Return of the Tiger (1978) review

Return of the Tiger (1978) review

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"Suffice to say, I'm not Bruce Lee."
“Suffice to say, I’m not Bruce Lee.”

A woman beating up an arena full of men who are wearing black leotards. The foley sound effect of men being punched has never been used to such incredibly amusing effect. This is something that is used to an almost painful degree in just the first twenty minutes alone, resulting in sound effect overload by the time you make it to the end of the 90 minutes. Brace yourself for the most painful drinking game of all time – you’ll be on your knees within half an hour, guaranteed.

I’m perhaps showing my cinematic ignorance here, but I wasn’t previously aware of the “Brucesploitation” sub-genre of martial arts films. These were made in the wake of Bruce Lee’s untimely demise, often acting as unofficial sequels to his films. In many respects they are not all that dissimilar to the bounty of unofficial Django sequels.

In another light it would be easy to assume this just a cheap cash in on the Bruce Lee name – and that would be almost entirely accurate.

None of the audio is original, everything has been dubbed on after the fact. In other words, pretty much standard fare for this genre. But then on watching Return of the Tiger it’s easy to see why martial arts films were lampooned to such a joyous extent within the Pink Panther films.

A villain who isn't very villainous.
A villain who isn’t very villainous.

The plot is as wafer thin as a slice of processed meat. Bruce Li (no, not that one) is a cop who goes undercover in order to pit two rival drug gangs against one another. The main threat is posed by the beast that is Paul Smith, better known for his roles in Popeye opposite Robin Williams, Dune and, er, Red Sonja. He is a truly menacing threat, a mountain of a man who is almost impervious to any physical attack. He sticks out like a sore thumb, which manages to enhance his threat level.

Sadly this is not one of Bruce Li’s finest hours, despite a plethora of impressive kung fu sequences that could only be more impressive if the film’s direction was somewhat more structured. There are only so many crash zooms, strange sounding metal pipes being hurled around the place, and howling kung fu masters that one can take before things get terribly silly. The final act for example is little more than an excuse for everyone to fight and slap each other for 20 plus minutes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, the sound effects might be awful but the action on the whole doesn’t disappoint.

But then we have the English dub, which isn’t great. In fact it’s borderline awful. What sounds like Captain Scarlet, the legend that is Francis Matthews, rocks up as the voice for the big bad, whereas the rest of the English speaking cast are almost laughably dire as they try, and fail, to interpret the original inflection and intonation of the dialogue they are being asked to spout. Still, it’s another addition to the drinking game if nothing else.

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