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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Bruceploitation 3: Rise of the Bruce Lee Knockoffs!

From left: David Cairadine, Bruce Lee, and Robin Williams... at least that is what the movie wants you to believe.

Well, it’s finally time to start off Martial Arts Month with the awesomeness that is Bruceploitation. I’m starting a little late, but that happens when you spend the previous month writing about characters similar to that Gosh-Darn Batman. For those that are new here, Brucesploitation was a phenomenon that occurred in the 1970’s after Bruce Lee died. There were a lot of actors being thrown into that “Next Bruce Lee” title. Movies were even marketed to make it look like Lee was actually in them. Some movies even had footage from Lee’s earlier movies to make it look like he appeared in it. Does anyone remember the 1978 version of Game of Death? I do and man, it was bad especially when you see scenes of Lee from other movies in it.

I saw a couple of them when I was younger but decided to dip into this weird pool a couple of years ago. I have to say I was quite surprised. These movies actually tend to range from decent to “what in God’s name did I watch” pretty frequently. You might have “biographies,” original stuff, sequels/remakes, or really weird stuff. There is one I’ll talk about today that definitely fits in that last segment. I have five movies for today, so let’s start with Bruce’s trip to Purgatory… oh yes.

The Dragon Lives Again aka Deadly Hands of Kung Fu
The Dragon Lives Again was released in 1978. It stars Leong Siu-lung, aka “Bruce Leong,” in the title role for this comedy. In the movie, Bruce Lee wakes up in Purgatory where some old lecherous king rules over the folk in it. There, he meets Popeye, Kaine from Kung Fu (or Tom Baker’s Doctor), and a one-armed samurai. While he’s trying to clean up the place, a group of villains (featuring Clint Eastwood, James Bond, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Emmanuelle, and Dracula) want to dethrone the lecherous king. Lee gets into many fights and stuff… Oh yeah, there are skeletons and mummies involved.
... I have nothing. They even play "Ring Around the Rosie!"

So… remember that weird movie I was talking about? This is the one. This movie one big mish-mash of weirdness. It’s like a 12 or 13 year-old wrote the script and directed the thing. We got fights, guns, naked women, and culture icons. I’d be lying if I said this movie was good because it ain’t. The story is literally all over the place and you get lost in it. With all of the weird stuff going on, I wouldn’t blame you if you got lost. The fight scenes aren’t that well choreographed or shot. I also think they may have casted the wrong guy as Lee since the Godfather (seriously) actually looked a lot like Lee.
Man, the Godfather has been working out!

While it’s not good, there’s something about it that makes you want to watch the whole thing. It’s intentionally and unintentionally funny. I mean, you have Bruce Lee fighting Clint Eastwood, Dracula, and James Bond! There’s even talk about Bruce Lee’s “Third Leg” and I’ll just stop there with that! You can’t take it seriously and you kind of have to admit that whoever filmed this thing had guts to do it. While it’s pretty funny, I don’t think I’ll be watching it anytime soon. I’d say skip it if you’re a big Bruce Lee fan and are looking for something actually good. If you’re still curious and need a couple of hours to kill, it can be that for you.
Before anyone says anything, those are his nunchuckus. The fact that the movie starts like this should tell you to not take it seriously. 

Bruce Lee, The Invincible aka Chinatown Connection
This movie was released in 1977 and stars Ho Chung-Tao aka “Bruce Li” in one of the lead roles. It also stars Sing Chen, and Wai-Man Chan (Michael Chan). In the movie, “Bruce” plays as Yu Fong, the top student in Master Ging Ha’s (Chen) kung fu school. Fong and Ging get called into action when they get word from a friend that his cousin has been kidnapped. What they don’t know is that Chen (Chan), an expelled student from the school, has gone bad and is behind the kidnapping.
Oh man... I got nothing, again.

The movie is a mixed bag. Ho Chung-Tao was considered to be one of the best impersonators and he wasn’t bad of a martial artist. He’s probably my favorite of the impersonators and he was cool here. It was also cool to see Sing Chen in another movie. I don’t know much about the guy but I liked that he had equal billing with Chung-Tao. Both he and Wai-Man Chan also appeared in another movie and it was pretty good. I can’t remember the title. I also thought Chen was a decent villain for the most part. The fight scenes are also decent but not that memorable (other than those gorillas)

Other than those things, the movie is far from good. The story can sometimes seem a bit muddled and it can get a dull at points. It especially gets muddled towards the end when a Malaysian tribe and kung fu gorillas get involved. Yes, they fought gorillas and it was pretty weird. What’s worse is that those ape suits look so fake. There are a couple of scenes involving the female lead getting assaulted by the villains. There’s no nudity nor sex in them but they are a bit upsetting especially since they take so long. The movie also ends really abruptly. After the teacher beats the villain, it ends so quick, I felt like I missed something. Lastly, why is this named “Bruce Lee, The Invincible?” Not only does it have “Bruce” somewhat in a side role, it has nothing to do with Bruce Lee. Overall, the movie isn’t bad but it is far from good.

