossing Hong Kong film up until Lee's next film Enter the Dragon (1973).

The film is primarily set in a restaurant in Rome. The owners are being harassed by a local crime boss, and request help from a relative in Hong Kong. The help arrives in the form of a young martial artist. The conflict between the restaurant staff and the gangsters soon escalates.


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, Tang is disoriented by his new surroundings and appears to be 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 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. 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 European karate masters who initially refuse to work together.

Ho also recruits a world-class martial artist named Colt and 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. 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 as a rich man. In a decisive ten-minute battle, Tang disables Colt and kills him with reluctance after Colt refuses an opportunity for mercy. 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. Led by Chen, the police arrest the boss as he tries to kill Tang. With the matter finally resolved, Tang returns to Hong Kong, where 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 The Way of the Dragon was the company's first film.[7] As well as acting as its producer, Lee also wrote the script, directed the film and played percussion on the soundtrack.[8]

The film was originally intended as only for the Asian market,[9] but was ultimately "responsible for maintaining the momentum of martial arts films in America".[10] 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."[11]

Box office

Prior to release, the film's initial tight budget of US$130,000 was already covered by pre-sales in Taiwan alone.[2] Upon release, 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.[12] The Way of the Dragon went on to gross HK$5.4 million, making it the highest-grossing film ever in Hong Kong up until then.[13]

In the United States and Canada, the film received a wide release in August 1974, topping the North American box office charts. In New York City alone, the film opened with earnings of more than US$1,000,000 (equivalent to $6,200,000 in 2023) in its first five days.[14] At Chicago's Oriental Theater, the film drew long queues before opening, setting an all-time theater record with 4,000 tickets sold within several hours of its opening.[15] The film grossed $250,000 (equivalent to $1,500,000 in 2023) within two weeks of release at the Oriental Theater.[16]

At two other Chicago theaters in Black neighbourhoods, the film earned $185,000 (equivalent to $1,140,000 in 2023) in its opening week. At a number of theaters, the film drew loud cheers from Black audiences like a prizefight, particularly during the climactic fight where audiences cheered on Lee as he fought Chuck Norris.[17] Within a month of its release, the film earned nearly $4,000,000 (equivalent to $25,000,000 in 2023) in the United States.[18] The film earned $5,200,000 (equivalent to $32,000,000 in 2023) in US distributor rentals during its initial run.[19] With later re-releases, the film went on to gross a total box office revenue of $85 million in the United States.[20]

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 ticket sales.[21] In Spain, the film sold 2,345,259 tickets.[22] In Germany, it was the 13th highest-grossing film of 1975, with 1.5 million ticket sales.[23] In Japan, the film earned ¥772 million in distribution rentals,[24] becoming the ninth highest-grossing film of 1975.[25] In South Korea, the film sold 182,530 tickets in the capital city of Seoul.[26] The film was also a commercial success in India when it released there in 1979. In one Bombay theater alone, New Excelsior, the film earned an estimated 1.204 million in its first eight weeks.[27]

Against the film's final budget of $130,000, the film initially grossed US$50,000,000 (equivalent to $340,000,000 in 2023) worldwide,[28] before increasing its gross to $85 million[29] and then $100,000,000 (equivalent to $620,000,000 in 2023) by 1974.[30] It eventually grossed an estimated total of $130 million[3] (equivalent to approximately $870 million adjusted for inflation), earning 1,000 times its budget. It was the highest-grossing Hong Kong film up until Lee's next film, Enter the Dragon (1973).

Reception and legacy

Rotten Tomatoes reported a 92% 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".[31] Upon release, Roger Ebert initially gave a mixed review in the Chicago Sun-Times, saying he 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."[15] Retrospective reviews have since been positive, with the film's comedy elements compared favourably to Charlie Chaplin[32] and Jackie Chan,[33] while the final fight between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris is considered one of the greatest fight scenes of all time.[34]

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.[35] According to Gene Freese, the final fight between Lee and Norris is considered "by many to be the greatest movie fight ever" filmed. It has been listed as one of the greatest fight scenes of all time in a number of publications.[34]

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

During the fight scene between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris, Lee demonstrated and popularized a technique that would later be called the oblique kick.[36] This technique is frequently used by several modern mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters, most notably the UFC pound-for-pound champion Jon Jones,[36] who cited Lee as an inspiration.[37]

See also


  1. ^ The title puns on Lee's native name Siu-Lung (小龍, "little dragon"), while "crossing the river" is an idiom meaning "to leave China."[1]


