Rebellious Reign


"The Rebellious Reign is ultimately not as brilliant as it could have been but that shouldn't deter any of you from checking it out!"

- Jospeh Kuby

Rebellious Reign (1980)

AKA: Rebellious Rain [Illiterate Video Asia On-Disc Title]

Director: Fong Cheung 

Producer: Lo Wei 

Cast: Lung Fong (Jimmy Lee), Norman Chu, Lee Kwan, Kwan Yung Moon, Cheng Fu Hung, Chan Wai Lau, Alan Chui (Chung San, Alan Hsu), Lee Gong, Chan Gwan Biu, Gam Sai Yuk, Mo Man Sau, Got Tin, Chu Mei Yam, Chu Ko, Chui Yuen, Wang Chiang Liang

Running Time: 86 min.

Plot: Jimmy Lee (AKA Lung Fong) is Nie Kan Yao, the true life Ming patriot who nearly brought down the Ching rule singlehandedly. Without doubt one of the best kung fu films ever made. Breathtaking choreography from "The King Of Flash", Alan Hsu. 

Availability: This title is available at


JOSEPH KUBY'S REVIEW: Not the masterpiece it could have been!

When Bruce Lee died, there was a void created in the martial arts film industry. Not only did his death stop potential projects to materialize but it left missed opportunities in the form of projects that already had some conception.

Of course there was Game of Death and The Silent Flute (the latter which was recreated as Circle of Iron by David Carradine), but there was other films he was going to do after the completion of Game of Death. Films that I'll discuss in greater detail at the end of this review.

Among these films was a project, that Bruce wanted to do, about a famous captain in ancient China called Nin Gung-Yao (or Nien Kan Yao) - a talented martial artist with good intentions if cloudy and even questionable motives. Bruce wanted his childhood friend and Shaw Bros. director Chu Yuan (or Chor Yuen - the old kingpin in Police Story) to be the director. Chu was the right man for the job seeing as how the story would concern political intrigue, double dealing and conspiracies - the type of narrative elements which Chu explored in his Wuxia films at Shaw's, with labyrinthine plotting no less.

He had already done screen tests showing him in different costumes (the idea of the story was that it took place over a long period of time hence the radical changes):

Had Bruce lived, the action (whilst still featuring classical Kung Fu movements) wouldn't have been wire-heavy nor would it have been a fantasy movie per se. But like Chu's other films, the film would have had quality swordplay sequences and enough production values to parallel that of a Hollywood feature with drop-dead gorgeous sets, costumes and cinematography filling the frames in an eye-popping and mind-blowing manner. Not only that but the film's story and characters would have been developed fully to the extent that it would have changed the opinion (of international critics) that martial arts films had no stories and what stories they did have were usually lightweight.

Apparently Ni Kuang and Chang Chieh were attached to the project as script-writers. Run Run Shaw wanted Cheng Kang (director of The Twelve Gold Medallions, for which Sammo Hung was the action director for) to direct so rumours persisted that Bruce declined to do the film (under Cheng's direction) before his untimely demise on July 20th, 1973. But Chang Chieh said that they were still negotiating details for the film at the time of Lee's death. Needless to say, had Bruce lived he would have convinced Shaw to have things done his way since he was Hong Kong's biggest star at the time.

Though Bruce was insulted by the initial offer Run Run gave him prior to his success with working with Golden Harvest, Bruce had enough run-ins with Golden Harvest producer Raymond Chow that making an even bigger success with Shaw Bros. would be his way of getting back at Raymond (among other topics of debate, Bruce had not only questioned Raymond's share of the box office receipts from Way Of The Dragon but he disliked Chow's choice of sending his first three action films to America in order to help sell Enter The Dragon - something that he felt cheapened and insulted the possible success of his first Hollywood starring role).

Although Bruce Lee had arranged to see Shaw Brothers in 1970 to negotiate a film deal, this wasn't the first time he had been in contact with them. In 1958, Run Run Shaw had asked Bruce to sign a contract with them. Bruce told his mother that he wanted to accept the offer but Grace Lee managed to persuade him that his best chance of making something with his life would come from finishing his education in the United States.

Bruce's letter to Run Run...

Dear Run Run,

As of now, consider September, Oct. & November (1973), a period of three months, reserved for Shaw.

