The Black Dragon’s Revenge dropkicks onto Blu-ray in a new restored edition from The Film Detective.

On the surface, The Black Dragon’s Revenge appears to be a blaxploitation film. It was released in 1975 and stars African-American martial artist Ron Van Clief donning an afro and huge sideburns, but it is in fact a straight-up Hong Kong kung-fu flick. More specifically, it’s an entry in the bizarre Brucesploitation fad of films that tried to cash in on the late star’s image after his death.

Unlike most films of that subgenre that propped up a Bruce Lee lookalike as a pretender to the throne, The Black Dragon’s Revenge actually uses his death as a plot point and inciting incident.

I wasn’t familiar with Ron van Clief before watching this, but he’s a cool and charming leading man. Reportedly nicknamed The Black Dragon by Bruce Lee himself, van Clief actually starred in a handful of “Black Dragon” titled films — though I’m uncertain if they’re supposed to be a series, or simply cashing in on his personal brand (in the same way that Lee did with unrelated films Way Of The Dragon and Enter The Dragon).

The “Black Dragon” Ron van Clief (also his character’s name) teams up with an undercover agent to investigate Bruce Lee’s death. His partner is played by Charles “The Latin Panther” Bonet, who basically looks exactly like Sam Rockwell. The pair come into contact with warring kung fu clans — both good and evil — who all have an interest in the famed actor’s passing.

Honestly, the plot is pretty convoluted with all the various kung fu gangs running around. I must admit I didn’t really understand who half of them were supposed to be, or what their motivations were. It’s usually pretty clear who the good guys and bad guys are, but at times that was about the extent of my understanding of what was transpiring.

Fight scenes are plentiful and memorable. Van Clief is a real-life martial arts master, and his on-screen fighting is both stylish and authentic — no empty posturing here; he’s the real deal. The fights also make good use of Hong Kong topography, most interestingly in narrow, high-walled alleys that serve as a great ambush spots.

One of the main baddies is a woman whose schtick is throwing poisonous snakes at her enemies. Another wields a double-pronged knuckleduster for punching peoples’ eyes out. Avid kung fu fans may also recognize a young Yuen Qiu in a supporting role. She starred in several 70s and 80s action films but is best known to modern audiences as the hilarious Landlady character from Kung Fu Hustle.

The Package

The Black Dragon’s Revenge comes to Blu-ray from specialty distributor The Film Detective, which specializes in rare and interesting vintage films. The image looks pretty clean, with only a little bit of scratching or speckling here and there. The disc is a professionally produced BD-R. English dub only — no Chinese audio. Includes subtitles.

Special Features and Extras

Trailer (2:58)
In HD with English audio, though the film print used appears to be an Italian one, based on the intertitles.

Bruce Lee Dubs (2:03)
A compilation of clips from an edited print in which Bruce Lee’s name was scratched out of the audio track due to fears of reprisal from the Lee estate. Interesting as a historical curiosity. (Note the Blu-ray’s movie presentation has the full unmolested audio)


Despite some fun action sequences and characters, The Black Dragon’s Revenge is pretty rough, stymied by a threadbare narrative. But it’s got a real standout in Ron van Clief, whose presence elevates the film above dozens of similarly poorly acted or dubbed low budget 70s Hong Kong action flicks, and I’m incredibly stoked that such an obscurity has found its way to Blu-ray, and interested in seeking out more of the Black Dragon’s films. It’s not exactly a good movie, but manages to be a super cool one.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
The Black Dragon Returns – [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

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