In early 20th century Shanghai, Chen Zhen returns to Jingwu School to marry his fiancée. However, tragic news awaits him: his master Huo Yuanjia has died, apparently from illness. Chen is deeply saddened and traumatised by the sudden demise of his teacher. During the funeral, people from a Japanese dojo in Hongkou District arrive to taunt the Jingwu students. Wu En, translator and advisor for the Japanese dojo's grandmaster Hiroshi Suzuki, taunts Chen by slapping him on the cheek several times, and dares him to fight one of Suzuki's protégés. They present a sign to Jingwu School, bearing the words "Sick Man of East Asia", seemingly to insult Huo Yuanjia, describing the Chinese as "weaklings" in comparison to the Japanese. The protégé taunts the Jingwu students to fight him and promises, "I'll eat those words if any Chinese here dare to fight and defeat me."
Shortly afterwards, Chen Zhen goes to the Hongkou dojo alone to return the "gift" (the sign). He faces hostility from the Japanese students and they engage in a fight. Chen Zhen defeats all of them, including their sensei, single-handedly and effortlessly, using a nunchaku as a weapon during the fight. He smashes the glass on the sign and makes the students who taunted him earlier chew up the paper bearing the derogatory words, so as to make them literally "eat their words".
Later, Chen takes a stroll to a park. A Sikh guard refuses him entry, due to a posted sign that forbids dogs and Chinese in the park. After the guard allows a foreigner to bring her pet dog into the park, a Japanese man approaches Chen and tells him that if he behaves like a dog, he will be allowed to go in. Chen beats up the man and his friends in anger. After the fight, Chen breaks the sign. The guard blows his whistle to alert the police, but the citizens that watched the whole fight help Chen to escape the park.
The Japanese students and their master retaliate by attacking Jingwu School on Suzuki's orders. After causing severe damage, the Japanese students leave. Wu, accompanying the Japanese students, warns Jingwu School to hand over Chen. Chen returns and realises that he has caused big trouble. His fellow students are reluctant to hand him over to the Japanese, so they make plans to help him escape from Shanghai.
That night, Chen discovers that Master Huo had all along been poisoned by Tien, the cook. Chen then sees Tien and Feng Guishi, the caretaker, talking. Chen kills Tien, followed by Feng while trying to determine why they killed Master Huo. Chen hangs Tien and Feng's bodies from a lamp post. Chen's fiancée, Yuan Li'er, finds him hiding near Huo's grave, and they share a passionate moment together. Meanwhile, Suzuki forces the local police inspector, Inspector Lo, to arrest Chen, but he eludes them. Then, while Suzuki is entertaining his visiting friend Petrov, Chen kills Wu and hangs his body from the lamp post as well.
The angry Suzuki heads to the Japanese Consulate and reports Chen, then sends his men to Jingwu School to kill everyone inside. That same night, Chen barges into the dojo to take his revenge, killing the students' master, Yoshida, Petrov, and Suzuki. Chen returns to Jingwu School and finds most from Jingwu School and the Hongkou dojo dead. However, a few Jingwu students - among them Yuan, Fan Junxia (the eldest student at Jingwu), and Hsu - remain, as they had also been searching for Chen at the grave site, acting on a tip from Yuan. Inspector Lo arrives at Jingwu to arrest Chen, who agrees to surrender himself to Lo to protect his master's legacy. Lo tells Chen that he can always trust him since he is Chinese. But as he exits the school, Chen faces a line of armed soldiers and officials at the outer gate, all pointing their weapons at him. Furious, Chen charges the line and makes a flying kick as gunshots sound.Bruce Lee as Chen Zhen
Nora Miao as Yuan Li'er (Yuan Le-erh), Chen Zhen's fiancée. The character's name isn't mentioned in the film.
Riki Hashimoto as Hiroshi Suzuki, the master of the Hongkou dojo
Robert Baker as Petrov, a Russian gang boss and Suzuki's friend
Tien Feng as Fan Junxia (Fan Chun-hsia), the eldest student in Jingwu School
Paul Wei as Wu En, Suzuki's translator
Fung Ngai as Yoshida, the head instructor in the Hongkou dojo
Lo Wei as Inspector Lo, the police inspector
Wong Chung-shun as Tien, the cook in Jingwu School
Han Ying-chieh as Feng Guishi (Feng Kwai-sher), the caretaker in Jingwu School
James Tien as Fan Jiaqi (Fan Chia-chi), a Jingwu student
Lee Kwan as Hsu, a Jingwu student
Jackie Chan as a Jing Wu Student (Special Appearance)
Robert Baker was a student and friend of Bruce Lee's and was recommended for the role by Lee. His voice dubbed in the Cantonese and Mandarin versions by Lee as well.
Fist of Fury was accidentally released in the U.S. under the title The Chinese Connection. That title was a means of tapping the popularity of another film, The French Connection (starring Gene Hackman), released in the U.S. in 1971. That title was intended to be used for the U.S. release of another Bruce Lee film, The Big Boss, which also involved drug smuggling. However, the U.S. titles for Fist of Fury and The Big Boss were accidentally switched, resulting in Fist of Fury being released in the U.S. under the title The Chinese Connection until 2005, while The Big Boss was released as Fists of Fury.
Recent television screenings and the current official DVD release (by 20th Century Fox, originally available in The Bruce Lee Ultimate Collection box set) in the U.S. have restored the original titles of all the films starring Bruce Lee. Fist of Fury is now officially known as Fist of Fury in the U.S.. The current DVD version also has a subtitle that says "A.K.A. The Chinese Connection" when the Fist of Fury title appears on screen, as the source material is the Fortune Star digital remasters.
Fist of Fury grossed HK$4,431,423 in its Hong Kong release, beating a box office previous record set by Lee's The Big Boss in the previous year.
Sync sound was not widely used in Hong Kong cinema for a long time so the voices (even on the original Cantonese track) for the film were dubbed. The voice of the Russian fighter Petrov on the original Mandarin track was dubbed by Bruce Lee, with added reverb.
This film marks one of the few times that a DVD has an alternative new commentary. Media Asia UK distributor Hong Kong Legends has released this film as a "Special Collector's Edition" and a "Platinum Edition". Bey Logan recorded two alternative commentaries for both releases. The usual process with re-releases on DVD is that the commentary is passed on to the next release. Logan decided to re-record his second commentary as he wanted to give it a new light, being an avid fan of this film. The re-dubbed theme song was played by Mike Remedios. Bey Logan had previously done a commentary track for the Media Asia Megastar DVD release, which is almost word for word the same as the commentary he did for Hong Kong Legends' years later. Donnie Yen did the cantonese language commentary on the same 'Megastar' DVD.
The film spawned three sequels: New Fist of Fury (1976), Fist of Fury II (1977), and Fist of Fury III (1979).
The film was released in 1972 in Hong Kong by Golden Harvest, and first shown in America on 7 November 1972 in New York.
The film was originally distributed in the U.S. by National General Pictures beginning in 1973, shortly before the release of Enter the Dragon. Columbia Pictures acquired the U.S. distribution rights to the film, after the demise of National General Pictures, in 1980 and re-released it, along with The Big Boss, as a studio-sanctioned double feature with the tagline "What's better than a Bruce Lee movie? Two Bruce Lee Movies!"