Specific terms [we] will discuss upon my arrival.

Bruce Lee

Which leads us to how the film came to be made in 1980. Lo Wei had made enough money from Dragon Fist, Spiritual Kung Fu, Fearless Hyena, The Challenger and Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu to have the audacity and courage to resurrect the project (since Cheh and Yuan had long since given up the rights to the project after realizing no-one would have played the lead role better than Bruce).

By the time it was 1980, Lo had resuscitated his faded career through his association with Jackie Chan and managed to secure top names to work with him, attracting the attention of famous star Norman Tsui Siu Keung (from Ching Siu Tung's Duel To The Death) to appear in this film.

Problem is...the timing is a bit late, this film would have made more money had it been made and released directly after Bruce's demise. I'm not sure what the film's budget was, but the film's box office receipts added up to HK$ 677,885 (US$ 87,433.49); That's what really annoys me about Hong Kong films, there is a lack of information concerning the exact cost of production and marketing.

A lot has been made of the fact that Bruce rejected the classical arts of combat and thus would never have gone on to make the film. On the contrary, he said that as long as one's foundation in Kung Fu was strong, the Kung Fu-ist can make any type of action sensational. I think any negative notion that Bruce had of traditional martial arts styles was really due to his skepticism of any style of combat that had unbending rules & regulations since he felt that martial arts styles were too restrictive and that a fighting system should be truly three dimensional.

He was cynical towards the idea of doing flowery techniques for the sake of it, otherwise he was all up for traditional Kung Fu as long as it served some kind of purpose. Some of the pictures above indicate that Bruce wasn't against pulling shapes that resembled centuries-old Shaolin techniques.

The only reason why his techniques in Fist of Fury came off as being modern and unorthodox was because that the owner of the Ching Wu school, Fok Yun Gap (or Huo Yuan Chia as portrayed by Jet Li in Fearless), was someone who believed in the concept of no styles i.e. using any kind of technique to win a fight henceforth why Bruce used that as an excuse to display his Jeet Kune Do moves on screen.

It should be noted that Bruce Lee was fully capable of portraying whatever kind of martial arts would have been suitable to put on film. I'm sure Bruce would have been willing to pull off some ancient Kung Fu moves for the sake of historical accuracy. I think it's safe to say that there would have been a balanced compromise between Bruce's personal style and the style required for the film.

With all this background information established, let's move onto the film itself...

I was a bit reluctant to watch this film because whilst I was looking forward to the prospect of watching an above-average Kung Fu movie with great action and saucy political intrigue, I knew about the background to the film and I couldn't help but feel that things aren't as good as they could have been if Bruce Lee and Chu Yuan were working on the project.

Let's just say that Bruce and Chu weren't connected to the project in the first place, if this was the case then the film might have been seen as a classic now!

The story, in itself, just screams classic....

"The Emperor of China is dying. His many sons are all vying to take over the throne. Fourteenth prince knows he's not on the top of the list, so he enlists the help of top fighter Nien Kan Yao to help him get into power. An intense bond develops between the two. Nien does as he's told and he is now a high ranking general with a whole army under his command, thanks to the ever-so-grateful new emperor. But the emperor becomes fearful of Nien's power and plans his downfall. However, before he completely loses the loyalty of his army, Nie decides to strike, calling on his old revolutionary colleagues." could tell where Chu Yuan could express his vision as a director with material ripe for political intrigue. It's easy to imagine how the story, via Ni Kuang's and Chang Cheh's pens (or typewriters), would have captured the essence of Chang Cheh's male bonding violence extravaganzas!

But when watching this film with the hindsight of knowing its history, there's a deeper sense that the film would have been an all-time masterpiece of cinema. There would have been greater momentum placed onto the storyline and injecting enough excitement to wow even the most jaded of film-goers, there certainly would have been enough excitement to give the film that epic event feel which is somewhat lacking here. It's hard, almost impossible, to eradicate the possibility of what would have happened had fate not been so harsh on Bruce.

Not even those memory erasers from Men In Black could eliminate any imagined blueprint of what would have taken place had the film been made by Chu Yuan, Chang Cheh and Bruce Lee as originally intended. But then that just goes to show you that Bruce's charisma was unforgettable and undeniable!

