Two Japanese prisoners (Wong Fei & Cheng Fu-Hung) are promised their freedom if they manage a Chinese lumberyard during the World War Two Japanese occupation of China. They soon push the workers to their limits, leading a young laborer (Barry Chan), along with the short-tempered foreman Wong Tsing (Choi Wang), to lead the men to rise up against the oppressive managers.
Using Kung Fu.
Awful, nationalistic film about Japanese mistreating Chinese lumberyard workers during their World War II occupation. Often attributed to being an early film of John Woo, I can't find any evidence that he was involved at all (the director is credited as Ng Fei Chien), though if he did helm this I wouldn't blame him for not wanting to be associated with it.
The tension between China & Japan has been mined in numerous kung-fu films, most notably in Bruce Lee's Fist Of Fury, but the Japanese presented here are all mustache twirling villains who serve only to insult, maim and torture the Chinese villagers. The men respond by cursing the "Japs" and eventually rising up against the oppressive invaders and beating their asses into mush. Politically simple minded, in more skilled hands it at least could be inspiring, but there ends up being very little worth examining.
The kung-fu in the film is totally nondescript. Barry Chan as our laborer everyman hero shows flashes of ability, but the monotonous choreography and choppy editing make the fights a chore to sit through. The acting is equally stiff and uninteresting, with the horrific dubbing not helping matters.
The production's budget was obviously low as there are few locations used and the ones that are tend to be pretty barren. Rock quarries, the lumberyard, and a bit of forest make for a bland visual experience. There is little in the surroundings to place the film in the 1930s, which forces some awkward exposition to explain what is going on. This is also one of those kung-fu films where the audience has to forget that guns have ever existed, as even the Japanese manager only uses a whip as his weapon of choice.
Oddly the film occasionally cuts to black for a few seconds throughout the film. Whether this was originally meant to leave room for commercials, if it represents scenes missing, or if it was a problem with the transfer I'm not sure. It's distracting, but that's almost a good thing when the rest of the film is this bad.
The DVD, once again taken from the Millcreek 50 Kung-Fu Film collection, features a soft and faded full-screen image with the pan & scanning making the kung-fu look like a series of close-ups. The dubbing is bottom of the barrell, though the dialogue is generally intelligible. Unfortunately.
Chapter selections are our only special feature.
The Brave Lion is hardly a high point in Chinese/Japanese relations, and the nationalistic, borderline racist tone of the film would be hard to get past even if the rest of the film was top-notch. Unfortunately the film is a turgid mess, and if John Woo really was involved I hope he continues to bury this deep in his resume. Not worth your time.