  1. ^ Derbyshire, John. "The Virtual Attic — The Way of the Dragon". John Derbyshire's Home Page.
  2. ^ a b Thomas, Bruce (1994). Bruce Lee, Fighting Spirit: A Biography. Frog Books. pp. 147-8. ISBN 9781883319250. At $130,000, the budget was slightly higher than his previous films but production costs were covered by pre-sales to Taiwan.
  3. ^ a b Krizanovich, Karen (2015). Infographic Guide To The Movies. Hachette UK. pp. 18–9. ISBN 978-1-84403-762-9.
  4. ^ "The Way of the Dragon". The Criterion Collection. The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  5. ^ In the film, Robert Wall's character is referred to as Tom (English dub) or Bob (H.K. version). The end credits, however, refer to his character as Fred.
  6. ^ Derbyshire, John (15 October 2003). "Thug (Uncredited)". National Review Online. Retrieved 13 October 2008.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Tom Breihan, AV film club
  9. ^ Almar Haflidason, BBC home page
  10. ^ Jo Berry, Empire Magazine online, 3 March 2006
  11. ^ Tom Breihan, AV film club
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ Uncle John's Slightly Irregular Bathroom Reader. Simon and Schuster. 2012. p. 235. ISBN 978-1-60710-613-5.
  14. ^ Desser, David (2002). "The Kung Fu Craze: Hong Kong Cinema's First American Reception". In Fu, Poshek; Desser, David (eds.). The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity. Cambridge University Press. pp. 19–43 (35). ISBN 978-0-521-77602-8.
  15. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (8 August 1974). "Return of the Dragon Movie Review (1974)". Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  16. ^ Gold, Aaron (15 August 1974). "Tower Ticker". Chicago Tribune. p. 44. Retrieved 16 April 2022 – via
  17. ^ Early, Mwanafunzi Gerald (17 January 1975). "The Fists of Bruce Lee". The Daily Pennsylvanian. Philadelphia. p. 4. Retrieved 7 April 2022 – via NewspaperArchive. For instance, in a film entitled "The Return of the Dragon," originally made several years but not released until after Lee's death, Lee has a climatic fight towards the end of the film with American karateka Chuck Norris, who happens to be white. On the day that I saw the film the theater was filled with Black folks (incidentally, Lee's films have played largely to Black, Puerto Rican, and Chinese audiences in America. Indeed, when "The Return of the Dragon" was released it grossed an unbelievable $185,000 in one week at two theaters in the Black section of Chicago) the audience cheered wildly for Lee almost as if they were witnessing a prizefight and not viewing a film.
  18. ^ Curry, Bill (16 September 1974). "People in Entertainment: Bruce Lee Film Salvaged for Release". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. 14. Retrieved 16 April 2022 – via
  19. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 46
  20. ^ Kuwahara, Yasue (2015). "Lee, Bruce (1940-1973)". In Riess, Steven A. (ed.). Sports in America from Colonial Times to the Twenty-First Century: An Encyclopedia: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 1623. ISBN 978-1-317-45946-0. Lee was called back to Hollywood during the shooting of his third movie, The Way of the Dragon, which was completed in 1972 and released in 1973 in the United States, where it grossed $85 million.
  21. ^ "Charts - LES ENTREES EN FRANCE". JP's Box-Office (in French). 1974. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  22. ^ Soyer, Renaud (28 January 2013). "Bruce Lee Box Office". Box Office Story (in French). Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  23. ^ "The Way of The Dragon (1974) - Europe". JP's Box-Office (in French). Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  24. ^ "キネマ旬報ベスト・テン85回全史 1924-2011". Kinema Junpo. Kinema Junposha. 2012. p. 332.
  25. ^ "ドラゴンへの道/猛龍過江(1972)". KungFu Tube (in Japanese). 21 April 2010. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  26. ^ "영화정보" [Movie Information]. KOFIC (in Korean). Korean Film Council. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  27. ^ Khalid Mohamed (15 September 1979). "Bruce Lee storms Bombay once again with Return Of The Dragon". India Today. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  28. ^ Norris, Chuck (17 June 1977). "Chuck has makings of macho superstar". Nanaimo Daily News. p. 31. Retrieved 8 June 2020. He called me and said he'd like me to stage a duel and go the fight with him in the Coliseum in Rome. I guess it was okay, because the picture cost $150,000 and grossed $50 million.
  29. ^ Thomas, Bruce (2012). Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit. Pan Macmillan. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-283-07081-5. And with a mere $130,000 production budget, The Way of the Dragon went on to gross more than $85 million.
  30. ^ Waugh, Darin, ed. (1978). "British Newspaper Clippings – Showtalk: The King Lives". Bruce Lee Eve: The Robert Blakeman Bruce Lee Memorabilia Collection Logbook, and Associates of Bruce Lee Eve Newsletters. Kiazen Publications. ISBN 978-1-4583-1893-0. Lee first found success in The Big Boss and followed that with Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon which grossed an outstanding 100,000,000 dollars and firmly established itself as one of the world's all-time top films in commercial terms. Lee went on to top this with The Way of the Dragon and the cameras had barely stopped rolling when he began what was to be his final film Game of Death. (...) Now director Robert Clouse has completed Game of Death.
  31. ^ "Return of the Dragon (The Way of the Dragon) (1974)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  32. ^ Bell, Nicholas (25 August 2020). "Criterion Collection: Bruce Lee – His Greatest Hits". Retrieved 16 April 2022.
  33. ^ Massie, Mike; Massie, Joel (15 August 1972). "Way of the Dragon (Return of the Dragon) (1972) - Movie Review". Gone With The Twins. Retrieved 16 April 2022.
  34. ^ a b Freese, Gene (11 September 2017). Classic Movie Fight Scenes: 75 Years of Bare Knuckle Brawls, 1914-1989. McFarland & Company. p. 215. ISBN 978-1-4766-2935-3. Retrieved 16 April 2022.
  35. ^ "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema: 93. The Fourth Man". Empire.
  36. ^ a b Fantaousakis, Kostas (29 December 2018). "UFC 232 - Jones vs. Gustafsson 2: Moves to look for". Bloody Elbow. Vox Media. Retrieved 16 June 2020.
  37. ^ Razvi, Sam (19 March 2012). "Exclusive interview with UFC champion Jon Jones". Coach Mag. Retrieved 16 June 2020.

External links