Before getting started with the list of observations, I wanted to make a couple comments about the differences and similarities between my copy of the film and those available on YouTube and DVD. The version I possess was shown on a local channel and, therefore, the few expletives in the film were muted out. As a result these blank spots actually encourage audience participation as viewers are invited to fill the brief silences with their own inspired verbiage rather than, as in the uncut versions, hearing the same 2-3 bits of profanity repeated throughout the picture. In any event, until the Criterion DVD release of this rare work, the current distributors deserve much credit for housing it and for letting "the foreigners experience kung fu, just to let them see what kung fu is really like."
- One of the most brilliant musical scores of postwar cinema (by Chow Fu Liang) kicks off with a frenetic opening tune that, along with the crude montage of still photos, prepares the viewer for a rip-roaring 91 minutes of kung fu shoddiness.
- The setting is established through stock footage that is interwoven so seamlessly, Ed Wood would be proud. Notice the crowded bustle on the streets of San Francisco and compare it to the desolate cityscape presented later, inhabited only by kung fu goons and their potential victims.
- Old Cow: "What would you like, sir?"
Customer: "Uh, could I have a menu?"
- Not quite sure what the girl sitting behind the large round desk is supposed to be doing; maybe she's handling take-out orders or just watching the proprietor kowtow to various customers, not really helping any of them.
- One of the loud and obnoxious three puts a piece of food in his mouth and then immediately begins to remove it as we cut to a new shot. This is not how most people eat.
- Most Chinese restaurants don't feature the item "Chicken Legs" on their menu.
- Old Cow: "Chang Ming, has Bob come?"
Chang Ming: "Uh...uh, sure he's here now!"
Old Cow: "Well tell him to serve the food then! And where have you been?"
Chang Ming: "Uh...um...oh! In the toilet! We're both coming. Hey, Bob, come on!" [imitates Bob:] "Yeah, coming. [sticks his tongue out] Heh."
Old Cow: "He spends half his life in that toilet!"
This sequence makes about as much sense written here as it does when played on the screen. There may be a joke in there somewhere, but it's lost on me.
- While joking around, Bob throws a punch (WHOOSH!) and Chang Ming pushes it away (SLAP!), resulting in the first exaggerated fighting sounds in the film. If you missed them, don't worry; there will be many, many more to come.
- Bob: "Hey, the old cow there?"
Chang Ming: "Sure she is and been looking for you. So hurry up, or we'll both be getting the push!" [points to his nose]
Notice how these statements reflect a firm understanding of American idioms and non-verbal communication.
- When the owner is running ragged handing out menus and the dishwasher is waiting tables, it's time to hire more help.
- The middle guy of the rowdy band of customers is sporting an authentic-looking tattoo--straight from the Cracker Jack box to his forearm.
- Black Customer: "Hey, I don't dig that cat."
It is from this simple and expressive statement that all future conflict will arise.
- Chang Ming: "You want your check, sir?"
Black Customer: "Check your head!"
- The third member of the villainous bunch gets a close-up that allows the viewer to study his hair in detail. A good way to describe it is "permanent hat hair with a shine", and yet it goes well with the yellow boats on his feet. This character will hereafter be called "The Human Punching Bag" because he always seems to be catching a beat down.
- The bald customer shown when Chang Ming trips is the manager of another restaurant as we will see later in an inspired cameo.
- The celebration of the three villains is a real treat, especially the "two thumbs down" and "finger pistol" motions.
- Chang Ming has just dropped and smashed maybe 3 or 4 dishes when the owner runs out and tells him, "...any more of this, God, you're gonna have me out of business!" I know the restaurant business is difficult, but that's being really close to the red.
- Black Customer: "Did you see that, just like a pet dog?!"
His cohort is still gesticulating victoriously.
- Black Customer: "Hey, let's fix the cat."
Human Punching Bag: "Okaa-haa-haay."
- The Human Punching Bag's hearty and overdone laughter on the soundtrack could not have come from the toothy grin he shows.
- The Black Customer has at least two pieces of plastic in his hair, and possibly more.
- Racial harmony in America is stressed when the Human Punching Bag puts his arm around the Black Customer as they taunt and laugh at Bob.
