Joined: Tue Jun 03, 2008 3:01 pm
Location: São Paulo, Brazil
I have generally shied away from the Brucesploitation sub-genre for most of my kung fu-watching days. I'm not sure why I did it initially; I want to say that films simply looked generic and silly and thus didn't inspire my interest like other films did. It certainly wasn't a lack of availability; I can expressly remember seeing titles like Bruce vs. Bill and Bruce Li in New Guinea on the shelves at Hollywood Video. Nonetheless, there was something that simply kept me away from them.
I think as time passed, I stayed away from them more because of their reputation of being sleazy, badly-acted pieces of crap. I'm not really into sleaze, although the genre certainly has taken me down that road a number of times without me really expecting it. It wasn't until I decided to write a book about martial arts films in 2006 that I decided that if I was to be anything resembling an authority on the subject, I'd have to expose myself to some Brucesploitation films.
That trip has mainly been furnished via the wonders of YouTube, where I was able to see fight scenes of dozens of films starring Bruce Li, Bruce Le, and Dragon Lee, the three major Bruce Lee imitators of the 1970s/1980s. I was able to get a hold of a couple of entire films, though mainly ones that were in the Public Domain (or reported to be), like Champ vs. Champ. Some of what I've watched from these guys can be considered to be among the worst chopsocky fighting committed to celluloid; most of it, however, is simply just mediocre screen fighting.
The most famous Bruce Lee imitator was a chap from Taiwan named Jimmy Ho Chung-Tao, who would make quite a few films under the moniker Bruce Li. Bruce Li (as I'll be referring to him during the review) was trained in wing chun, the style of kung fu that the real Bruce Lee originally trained in, and, with the right lighting and camera angles, could look reasonably like Bruce Lee (or at least like a cousin or something). Unfortunately, like most other Brucesploitation films, his films were often plagued with low budgets, untalented action directors, bad acting, and scenes that exploited women.
Despite all this, one of the fascinating things about Bruce Li's career was how much of it was devoted to Bruce Lee himself. Bruce Li starred in quite a few biopics of the Man, including Bruce Lee: A Dragon Story; Story of the Dragon, which proposes that Bruce Lee founded Jeet Kune Do to defeat legendary superkicker Hwang Jang Lee; Bruce Lee: The Man, the Myth (which proposed that Bruce Lee got into multiple fights every day of his life); and a few others. However, not content to just appear in Bruce Lee biopics, Bruce Li also starred in a number of films set in alternate universes following Bruce Lee's death, including Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger and Bruce Lee, We Miss You. This film also falls into that category, and promises a film about what's it's like to be a Bruce Lee imitator. Unfortunately, it doesn't follow through on the promise and favors just a bunch of random fight scenes.
Bruce Li plays Lee Ting-Yee, a wing chun student and cab driver in Hong Kong. He's a promising martial artist who's about to get a big break in the wake of Bruce Lee's death. One day, Lee Ting-Yee gets into a fight with a bunch of carjackers, which fight is witnessed by a female movie producer and her talent manager. Impressed with his skills and his supposed resemblance to Bruce Lee, they hand him a contract to be an actor and, from what I understand, ring fighter as well(!)
So Lee Ting-Yee quickly becomes a sensation in the Hong Kong movie industry. However, his kung fu still needs a bit of work, so Lee's manager hires an alcholic kung fu master (Ku Feng, Avenging Eagle and New One-Armed Swordsman) to further Ting-Yee's training. At first they really resent each other, since, like most kung fu masters, the training often comes across more as torture than anything else. However, Ting-Yee eventually learns to respect his new master.
While all this is going on, the Cultural Company, a rival talent agency to the one Ting-Yee is working for, is coming on hard times. Upset at their losses in the wake of Lee Ting-Yee's rise to fame, they decide to put an end to him, sending out hired killers to murder him on a number of occasions. This leads to a fight during filming, a fight at a hotel, and a fight on a snowy mountain outside of Seoul, Korea. Finally, the Cultural Company simply kidnaps Ting-Yee's dance instructor girlfriend and gives him an ultimatum: He has to lose in the ring fight that he'll fight in Chicago in a few weeks. If not, she'll die.
Yeah, like I said, the film really should've focused on the REAL dangers of being a martial arts star and the feelings of someone who was hired to imitate the best in the business. After all, Jimmy Ho Chung Tao was not really a fan of his Bruce Li image and has said so numerous times in interviews. To have a film about him struggling to create his own style instead of mimmicking that of another would've been more compelling. Unfortunately, the whole kidnapping and attempted murder subplots really turn a film about a chopsocky actor into just another chopsocky film.
There are a number of other subplots that really don't add a whole lot to the movie. The most notable is the affair that Lee Ting-Yee has with a French actress named Angie. Their "relationship" was originally put into papers by his producer for extra publicity, and puts Lee's relationship with his dance instructor girlfriend in jeopardy. But nothing is really done with the whole bit and it seems to have been put in the script mainly as a way to put female nudity into the film (although the version I saw cut it out). There's also another subplot involving a conflict between Ku Feng's character and some thugs, but it doesn't add anything to the film.
Thus, with a plot that doesn't deliver what it promises, the mainly reason to see this film is to see the fight sequences, which were choreographed by Yuen Cheung-Yan (Charlie's Angels and Daredevil). Most of the fights are played as complete fights from the films he makes, or are fights that stem from the assassination attempts.The fights are a mixed bag. They certainly are numerous, but quality-wise they seem to fluctuate from pretty darn good to kind of sloppy. A lot of fights kind of go for that mannered, too-traditional style of fighting that's perfectly fine in period pieces, but out of place in a (pseudo) real world context.
There are two dojo fight scenes that are really the highlight of the film, as is the final fight between Bruce Li and a big Caucasian karate fighter. There are a number of sparring matches between Bruce Li and Ku Feng that are also fairly well done. Bruce Li furnishes some of his better screen fighting and his kicks are a lot better than usual, plus his wing chun's strong and he gets to some some more acrobatic moves that are nice to look at. I guess that in and of itself is reason enough to watch this movie.
As Brucesploitation films go, this one isn't all that bad. It has pretensions of being more than just your garden variety Bruce Lee imitator film, but doesn't trust its own premise enough to deliver on it. Nonetheless, there are enough quality fight scenes to make it worth a rent.
EDIT: I almost forgot:
Score: Three Animals out of Five (Panther, Crane, Snake)
Next: H-Man delves into early 1970s Chopsocky!
Edited By Hman on 1251147430
"I will teach you a kung fu punch, using your fists."
- 5 Pattern Dragon Claws