The story, as it is told here in this take of the legendary tale, is adequately well told enough with a chilling sense of ambiguity and with a fairly firm coat of suspense that wraps the characters. It's good that Lo Wei didn't decide to direct because he would have made the political content too heavy-handed and ham-fisted like in New Fist of Fury and it would have surely have brought the film down like an elephant chained to an anchor that's falling into an ocean off a ship. The story, in the hands of director Fong Cheung, is given sufficient development with a genuine interest in getting to the next plot point than just setting up the next action scene but I get the feeling that in the hands of the original makers of this project, we would have had a truly epic story with a running time to match (think Michael Cimino or Sergio Leone to get what I'm saying).

I feel that the story missed out on certain things that would have given us the chance to feel more involved and not left out on the sidelines.

For instance, the character arc of Nien is one rich of many stages waiting to be explored: student, master, rebel, infiltrator, loyal servant, high ranking general, demoted soldier, downtrodden outcast and honourable avenger. If this was directed by Chu Yuan, we would have seen each stage fully fleshed out and we would have got a three dimensional characterization that could have possibly given Bruce his best performance (and maybe acting accolades like Golden Horse, Oscar and BAFTA).

In this film though, the script doesn't allow for much development as it could have potentially been given. Particularly when Nien becomes a high ranking general. We never even get to see him (at least) in a montage sequence showing him climb the political ladder and become something of a war hero and celebrity. Which reminds me, the narrative could have been one of the best rise & fall stories ever told on film (ala Boogie Nights and Caligula - okay....not the most relevant examples but I hope you get my point). But the director skimps out on so much deails which is a shame. It diminishes the power of what could have been a powerhouse storyline that wouldn't untighten its hold on the audience!

It's this missing development which halts us from eliciting the amount of sympathy that should be pouring of the story's dramatic pores. For instance, when Nien falls from grace his family's lives are at risk as he's accused of treason but we never get to see them much less know them and care for them as much as we should. However, despite the plot holes, we're never bored when going from scene to scene because there's always something interesting going on around the corner of a frame.

Whilst the story is just a few steps lower from being fully fleshed out, it's refreshing to know that the acting helps to bring to life the characters involved, even if the script doesn't go beyond two-dimensional characterization. Norman (as the new emperor) puts enough intent into his role to make sure that he is never seen to be sleep-walking or going through the motions like some assembly line product on a conveyor belt. He really has this megalomaniacal look in his eyes and edge in his overall demeanour which helps sell his portrayal of a power hungry scoundrel (okay so he's not exactly Michael Douglas' character off Wall Street but the story of this film almost allows for a comparison between the two films).

It was never going to be easy to fill in the shoes of a role originally written for Bruce Lee but somehow Jimmy Lee proves to be somewhat capable. Even moreso when one considers that he was never really someone well known for his martial arts skills (he's usually well known for his acting than his fighting as can be seen in God of Gamblers where he played Chow Yun Fat's traitorous friend). Jimmy displays a level of martial artistry surprising to someone who's only seen him in the aforementioned Wong Jing flick. It turns out Jimmy had a long career in Kung Fu films (he was even in Bruce Lee's Secret).

He succeeds in playing the true life Ming revolutionary who gained favour with a Ching prince in order to gain power until he was in a position to attempt to overthrow the government. Jimmy shows a calm confidence. He's not someone who's too over the top or too stiffly solemn. He manages to convey emotions in a telling manner without losing subtlety in the process. Although the script lets him down somewhat, he still manages to convey the gradual changes occuring in Nien's life whether it be pride of success, pathos or tragedy. He has a handsome look to him that should have been used more in films (or at least in roles that complimented his protagonistic on-screen persona on display here).

My only real complaint about Jimmy's performance is that when I saw Jimmy don the Ching dynasty garb Bruce was going to wear, which includes the moustache, I couldn't help feel that it was the equivalent to seeing a Freddie Mercury imitator rather than the Real McCoy!