Way of the Dragon 2 aka Bruce Le’s Greatest Revenge
This movie stars Huang Jian Long, aka “Bruce Le,” and was released in 1977. While the movies shares the title of Way of the Dragon, it’s more of a Fist of Fury knockoff. In the movie, Long plays Huang Kin-lung, a student at a kung fu school in an area that’s controlled by the Japanese. The Japanese tend to be cruel to the Chinese here, so Huang does what he can to help at the behest of his teacher who doesn’t want to get involved. When his teacher is killed and the school is attacked by the Japanese, Huang returns to get revenge for his fallen friends.
You can keep scrunching your face, but you can't fool me!

The movie is okay as a whole. It’s not really good but it has some merit to it. While the story is derivative of Fist of Fury, they do try to change it up and have it be a bit original. If anything, the Fist of Fury parts comes in the last third with the teacher dying, the school being attacked, and “Bruce’s” character getting revenge. The fight scenes were also pretty good this time around. They’re shot well, well-choreographed, and felt like spruced up scenes from a Bruce Lee movie. I also liked that we got to see other folk pull some nice moves in the movie other than Long. Finally, Yeng Sze aka “Bolo Yeung” is a henchman in the movie and he always makes even the crappiest movies watchable.

That being said, I did have some issues with it. The Japanese are your stereotypical “muah-ha-ha” villains here. They’re just bad to be bad and that’s it. It was the same issue I actually had with Fist of Fury. There was also a pretty uncomfortable rape scene in here involving a woman and some of the henchmen early on in the movie. That felt really out of place here. It’s also pretty dull in the first half of the movie. It even ends in a pretty abrupt way. At least it does end happier than Fist of Fury did. Overall, it’s an alright movie with some nice fight scenes toward the end.

The Image of Bruce Lee
This 1978 movie once again stars Ho Chung-Tao (Bruce Li) in the starring role. Chung-Tao plays as Dragon (I know), a cop who is in charge of Hong Kong’s Special Forces unit. When a band of counterfeiters start to do business in the city, he and an inspector try to investigate the con artists. Things get complicated since most of the con artists are martial artists and Donna, the boss’s niece, makes things a bit complicated. It gets really dicey especially when one of the con artists tries to do business for himself. It all eventually comes to a head at the boss’s mansion.
You know, this makes me sad that we never got to see Bolo go up against the real Bruce Lee.

I thought this one was pretty decent. It’s good to get away from the really exploitative stuff and center on something a bit original. It’s a movie that’s action-packed from beginning to end. Thankfully, the fight scenes (which were good) aren’t the only good things about the movie. It was cool to see “Bruce” in a different role which was handled well. I also liked his sidekick, Inspector ‘Mustache’ Wang (yeah, he’s called that). The one who probably saved the movie for me as the character of Donna and it wasn’t because she was naked for most of it… talk about gratuitous. She was fun, bubbly, and had a few surprises toward the end. The villains were pretty cool and we even get Bolo Yeung again as one of the counterfeiters.

There wasn’t a lot about it I didn’t like. It does have its dull points. I also thought it started off pretty slow in the beginning. It took a while for it to really get going. While I liked the fight scenes, it was a case where the action took over the plot. I know the ending felt like that. This is also another case of a misleading title. I guess the production needed to fill seats, so they threw in Bruce Lee’s name even though it doesn’t involve him at all.  Still, this was one of the better ones.

Fist of Fury 2 aka Chinese Connection 2
Finally, we have an unofficial sequel for Fist of Fury. This movie was released in 1976 and stars Ho Chung-Tao (Bruce Li) as the brother of Lee’s character. It takes place sometime after the events of Fist of Fury. After Chen Zhen’s death, the Japanese start to really crack down on the Chinese. The Ching Wu School gets taken over and students are kicked out. Chen Shan (Li) comes into Shanghai to pay his respects when this is all going down. Like his brother, Chen Shan decides to take it to the Japanese, help his people, and get his revenge.

This movie is another pretty decent one. It actually felt like a sequel to the original movie. We even had a couple of familiar faces from the original show up here. It gets pretty dark for the kung fu students in the movie. We got to see that most of the folk from the previous movie didn’t get out unscathed especially the teacher.  As a character, Chen Shan was pretty cool. He came in to take charge and get revenge. It was simple as that. The fight scenes are fine for the most part. I did think the final battle between Chen Shan and the Japanese leader was good.
Now that's the look of determination!

Still, I did have a couple of problems with it. Once again, the Japanese are bloodthirsty, stereotypical villains here. They really do seem worse here than in the original. The action can also get a bit overwhelming. One thing that Lee’s films did well was have a stable plot and space out the fight scenes. There were also some scenes that looked badly lit. There were a couple of scenes where I didn’t know what was going on. I don’t know if it was the quality of the video or what.  Overall, this was fine.

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Well, I have to end this somewhere. I might come back later on in the month with some more movies from this sub-genre, but I’m not sure yet. At least all of these movies did provide some decent things. If you want to check them out, I can’t stop you. I’m outta here. Peace, God Bless, and just know that if someone can produce The Dragon Lives Again, then anything is possible.

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