Enter the Clones of Bruce (2023)

Posted in Reviews by - August 28, 2023
Enter the Clones of Bruce (2023)

The ‘Bruceploitation’ film – a much-maligned and bizarre sub-genre of the kung fu movie boom – is given a detailed, heartfelt and humorous retrospective in this entertaining American documentary, the first to unite many of its leading lights, including new interviews with Taiwan’s Bruce Li, Korea’s Dragon Lee, Myanmar’s Bruce Le, Hong Kong’s Bruce Liang, and a wonderful moment with Japan’s Yasuaki Kurata, who seems perplexed to see himself billed as ‘Bruce Lo’ on a one-sheet for The Tiger’s Claw. Even Angela Mao makes an albeit brief appearance, billed sometimes as the ‘female Bruce Lee‘; plus Ron Van Clief (aka ‘the Black Dragon’) and Sammo Hung, who probably made the best Bruceploitation film, 1978’s Enter the Fat Dragon. Bruceploitation expert and co-producer Michael Worth – who worked on this documentary for the better part of nine years – describes the increasingly absurd Bruceploitation films as the result of a film industry going through the ‘seven stages of grief’ following Bruce Lee’s passing at the height of his powers in 1973. The first few Bruceploitation films dealt with the shock of his demise, with many stories focusing on the need to seek revenge for the death of the king of kung fu. As the news starts to settle, there are slightly more respectable attempts at biographical films – Bruce Lee: The Man, the Myth being probably the best at trying to tell Lee’s story with a degree of authenticity – followed by umpteen spin-offs to his original films, including myriad sequels to The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, and versions of the unfinished Game of Death. Once enough time has passed, the genre starts to eat itself, with Bruce Li resorting to fighting guys in gorilla suits in Bruce Lee: The Invincible, or Bruce Liang duelling with James Bond and Dracula in The Dragon Lives Again. The documentary keeps its tongue firmly in cheek throughout, and is at its most fascinating and poignant when recounting the human cost on the actors who, despite being huge Bruce Lee fans, have become cult figures for their crude portrayals of their hero in cheap films which, by and large, are mostly risible. Many of them would seemingly prefer to distance themselves from the whole sorry subject altogether. Ho Chung-tao (“Bruce Li”) is probably the most outwardly dismissive of the legacy he leaves behind, while Moon Kyoung-seok (“Dragon Lee”) admits to the toll the role took on his personal life. They also speak of injuries suffered and the terrible money they accepted, while unscrupulous producers recut their performances into multiple films. Paradoxically, they would also achieve their own cult-like fame in grindhouse theatres across Europe and the USA, where their Lee-alike mimicry would play to fight-hungry audiences eager for any new kind of “Bruce Lee” product. The film doesn’t sugarcoat just how tasteless some of these movies are, with many of them resorting to repackaging any form of genuine Lee footage into some new hook for a movie, from his childhood Cantonese films to sliced-up episodes of The Green Hornet and footage of his funeral. One film poster even used a photo of his corpse. Lee’s family and their reaction to the movement is mostly sidelined, although Linda Lee did attempt to sue the makers of the 1975 Bruce Li film, Super Dragon, prompting a motion from the family to better protect the Lee brand. But there is also another side to the documentary – one which captures the context of a magical period of low-budget kung fu filmmaking throughout the 1970s, a time which will never be repeated. By speaking to many of the genre’s principal auteurs – including directors Godfrey Ho and Lee Tso-nam, producers Roy Horan and Andre Morgan, and on-screen fight legends like David Chiang, Lo Mang, Casanova Wong, Chan Shen, Wong Tao, Mars and Philip Ko – the film is also a loving tribute to the incredible talent who helped to bring such unique excitement to the screen. These films, if nothing else, are a time capsule to a bygone era when, for a short period of time, everybody was kung fu fighting.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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