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STUDIO: Asia Vision
RUNNING TIME: 900 minutes
• Bad video
• Bad audio
• Occasionally bad fighting
• Digital artifacting
The best of the worst (or worst of the best?) non-Bruce Lee Bruce Lee films.
Bruce Li, Bruce Le, Bruce Liang, Bruce Lai, Bruce Thai, Bronson Lee, Dragon Lee.
1973. Bruce Lee finally makes the film that’s going to turn him into an international star, a martial arts icon and a legend with Enter The Dragon. Then he pulls either the greatest or the worst career move possible by dying mysteriously, leaving a burgeoning chop socky industry without its biggest face. But Asian producers don’t let that stop them. They grab martial artists who have even the vaguest resemblance to Lee and crank out a bunch of substandard rip-offs, and a new cheap genre is born. This is a collection of ten of the most notable.
You show me anyone who doesn’t like Bruce Lee films and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t like martial arts films period. Lee was a true original, the figurehead, the essence of an entire emergent genre of film, from which many modern action and fantasy films and especially video games can trace at least part of their origins. Lee’s legacy has survived long after his untimely death just as the martial arts craze of the 1970s – for which he is directly responsible – was taking off.
Imagine the following scenarios. The action flick boom of the ’80s could have conceivably survived the death of say, Schwarzenegger or Stallone or Willis. We, the generation that grew up on the films of that period would have certainly been the lesser for not having had Rambo, or Rocky or Commando, Predator, Die Hard et al. But the genre would have survived because if one of those gentlemen hadn’t been around, we still would have had the others. Not so for martial arts films of the ’70s, a genre which, when given the gut shot of the loss of Lee, struggled with his absence. The Martial arts genre was so desperate to try to hold onto him, in any way it possibly could, that they churned out film after film with his name, his style or even his likeness to try to make a buck.
Before Jackie Chan found his own style and the Shaw Bros. started owning the genre, the China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan film industries floundered for several years after Lee’s passing, giving us clone after clone: Bruce Le, Bruce Li, Bruce Lai, Bruce Chen, Bronson Lee, Dragon Lee, etc. Hell, one of the films in this collection of non-Bruce Lee Bruce Lee films is actually called The Clones of Bruce Lee. Rarely, if ever, has one performer been so directly responsible and so influential to one genre of film. Thus the term Bruceploitation is born.
So in Dragon Immortal, we’re presented with ten films that were directly inspired by Lee, a rip-off of Lee, a homage to Lee, or any way related to Lee that they possibly could be. The list of films is as follows:
Bruce Against Supermen (1975), The Story of Chinese Gods (1976),
Bruce Lee’s Deadly Kung Fu (aka Bruce Lee: A Dragon Story aka Bruce Lee’s Secret, 1976), The Clones of Bruce Lee (1977), Bruce Vs. Snake in Eagle Shadow (1979), The Call Me Bruce Lee (1979), Bruce’s Ways of Kung Fu (1982), Fist of Death (aka Jackie vs. Bruce To the Rescue, 1982), Power Force (1983), Bruce’s Fists of Vengeance (1984).
Some are more passable than others. By “more passable,” I mean that they won’t give you the shits quite as much as the others. These are films of the 1970s and early 1980s, low budget in several cases, and time hasn’t been good to them. Some of them have been stretched to fit a widescreen format and the quality of virtually all of them is Grindhouse at best. Not going to be any Criterion Collections here to be sure. Most of the films are just shameless pilferings of the plots of Lee’s legitimate films. Either the stars look like Bruce but can’t act, or they don’t look like Bruce but have his moves down.
Probably the Ocean’s 11 (I’m talking gathering of talent here, not quality) of Bruceploitation flicks is the aforementioned The Clones of Bruce Lee, which features the greatest collection of names in the genre including Bruce Le, Dragon Lee, Bruce Thai, Bruce Lai, Bruce Leung Siu Lung and Bolo Yeung. The gist of the film is that after the death the real Bruce Lee, a mad scientist creates three clones: Bruce 1 (Dragon Lee), Bruce 2 (Bruce Le) and Bruce 3 (Bruce Thai). They’re trained by Bolo Yeung and Bruce 1 becomes a martial arts actor to investigate a producer who’s smuggling gold. Bruces 2 and 3 head off to Thailand to fight bad guy who has turned a bunch of couch potatoes into his own Golden Army (Bronze actually). Then when the Bruces save the day, the mad scientist has them all fight to the death. And those are the plot elements that make sense. The only other film that stands out from the crowd (certainly not because of quality of course) is The Story of Chinese Gods, and that’s simply because it’s animated (poorly).
For these films, the expected benefits of Bruceploitation are there: some at times decent old school chop socky with the mandatory sound effects not found anywhere else in nature, bad dubbing, bad acting, bad plots, bad film quality, bad audio and bad everything. Of course that’s what gives them their charm. These aren’t films to be studied or taken for anything more than they are: cheaply made and badly thought-out disposable entertainment.
There is some fun to be had in bad
’70s kung fu flicks, just not seeing much of it here. But there were films that were made back in that
era that are good. Give me Executioners of Death or Five Deadly Venoms or Drunken Master
any day. About the best way I’d see any of the films offered here
being any kind of real fun is being projected on the wall of some club
while you’re busy either dancing, doing X, drinking heavily, or a
combination of the three.
This is a three-disc offering with two double-sided discs and the third with the cover art on it. The video quality is what you’d expect on most of them: the ass end of a fifth-generation pan and scan VHS. And while that’s bad, some of the movies actually have 21st Century defects: artifacting, so bad at times that the action gets chopped up. Sound fluctuates from bad to loud and bad on most also. And the icing on top of this shitcake is that there are no special features. This is pretty much the bottom of the bargain bin quality at the run down mom and pop video store in the bad section of town that you’re hesitant to go into for fear of typhus.