Ron Van Clief knocks-off Bruce Lee’s murderers – sort of
Bringing together blaxsploitation, Brucesploitation, and Hong Kong martial arts in a weird ‘70s symbiosis, Black Dragon’s Revenge offers an appealing crudeness, utterly lost without Ron Van Clief. Playing himself, whether by choice or ease of dubbing, Van Clief punches his way through rounds of villains, on the hunt for Bruce Lee’s murderer – if there is one.
Black Dragon’s Revenge treats Lee’s death as if part of a grand martial arts conspiracy, the world inundated with potential high-kicking suspects and snake-throwing women. For fear of legal reprisal, Lee’s last name isn’t spoken, either abruptly cut by an edit, scratched out of the audio mix, or referring to him otherwise, hilariously at one point as “kung-fu man.”
The whole production carries a seedy, questionable quality, perfect for the genre’s heyday of crass bloodshed and borderline racist Chinese stereotypes considering the American writer and Greek producer. Clief fares better, posturing for the camera and spewing delightfully dated ‘70s era slang as he whips an underground gang into submission – in-between bouts of ponderous dialog.
Black Dragon’s Revenge absorbs itself in the genre…
Black Dragon’s Revenge absorbs itself in the genre…
It’s bizarre, incomprehensible, a bit morbid, and even a touch twisted, yet immensely likeable in a deliriously charming way. The meaningless deaths, the copious amounts of neon red blood, the impromptu street fights; Black Dragon’s Revenge absorbs itself in the genre and spits out this sloppy, amateurish outing, dazzling in failed execution.
Writing it off entirely though means cutting away Van Clief, the film’s centering success story. Not much of an actor but a capable, champion level fighter, his screen capabilities show with every drop of his shirt. A muscled presence chopping through undeveloped foes, Van Clief somehow turns this near disgraceful slice of multi-exploitation into a weirdly sentimental look at Lee’s legacy. The sense of loss and a feeling of mourning evident after Lee’s passing sit between rounds of utter nonsense. “Kung-fu man” or not, there’s unspoken respect in Black Dragon’s Revenge earnest connection to Lee’s genre impact.
Toss Black Dragon’s Revenge into the pile of knock-off Bruce Lee/Li/Le offerings of the period. It’s not wrong, if discrediting Van Clief’s clear respect for Lee’s talents in the face of unscrupulous film producers handing him a paycheck. There’s also consideration of Van Clief reaching out to an inner city audience hungry for martial arts, leaving an impact which then fed into hip hop culture. Black Dragon’s Revenge will please few, yet its crudeness isn’t without an attempt at keeping Lee in view.
Contemptible for Blu-ray if utterly marvelous in context, Film Detective’s BD-R release presents a slightly stretched 2.35:1 image rife with damage and fading. Yet, it’s miles removed from crummy pan-and-scan DVD presentations lacking almost entirely in color. Black Dragon’s Revenge’s problems aside, Film Detective’s master gives the flick the bright, saturated quality it needs.
Both opening and closing reels show signs of focal problems, fuzzy enough to question your aging eyesight. At times, it’s difficult to watch, as if a 3D presentation without glasses. Instances of noise and far too many moments of damage cover the frame, although the encode does keep a perky grain structure steady.
Surprisingly, years were kind to the source, outside of the expected scratches. Hearty contrast breathes life into the scenes, even if black levels reduce to a murky brown. None of this takes energy away from the color, offering extremes in every primary without going too far or bleeding out.
Resolution isn’t great or particularly notable, even if a few scenes host fine detail. Sweaty or intense close-ups resolve with sharp definition, whisked away with the next cut. Nothing in Black Dragon’s Revenge offers consistency, if forgivable in consideration of age, film stock, and the low-rent production.
Forget the low-end of the soundtrack which is so garbled, it’s lost to time. Forget clarity too as the obvious dubbing succumbed to a scratchy, worn print. Further still, forget anything related to the audio. Even the captions need a few [inaudible] notes to get through.
There’s a magnetism to the decaying DTS-HD track however, adding to the overall dismal, low-budget quality. Black Dragon’s Revenge isn’t audibly great, yet the presentation works in context of the grindhouse-esque origins.
Filling up the small extras menu, the original trailer pairs with a rather amusing two-minute featurettes as to how the film (and disc) producers dealt with cutting out Bruce Lee’s full name.
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Ron Van Clief sells Black Dragon’s Revenge, a collection of kung-fu tropes and despite a clear exploitation of his death, somehow honors Bruce Lee’s legacy.
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