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A production of Starsea Motion Pictures, the same Hong Kong film company that gave us cheap, greasy potboilers like "The Chinese Godfather" and "Kung Fu Massacre", "Fist of Unicorn" (aka "The Unicorn Palm" and "Bruce Lee and I") is notable for its marginal association with the late Bruce Lee. Some background: the star of this film, Sheau Chyh Lin or Little Unicorn (miscredited at the end of the Bruce Lee film "The Way of the Dragon" as 'Unicon'), was Lee's best friend. As children, they had acted together in Chinese films of the late '40s and '50s, and Unicorn remained active in the industry after Lee had moved to the United States to attend college. When Lee came back to Hong Kong, Unicorn put him in touch with various producers (including the Shaw Brothers) so that the martial artist could revive his movie career. In 1972, Starsea gave Unicorn--never an actor or fighter of any note--the opportunity to play the lead in one of their films if he could somehow secure the participation of Bruce Lee, the new Hong Kong superstar! The creator of Jeet Kune Do declined to appear on screen in such a small-time production, but agreed to choreograph the fight scenes. Problems arose, however, when the producers of "Fist of Unicorn" secretly filmed Lee choreographing a couple of fights. The camera jerks, the footage of Lee is fleeting--but it's there in the international print of the movie, and Unicorn was a willing participant in this unsavory attempt to exploit his best friend's star power. (This should be obvious to anyone when watching the additional scene in the international print, in which Unicorn shares screen time with one of those infamous Bruce Lee doubles! The double is filmed from behind, and split-second clips of Lee choreographing the movie are sloppily interspersed throughout the scene as well.) Sheau Chyh Lin--who played the lead in just two more films, "The Bloody Hero" and "Deadly Snail vs. Kung Fu Killer", before perishing in a car accident--was able to hold his own in a long fight scene with veteran screen villain Yasuaki Kurata, so he wasn't quite as bad as people say, but he certainly wasn't believable as the hero in a movie of this kind. In the last analysis, "Fist of Unicorn" is intriguing only as a study in grimy exploitation. The DVD contains both the Mandarin and international versions of the film, as well as some extras (including the infamous "Last Days of Bruce Lee" short subject, narrated by Betty Ting Pei, and an interview with Lee stuntman Bee Chen).
Unicorn Chan, a childhood friend of Bruce Lee, completed this movie in
1973, right before Lee's death. To make our heroic, scrawny runt
Unicorn Chan (FIST OF FURY, RETURN OF THE DRAGON, THE BLOOD HERO, BRUCE
LEE: THE MAN THE MYTH) seem like a good fighter, he had his superstar
pal Bruce Lee help choreograph the fights. As the story goes, Unicorn
released the movie briefly under the title "Bruce Lee and I", to
capitalize on his soon to be ex-friend's fame. I read somewhere that
Lee felt betrayed, and never spoke to Unicorn again, for the rest of
his lifewhich, admittedly, was only a few months. Other stories go so
far as to say that Bruce Lee has a "walk on cameo", or that Lee appears
in the outtakes. I watched this average chop sockey movie closely, and
couldn't see any obvious Bruce Lee shots other than a still shot at the
I did, however, spot a young Jackie Chan in a microscopic cameo as a background henchman (blink and you'll miss him), at least I think so. Regardless, as an early 1970s kung fu romp, it's okay. There are cool fights, but most of the better ones don't involve Unicorn Chan. There's some other hero, and a heroine who do their share of kicking, so the battles are fast-paced and enjoyable. Otherwise, it's so ultra-average and predictable, I'm at a loss for words.
There's an interesting role reversal in the cast: Yasuaki Kurata plays the Chinese translator, and it's Wei Ping Ao who who plays an actual Japanese this time (with a Hitler mustache, no less), not the interpretor. It's another "good Chinese vs. bad Japanese movie", but also has some subplot about Buddhist acupuncture.
The title of the movie is "Fist of Unicorn" or better "Unicorn Palm" as on the copy I have. This movie never had anything to do with Bruce Lee and Bruce Lee had nothing to do with it and certainly is not in it. How the movie came to be associated with Bruce Lee no one knows the truth and no one needs to know. There is no association is the truth. So just watch the movie and enjoy it. It is as good as any and better than most martial arts movies made in 1973. There is a story in between the fights. The characters have at least the one required dimension and sometimes more. The fights are good. Each fight is appropriate for the reason behind the fight. There is a genuine effort for realism and minimal wires and trampolines. The lead Little Unicorn is not leading man material but he is an excellent stunt man. You get to see the real deal - Wang In Shik - in one of his few roles. He is still teaching hapkido today. Mars has a role and Jackie Chan is there but don't blink or you will miss him. Definitely worth two beers and 90 minutes of your valuable ass scratching time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'd waited decades to see this one, and I have to admit that I was a bit less than overwhelmed by it. Why, you ask, would an otherwise (more or less) sane individual want to see FIST OF UNICORN? That's right: to see Bruce Lee footage heretofore unseen. Unfortunately, the often highly touted footage herein ain't all it's been cracked up to be. There were four quick shots that I saw: one with Bruce Lee and Ah Lung smiling at each other, another of Lee with the child star of the movie, and two very quick fight choreography shots (in one of which, Lee is throw to the ground). The hype was just that. On the plus side, the sound fx and the fight scenes themselves are better than average for a kung fu film. See FIST OF UNICORN for the fight scenes choreographed by "the Galileo of the martial arts," but don't bother to check it out at all if you're hoping to see unseen footage of Bruce Lee in action; it simply isn't here.
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