What the film may lack cinematically speaking, it more than makes up for in its fight scenes. The fights are very intricately choreographed affairs which rival Jackie Chan and Yuen Woo Ping in their complexity. The first fight sequence in the film has Jimmy taking on a quartet of masked assailants which results in some absurd but jaw-dropping choreography. At one point, two of the assailants use the other two as human wheel barrows (although with the "human wheel barrows" sustained in the air) as they progress forward to barrage Jimmy with a blurry of strikes. Then, in said sequence, there's an attempt at piggy back Kung Fu where there's two pairs of assailants on top of each other, side by side, giving Jimmy the seemingly impossible task of blocking and counteracting several punches and kicks! GREAT STUFF!

Alan Hsu, who plays Jimmy's revolutionary sidekick, was the action director for this film. He has also served as action director for Witch From Nepal, Chinese Ghost Story, Inspector Wears Skirts 1 & 4, Kung Fu Vs. Yoga, King Hu's Painted Skin (which Sammo Hung worked on), Yukari Oshima's Drug Fighters, Yuen Biao's Tough Beauty & Sloppy Slop (with Cynthia Khan as co-star) and even John Woo's Last Hurrah For Chivalry and The Killer.

One stroke of genius that I liked was this semi-comic fight that took place between Jimmy and Alan where they engage in a conversation of ethics each time they commence to strike each other. It was funny seeing two future Wong Jing villains going head-to-head in a literal battle of verbal wits (which reminds me...there's a Shaw Bros. Kung Fu comedy directed by Wong Jing entitled Wits of the Brats).

In terms of the fight scenes in general, Alan outshines Jimmy, especially when it comes to both kicking and acrobatics. During the finale, Alan finds himself surrounded by four swordsmen so he jumps up and hits each swordman by stretching out his arms and legs! WOW!

The fight choreography, camera positioning and editing may not top Sammo's work for sheer excellence and it doesn't quite top Yuen Woo Ping's stuff, but Alan's fight co-ordination is of a very high standard, making him one of the best fight choreographers of the era. It's the sort of action fans of this genre like: long takes of complicated & varied moments where the camera is pulled back so you can see every movement of the performers. There's a good sense of fluidity and speed that peppers the fights, allowing them to truly dazzle any viewer who exposes their sight to them.

What really does it for me in the action stakes is Kwan Young Moon (who I mentioned more about in my New Fist of Fury review). He's truly a bad-ass in this, not just because he's a terrific martial artist (which he is) but because he really is one tough son of a gun. He shows a devastating amount of rage and anger that's unleashed onto any unexpecting or unassuming person who gets in his way. Kwan may seem fairly mild in temperament in his first scene in the film but that's nothing in comparison to the sheer level of damage and destruction he causes in the finale.

By the time we get to the finale, it's a battle royale bloodfest which even though wouldn't come close to what Chang Cheh had in mind when he wrote his own script for the film, it still manages to have some gruesome moments, like this bit where a person's hand is impaled with blood dripping out - a gory effect which would make horror masters Tom Savini and Dario Argento proud! There's even a three-way bloodbath which is puke-worthy to say the least!

Directorially, the film proves to be above average. Director Fong shows a flair for narration through visual dynamics, for instance there's a juxtaposition sequence which contrasts the announcement of the heir to the throne with the arrival of the fourteenth prince, highlighting the switch of power as the decrease in the old emperor's health & honour matches the increase of the fourteenth prince's pride & status.

Unfortunately, the film shows some sloppiness in some areas of production. The film shows obvious use of wires, not when someone is jumping or flying but when someone is being pulled back due to the sheer force of a technique being struck upon them. Similarly, there's a scene where someone is being pulled back through these doors and you can see this hand push the doors open so that the unlucky victim will jerk backwards through the doors successfully.

I wonder if Jackie Chan saw this film because after when Jackie became successful as a director with Fearless Hyena, he began to experiment with wire pull-backs where someone is attached to a wire, gets hit or tripped up resulting in imagery that looks like an invisible force is causing someone to be pulled in a certain direction.

Another cheap effect seen in The Rebellious Reign is when someone's throat is about to get ripped out. The assailant hides the sticker-like object (on the victim's neck) with his left hand as he uses the right hand to pull out the victim's throat. After when this is achieved you can still see sticker marks, which robs the film of its conviction.

Also, I think the UK Vengeance DVD is cut as the conversation Jimmy Lee has with his teacher in the beginning of the film seems to have an abrupt flow (in terms of blocking {positioning of the actors} and music flow).

