Kung fu star Bruce Lee and Chinese director John Woo (Hard Target) are two of the best things to happen to action movies—but you’d never know why by watching their work on videocassette. Lee’s prolific output, cut short by his death at 32 in 1973, is ubiquitous on tape, but only in copies that crop away nearly half the wide-screen imagery to fit square TVs—turning Lee’s explosive, all-over-the-frame choreography into inscrutable jumbles of disembodied arms and legs. And when you can find shops that actually stock the best of John Woo’s delirious, Peckinpah-meets-Truffaut-meets-Scorsese outlaw melodramas, you’ll hit the same problem. Most of the tape versions are cropped, not to mention saddled with badly translated subtitles.
But wait: Here comes the laserdisc format to the rescue. It’s most dramatic in Lee’s case, with two new disc titles that letterbox the Panavision picture between black bands and at last reveal to home viewers what all the fuss was about. In two of his star-making efforts, Fists of Fury (1971, FoxVideo/Image, R, $39.98) and The Chinese Connection (1972, FoxVideo/Image, R, $39.98), Lee is a human version of the Terminator: unflappable, unstoppable. The guy looks superhuman, kick-punching his way across broad vistas like a sinewy insect. Plus, laser makes it easy to skip the draggy romantic interludes. The fight scene chapters are highlighted on the jacket so you can go right to them like CD tracks. The big fault here, though, is that FoxVideo hasn’t used laser’s alternate-audio-track capability to present the original soundtracks as well as the dubbed versions.
One of the wonders of Lee’s movies is that the fights feel overwhelmingly dangerous without a gun in sight. But in the supercharged Hong Kong badlands envisioned by John Woo, there’s nothing but guns. And you can savor the balletic trajectory of every bullet in a superb new edition of Woo’s overwrought masterpiece, The Killer (1989, Voyager, 3 CAV discs, wide-screen, unrated, $124.95). As a dapper assassin (Chow Yun Fat) tries to swear off his profession, the CAV format lets you slow the lightning action to just a few frames per second.
There’s also an entire disc devoted to a still-frame Woo filmography, complete with trailers for most of his movies, but it’s both too much and too little; longer segments on his best five or six films would have been more , illuminating. Still, sampling and re-sampling The Killer’s electric fusion of gangster movies and kung fu fighting is more than enough of a kick. Fists of Fury: C+