17th August 2007: “BRUCEPLOITATION” double!
Hong Kong/South Korea 1976 colour
aka The Stranger
Director Lee Doo-Yong Writers Chee Do Hong, Chong Huang
Cast “Bruce K.L. Lea”/Jun Chong (Wong Han), Deborah Chaplin (Susan), Debby Tebora, Su-cheon Bae
For at least five years after Bruce Lee’s death in 1973, the martial arts world was obsessed with keeping his filmic legacy alive. There were docos, fake docos, more outrageous conspiracies than the death of Princess Diana, and countless pretenders to the throne in relentless pursuit of striking Lee gold, or at least gold paint - but more on that later. Our films tonight are two of the most notorious entries in the annals of “Bruceploitation”, but for completely different reasons.
First is Bruce Lee Fights Back From The Grave (1978), a very misleading title from grindhouse distributor Aquarius, run by the late Australian-born exploitation genius Terry Levene. Aquarius, renowned for their lowest-of-low budget chop sockeys and Sonny Chiba tamperings, later recut scenes from Bruce Lee’s films into an entirely fictitious documentary called Fist Of Fear Touch Of Death (1980), and released the Italian zombie/cannibal shocker Zombie Holocaust as Doctor Butcher MD (1980) - along with mock surgery performed on the back of a truck driving through New York City. I don’t know about you, but it makes me proud to be an Australian.
Levene’s poster for Bruce Lee Fights Back... promises a zombie Bruce in a supernatural slap-down with the Black Angel of Death. The credits even feature someone suspiciously Bruce-like leaping out of a polystyrene tomb - then cuts to a film that has NO Bruce, NO Angel of Death, and is in fact some crummy nameless generic kung fu filler starring someone claiming to be “Bruce K.L. Lea”. Ripped off? You may well feel so, but WAIT - it’s one of the real howlers of bad kung fu cinema, in EVERY sense of the word.
“Bruce” plays Wong Han, a Korean immigrant in LA visiting his old friend Go Hok Khan who he discovers has committed “suicide” and is now being cremated in the basement. Heartbroken, “Bruce” starts to wander the streets of LA at random, carrying his friend’s bones and a glossy 8x10 in a sling around his neck. Through a bizarre chain of coincidences he rescues a girl called Susan from a shirtless rapist who worked for Go Hok Khan, and remembers - with photo clarity, mind you - the five strangers who visited him before his death. A black guy, a cowboy, a Mexican... lady, you’re channelling a Village People concert!
A piss-and-vinegar-filled Bruce decides to slay his way through the list Kill Bill style - and there’s a bit of EVERY kung fu film in Kill Bill, isn’t there, kids? - but not before visiting a very keen Susan’s crashpad. She asks him to stay; a very pale and humourless “Bruce” warns her it would not be proper - but leaves the box of human remains for safekeeping. What a guy.
Bruce Lee Fights Back... is a real schizophrenic mess, filmed in America but dubbed in Hong Kong, with everyone voiced in the same petulant monotone. You can almost feel sorry for the American actors forced to exaggerate every motion, so that picking up the phone becomes a three-act Greek tragedy. The filmmakers break the cardinal kung fu rule by speeding up a fight in a wrecking yard into a Benny Hill chase spectacular, but best of all is the howling, yelping, whimpering and robot noises in EVERY fight scene.
For years, horror fans thought it was a kung fu anti-classic directed by Italian cannibal maestro Umberto Lenzi - purely because Levene switched credits with a Euro cop thriller and was too cheap to change the poster. Well, there’s no cannibals, no zombie Bruce Lee, just the sounds of R2D2 having a heart attack in Bruce Lee Fights Back From The Grave.The Clones Of Bruce Lee
Hong Kong 1977 colour
Director Joseph Kong Producer Dick Randall
Cast Bruce Le, Dragon Lee, Bruce Lai, Bruce Thai, Bolo Yeung [as Yang-Sze] (trainer)
One of the crassest of an already crass genre was The Clones Of Bruce Lee (1977), a wildly episodic car crash of a film featuring not one but FOUR of Bruce Lee’s most prolific imitators: Bruce Le, Bruce Lai, Brice Tai and our old friend Dragon Lee. It starts with the death of the “real” Bruce - but not before a secretive organization known as the SBI contacts Professor Lucas and ushers him to the hospital slab to extract a syringe of Lee’s DNA, in order to create a trio of Bruces in his secret lab. The three Lee-alikes are brainwashed by a disco light known as a “Magnitator” and are trained to a stolen Rocky theme, by the more stocky (and therefore un-Bruce-like) Yang-Sze, better known to world as Bolo Yeung from Enter The Dragon.
Before long, the three Bruces are sent on their secret missions: Bruce One (Dragon Lee), is sent to the kung fu sausage machine set of film producer Chai Lo, a dodgy front for all kinds of nefarious un-Lee-like activities. Chai Lo suspects the new Bruce is a narc, and plans to literally “shoot” him in front of the camera! Meanwhile in Thailand, Bruce Two (Bruce Tai) and Three (Bruce Le) team up with a fourth Lee-alike “Chuck” (I presume this is Bruce Lai) on the trail of Dr Nai, a Thai narcotics smuggler who sweats maniacally into his three dollar suit and plans on world domination with his formula for turning schmucks into invincible bronze warriors. The three Lees chase him from one border laboratory to the next; the sight of them rubbing up against tough martial artists fighters in y-fronts and easily removed shiny paint is, in a word, GOLD.
The increasingly insane Professor Lucas decides to use the Clones for his own purposes, and pits the Brainwashed Bruces against each other in the ultimate Bruce-Off. Which is exactly the way to read this movie: four wannabes trying to out-Bruce each other. As they’re actually meant to be Bruce Lee, they devolve into the most grotesque of charicatures - animal howls, thumbs to the nose, biker sunnies, and the always-popular ripping off the shirts. In the final tally, EVERYone’s a winner - or loser, depending on your political persuasion.
The Clones Of Bruce Lee comes courtesy of Dick Randall, the American exploitation genius and distributor who literally ran amok in South East Asia in the Seventies: he returned to Thailand to make the Z-grade horror Crocodile (1979), discovered Weng Weng in the Philippines and sold him to the world. Here, in one of his first excursions into bad kung fu territory, he actually threatens to rip the very fabric of film reality itself: Clones... plays like a shonky mad doctor opus like Randall’s King Of Kong Island (minus the gorilla suits, of course), a second rate James Bond and a third rate chop sockey, with some random nudity thrown in - because they can. Call it Bronzefinger or Bruce Only Lives Twice, or call it completely out of its mind - prepare yourself for one of the most bizarre Bruceploitation epics, The Clones Of Bruce Lee.