To its credit though, the film rivals Once Upon A Time In America for the most audacious did he/didn't he denouement in cinema history!

The Rebellious Reign is ultimately not as brilliant as it could have been but that shouldn't deter any of you from checking it out!

As a piece of trivia, music is lifted from the Disney Sci Fi flick The Black Hole!

The Unmade classics of Bruce Lee...

Southern Fist, Northern Leg

In August 1972 Bruce Lee wrote in a letter to his wife Linda that he had been working on a film script entitled 'Southern Fist, Northern Leg' and said he was definitely somewhere in ninth heaven. In the Golden Harvest/Concord Productions documentary 'Bruce Lee: The Man & The Legend' that came out just after his death in 1973, Bruce talks in Cantonese about some of the storyline. The meaning of the film is about 'What is the Truth of Martial Arts?'; This was a man's journey of self-discovery as in the similar vein as an earlier script that Bruce had devised, 'The Silent Flute.'

From the title, we can interpret that this was going to be a period Chinese film as Bruce goes on a hero's journey asking various martial arts teachers and masters questions about 'What is the Truth in Martial Arts?'. The hero continues his journey and finally meets the 'Southern Fist' character who is fighting a group of men inside a tea house.

As in 'The Silent Flute' Bruce plays a hero seeking after an external object i.e. a book which will reveal all the answers about the Truth in Martial Arts. After passing the various trials and pursuing all the masters and teachers of martial arts, Bruce realizes that the answer is found inside yourself and it has always been there. As Bruce use to say, the journey is the most important part and not the destination. There's no magic book of answers. Everything - all the answers he was seeking were all inside him from the very beginning!!

The story would allow for as much Kung Fu action and philosophical quota as the hero would be fed a steady diet of external masters, teachers and authorities - allowing for a wide scope of action.

It's apparent that the stylistic essence of Bruce's project caught onto Hong Kong filmmakers as seen more prominently in Secret Rivals, a story about two warring martial arts warriors - Northern Leg (John Liu) and Southern Fist (Don Wong Tao).

In the meantime, John Little has a copy of Bruce Lee's original script and is hoping that Warners will film the movie with possibly Jet Li in the starring role!!

Green Bamboo Warrior

After completion of The Game of Death, Bruce was planning on returning back to the U.S. to star in another film for Warner Brothers (basically he would alternate between Hong Kong and America for projects in the same way Jackie does now). This was to be 'Green Bamboo Warrior', later to be translated as 'The Conqueror of the Golden Mountain'. Bruce had completed his script for this film by January 1972 after he had completed his second film 'Fist of Fury' a.k.a. Chinese Connection. Apparently there are taped recordings of Bruce Lee explaining the story and recording his ideas. These exist! Bolo Yeung was going to co-star with Bruce in this film. Funnily enough, this was the film Bruce was going to use 'Enter the Dragon' as the title for, and wanted to actually film this script before The Way of the Dragon.

In terms of the storyline, the setting is turn-of-the-century San Francisco. Bruce would play one of twelve Chinese workers who endure the long sea voyage in their quest for the 'Mountain of Gold', and a new life in America. On arrival they are put to work in a mining town, where conditions are brutal. Bruce who is skilled in the martial arts becomes the leader of the Chinese workers.  Finally, he rebels against the bullying westerners, and uses his Jeet Kune Do techniques to teach one of them a very harsh lesson (partially reminiscent of the plot used for A Man Called Hero). The mine's foreman holds Bruce at gunpoint, and the rest of the guards gather to deliver a brutal beating. Bruce is now left in the mines, tied up and very close to death.

Wounded and hungry, Bruce escapes from the mine. He takes refuge in the cabin of an old Chinese woman who also works in the mine.  When she sees that he is severely injured, she feeds him some congee (rice porridge) to build his strength. The old woman's treatment and the congee is what saves Bruce's life, and now he vows to take revenge. He uses a length of green bamboo as his weapon, and uses it to beat the bad guys. Bruce becomes a real hero for the Chinese workers. He faces various challengers from both Asian and Western fighters, and wins every encounter.

During the making of Enter the Dragon, Bruce had been approached by Andrew Vajna, a Hong Kong businessman planning to move into the film industry. Bruce had pitched the story to Vajna, who was very receptive. Vajna enlisted Golden Harvest employee Russell Cawthorne to work on an English version of the script.

