Home Video Hovel: Fist of Fear, Touch of Death, by David Bax
When discussing cinema, the term “exploitation” usually means something fun. Trashy and not exactly contributing to society’s moral fiber, sure, but fun. But Matthew Mallinson’s 1980 psuedo-documentary Fist of Fear, Touch of Death, out now in a limited edition Blu-ray from The Film Detective, is truly, callously exploitative of the life and memory of Bruce Lee and the traditions of the martial arts.
Structured around a fake martial arts tournament designed to crown the successor to Lee, Fist of Fear, Touch of Death is hosted by Adolph Caesar (pre-Oscar nomination), who interviews fighters like Fred Williamson and Ron Van Clief, as well as promoters like Aaron Banks, who introduces the insulting conspiracy theory that Lee was murdered because he was getting close to uncovering the secret kung fu maneuver of the “touch of death.” For a long stretch in the middle, there’s a completely invented history of Lee’s life and family assembled from 1957’s Thundersorm, in which Lee appared, and 1971’s Invicible Super Chan, in which he did not. In both modes, Mallinson proves that he neither knows nor cares that there are different kinds of martial arts (the terms kung fu and karate are used interchangeably) or even differences between Asian nations (the Chinese Lee almost certainly did not have a grandfather who was a famous samurai).
Mallinson’s apparent idiocy is proved throughout Fist of Fear, Touch of Death and in forms other than cultural insensitivity (though no less ugly). In showcasing the various contestants in the tournament, we get two different scenes of female joggers being saved by rapists in the park; one of these even ends with a “What can I ever do to thank you?” and a smug look at the camera. The entire movie seems to have been removed whole from the addled wish-fulfillment daydream of a desperate, maladjusted adolescent nerd.
Which leads to the question, to reference a popular podcast, how did this get made? And why is it being re-released? Starting with their disc of Eegah late last year, The Film Detective is perhaps seeking a reputation for putting out notoriously bad movies. Eegah is mostly harmless fun, though. Fist of Fear, Touch of Death is just plain objectionable.
Film Detective’s 4K transfer is sharp and clear with good color fidelity. But it would seem the original negative was not that well-preserved as dirt abounds throughout the film. Some additional clean-up in restoration would have been called for if the movie were more worthwhile. The stereo audio is nice and clean, though, even the lame dubbing of the older kung fu (or is it samurai?) movies.
Special features include interviews with Van Clief, Williamson, Mallinson, producer Terry Levene and screenwriter Ron Harvey.