The Way of the Dragon (1972)
Released in the US as Return of the Dragon to capitalise on Lee’s success with Enter the Dragon, this international adventure is a decent enough example of the “visiting martial-arts master helps out his family with a gangster problem” subgenre. (Jackie Chan followed its structure pretty closely two decades later when making his U.S. breakthrough Rumble in the Bronx.) Here, Italy serves as the setting, with Lee’s resourceful Tang Lung dispatched from Hong Kong to Rome to defend his relatives’ business as the mafia pushes into the local Chinese-restaurant industry. This is the only film Lee directed himself, and it shows; the fight scenes in Enter the Dragon may be more elaborately staged, but there’s an energy in The Way of the Dragon’s confrontations that feels more precisely crafted to showcase the fighting skills of all involved. Lee’s more than willing to share the spotlight with his dance partners … especially this nobody named Chuck Norris who almost certainly owes his subsequent career to nearly taking down the Dragon in this film.