Before Enter The Dragon came into production, Hollywood wasn't responding (ala the same scenario with The Silent Flute script). Bruce was very impatient and decided to film Way Of The Dragon to get international response and possibly raise financing for his immigration tale. Fred Weintraub wanted Bruce's first international feature to be more accessible, thus it was decided that Enter The Dragon would be a martial arts take on the famous Bond flick Dr. No, with Western actors backing him up to ensure a big breakthrough (kind of like what happened with the crossover television episodes featuring Batman & Robin and Green Hornet & Kato); therefore if the film proved to be a successful hit internationally (which it did) then Bruce would be able to secure financing for the Green Bamboo Warrior project (Green Bamboo Warrior being the Chinese/working title whereas it was decided that the international title would be the more prestigious and less chop-socky sounding The Conqueror of the Gold Mountain).

An arrangement (though really a personal agreement if not anything strictly professional) was made between Lee and Vajna that they would make their millions before attempting to film this mega-budgeted dream project (ala what Johnny Depp and Terry Gilliam decided when things weren't going swell {so well} when they initially tried to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote).

Andrew's had already attempted to make his millions by producing his own take on Five Fingers of Death (i.e. his own Kung Fu movie that would travel stateside), except with a would star a female lead - Angela Mao. Through Mao's association with Bruce Lee (both of whom worked at Golden Harvest), Andrew was given the go-ahead in 1972 to produce The Opium Trail - a Kung Fu film which also had Carter Wong and Lung Fei in the cast. It was directed by Huang Feng (mentor of Sammo Hung - basically he's to Sammo Hung what Chang Cheh is to John Woo). The film was retitled as Deadly China Doll and was advertised as a Kung Fu Coffy (much like how Bruce Lee's Big Boss was originally advertised as a Kung Fu French Connection). It was released in 1973 to much fanfare (becoming more successful than Five Fingers of Death) and helped to give Enter The Dragon more commmercial appeal considering Mao had an appearance in that film.

Even though Bruce had already made a deal with Warner Bros. that they would be the financiers of his futue projects, he promised Andrew to have a share in the deal seeing as how he was one of the few Western producers to have an interest in him. Unfortunately, Andrew and Bruce never got together to share their success and build on it to make Bruce's dream project.

Andrew Vajna went on to make his name in Hollywood with the Sly Stallone actioner First Blood and producing many famous Hollywood features as can be
seen here.

As is evident from the unfinished 'The Game of Death' the unmade 'The Silent Flute' and 'Green Bamboo Warrior' Project, Bruce Lee had planned to move beyond 'mere technique' to express his philosophy through his films.

Star Collaborations

Yasuaki Kurata (the Japanese martial arts actor who became a star in Japan long before Sonny Chiba and who found worldwide fame in films such as Heroes Of The East, Fist Of Legend, Millionaire's Express & Legend Of A Fighter) was a personal friend of Bruce Lee. Bruce even gave Kurata a pair of plastic nunchakus, which he claims to still have to this very day. He was even trying to get Bruce and Sonny Chiba to meet each other to discuss a possible film project but Lee died three days before the meeting could take place.

Jim and Bruce got along so well during filming of Enter The Dragon that there was going to be a different film altogether starring the two of them which, needless to say, would have blown similar conceived films (such as Dynamite Brothers, Drive and Rush Hour) out of the water.

As can be read on the Bob Wall interview featured on this site, there was a film going to be produced by Carlo Ponti where this time Bob Wall would be a good guy and Bruce would be a CIA type of guy taking on international drug dealers and terrorists, with Bob playing a fellow CIA agent coming to help him out.

The True Return Of The Dragon

Bruce Lee had intended to do a series of sequels to Way Of The Dragon featuring the misadventures of Tang Lung ala Crocodile Dundee, including a remake of Bruce Lee's Rome-setted adventure (one that was to be shot in America, with the same story almost, but instead co-starring Bolo Yeung {Yang Tze}, George Lazenby as the villain {he was going to play the helicopter guy who would rescue Bruce in his original concept for Game Of Death} and with only Chuck Norris and Nora Miao from the original).