- Whenever a character brings his thumb and forefinger to his chin, this is a very subtle acting technique that means he is thinking.
- A display of sneezing that is so real can simply not be faked. Or, judging from their overall performances, these could be method actors.
- Human Punching Bag: "What the hell is this?!"
Bob: "This is pepper chicken, good for gut's sake." or "This is pepper chicken, good for gut's ache."
I can't quite decipher the words, but either line works beautifully.
- As the opening fight sequence (one of the best) commences, we see the restaurant patrons pouring out of the establishment. Observe the last guy leaving, his coat over his head and his arms flailing wildly in the air.
- One of Bob's attackers is sent reeling from a punch and smacks squarely into his boss. This is a good way to endanger your job security.
- Human Punching Bag: "Right. We'll get you. Let's go."
This is said while the villains are making their oddly lackadaisical exit and is the first but probably not the last time you can hear the word "right" sprinkled throughout the dialogue.
- The chaos of the restaurant scenes is contrasted by the visual and musical serenity of the following outdoor sequence.
- Bob's riding boots are very stylish and appropriate in this setting.
- An interesting discussion on territorialism, employment, and providence:
Chang Ming: "You've upset those guys, in their own backyard. They won't let you get another job!"
Bob: "You're just talking crap. Sure we'll get another job. I mean, we'll know, heaven..."
Chang Ming: "Heh, heaven won't help us!"
Bob: "Right, let's go."
- Music probably stolen from some '70s funk record plays over an incredible dialogue-less sequence that is really an ode to the silent cinema: Bob and Chang Ming exhibit their dubious and acrobatic waiting skills, and the owner seems to appreciate the practical quality of their flipping plates around and picking up 5 glasses with one hand. But watch how suddenly his mood changes when (or even before) the Human Punching Bag and his thugs show up to give a disapproving finger wag.
- Notice the attire of the approaching hoodlums and how the primary colors really stand out; bright red pants + bright yellow shirt = clash.
- Human Punching Bag is extremely taken aback when Bob and Chang Ming start to run down the completely empty street.
- The character in the pastel purple trousers and the pale yellow shirt with the stretched-out neckhole seems to be a practitioner of the "chicken style" school of fighting. Bob rolls him like a bowling ball.
- Listening to the sound mix during the battle scenes is just as rewarding as watching them.
- One of Mr. Grace's unnamed but unforgettable instructors is introduced leading pupils in exercises. Let's call him "Sensei X"--so little is known about him. It is not even confirmed precisely what descent this character could claim, although Samoan has been suggested.
- Some of the wounded warriors who report their defeat to Sensei X were not even in the last fight. For example, a shorter man with long hair is now wearing the chicken man's clothes.
- Sensei X: "How do you think this is going to look, eh? The story's bound to get around the town! Right. Who is he? I'll fix him."
- Bob's intense workout is contrasted with the napping and hand-rolled smoking of Chang Ming.
- Working the springed stretching device so vigorously is clearly an important component of physical training.
- The entire building seems to shake from Bob's kung fu practicing, indicating that it is of poor construction and might not be earthquake-ready.
- The heavily made-up landlady and her Pekingese dogs would win a pet/owner look-alike contest anytime, anywhere.
- Right after Bob demonstrates how he can shatter a couple of boards, there are several shots of his students applauding their new hero. Amidst the controlled appreciation of the rest of his classmates, there is one extra, who could be the Adam Sandler of Hong Kong cinema, clapping like a really excited chimpanzee. Even the guy sitting next to him has to look over and laugh at this strange performance.*
- Bob explains at length the kung fu he will be imparting to his class.
Bob: "...and of this style, I'm gonna teach a particular type: ichuan...sun...chun sun dai...yun chun style!"
The students burst into more applause and cheers ("oh terrific"), apparently at Bob's William Shatner-like delivery of words they don't understand.
- Our mischievous friend who before applauded so vigorously now claps politely and looks around with a smile. Someone on the crew must have scolded him: "Right. Listen, pal, this is a serious motion picture. Straighten up or you're not getting the $1.50 we promised you." And that's in Hong Kong dollars.