Bruceploitation... a goldmine of kung-fu exploitation films for some, for others a dreaded blasphemy. In martial arts movie history, the exploitation of the image of Bruce Lee is a one of a kind phenomena that generated a slew of celluloid slaughters and beatdowns! Certainly, no other star could have started such a trend, could they? Can you imagine a world with Schwarzenegsploiters or Segalsploitation? I can't...but Bruce Lee, after a relatively short cinematic span really, spawned imitations, admirers and some of cult movies most far out features.
Bruceploitation comes in several savorable flavors and I think it's fair to break them down thus. First, we have the "bio-pic" style film. WHAT did Bruce Lee do before he was famous? And just as often...HOW did he die? WHY? Using every cinematic trick in the book these films don't particularly care about getting it right, as long as it's sensational and lots of punching and kicking is involved HK producers knew it would sell. To this day it still sells as the shelves of any electronics store or dollar disc Ebay store can testify . Slews of the bio-pics are still available, and must generate some sales. Most amusing to me is that "evil" film producers are quite common in these films...the exploiters love exploiting their own bad image in this case! It reminds of nudie film makers who then portray themselves as picking up girls at "fire sale" prices in order to not only film them naked and sell the pictures, but to take advantage of them as well!
Then we go into the "successor of Bruce Lee" mode. The best example of these come from Bruce Li's filmography (read this post by Linn Haynes for MUCH more on him!)...look to Exit The Dragon, Enter the Tiger for a fist smashingly good entry into the genre. The film's tagline bravely screamed out "The Dragon sends The Tiger on a fantastic mission...IF I DIE, FIND OUT WHY!" That about says it all. Also there are even films that have students of Bruce Lee passing about books of knowledge that the real Bruce never imparted. Many evil men want to exploit his work, and the Lee-Clone crew must stop that from happening.
And finally we have the most beloved Brucesploitation films...the whacked out stories...Clones of Bruce Lee has The Dragon's blood siphoned off after he dies to generate clones! Yep, you read it right...The word "Bruce" became very popular in titles, making some very very odd marquees. Bruce Vs. Bill...who would care? But when you think of BRUCE LEE...then people starting putting the ass to seat. Names like Bruce Li, Bruce Le, Bruce Liang, Bruce Thai, Dragon Lee all strike a dreadful cord with some, but I swear to you, I'll watch ANY of these guys on any given day. Yes friends, I am a Bruceploit-A-holic. Personally, I'll take a Bruce Li flick over watching the few Bruce Lee movies because you can rely on some good fight scenes, berserk stories and the fact that he bears an uncanny resemblance to the man himself is a bonus. At the end of this review I've included some links for more on Bruceploitation-and anyone interested in seeing a whole new side of kung-fu films should check them out. Several pioneers in the field such as Carl Jones (owner of the Bruce Li fanzine), and Keith and William at the Bruceploitation page (one of the BEST sites on the web) can enlighten you, and hopefully tempt you into the lair of the not quite but kinda sorta Lee.
And that brings us to the Dragon 4-Pack released by VideoAsia on DVD about 6 years ago. Containing four films, it's hardly a 4 pack as the title offers, it's a single disc with two movies per side. You should be able to find this super cheap, and if you pay more than 2 bucks a movie I'd be surprised. And you get what you pay for. Sort of.
SIDE A-CLONES OF BRUCE LEE / BIG BOSS II
Clones of Bruce Lee-Make NO mistake, this is one bizarre film. Legendary in the Bruceploiters, Clones of Bruce Lee comes from UberProducer and all around mayhem starter, Dick Randall. The premise is as stupid as the film of course, but that is what gives off the aromatic charm the whole production gives off. When Bruce Lee is wheeled into the hospital and dies, the SBI (Special Branch of Investigations!) calls in Dr. Nye-a crazy scientist who cackles a lot. Of course they want him to clone Bruce Lee so that they can make then make the clones into special agents. Wouldn't that be your first thought? Yeah, mine too. Enter Dragon Lee, Bruce Le and Bruce Lai! Holy cow...the clones look pretty different from each other, you would never know they were all "clones!" Dragon's jumbo eyebrows and ten pound haircut, Le's shorter than the usual Bruce look...Ah well, they all have big sunglasses to even things out. A few training scenes, spiced up with scientific mumbo jumbo (you are under MY command...wah har har!) and the Clones get about the biz. Dragon (as Bruce #1) must stop the ever present evil film producer! No problem for him at all, he has LOTS of experience with these guys. Good fighting ensues. Then, Le and Lai meet up with another Bruce (sheesh, he isn't even a clone, but he has the sunglasses) as Bruce Thai joins the cast. This story is where the bizarre stuff really revs up in earnest. Bronzemen in tighty whity underwear go "clonk" under the fists of the furious dragonettes! Gonk GONG...GONG...Gonk. Even Enter The Dragon baddie Yang Tze (Bolo Yeung) shows up looking for a piece of Bruce once again. So many Bruces, so much Bolo. That man has scary lips...but I always enjoy seeing him.
Did I mention the best use of gratuitous nudity since Zombie Lake? No? You have to see it! A bunch of Thai women with very nice breasts rub oil on themselves and jump a passer by. The Bruces just kind of watch...hell, if I was Bruce Lee's clone, I'd want to at least break off a bit of spicy Thai peanut while I adventured. Anyway...Dr. Nye isn't playing with a full deck, and he pits Bruce vs. Bruce vs. Bruce to get a king Bruce to take over the world. Hey, it's nice to see Dragon Lee and Bruce Le go at it, this is an awesome scene! Let's just say the most obscure won't survive! Once all the magnetators (??) have been cut you can see this little gem of what the hell cinema. Clones of Bruce Lee is simply a film you have to see to believe, anyone who enjoys oddball movie making will get triple kicks out of this film. It's amazing it got made, it's amazing that Bruce Lee didn't rise from the grave to kick Dick Randall in the balls and it's fun as a basket of snakefists on a Saturday night after a case of cheap beer.
The DVD presentation is a damn pity though...with a full frame transfer that seems to have been done on a telecine operators first day, the action seems always to be where you can't see! AND to top it off, shamefully the movies sound goes out of synch over and over, with slight pauses to catch it up. WHAT? It looks fair at best (though for the price, it is at least stable)...why not just make sure that the "WHHHHAAAATAAAAAA" sound matches the onscreen action? I've seen several prints of this, and Sifu Linn provided me with a decent widescreen transfer some years back. Sadly, that cuts out the "your hurting my arm" whine at the end of the film, but is far preferable.
Big Boss II-Dragon Lee in a "sequel" flick that certainly doesn't feel much like The Big Boss...but it's a really good action film on it's own! Time to fight the "damn japs" again, and Dragon Lee does a fantastic job with a furrowed (huge) brow. Dragon is one of the guys who does his martial arts with little resemblance to Lee's fighting, and it makes for great screen battles. With the audio problems of Clones, this is the reason to grab the set... Balanced by good fighting and the occasional surprise (watch out for those flying needles of death!)-Big Boss II is a great bit of LeeFu. Bolo shows up in this one as well, sporting a little Hitler mustache no less! Odd... Dragon is moving on up my list of Bruce faves.
The DVD looks exactly like a VHS, but that is to be expected. Not great, but also not bad. Watch it first. Both films are from "Filmline Enterprises" and you'll notice a scene of Dragon Lee training is from Clones of Bruce Lee. Not too strange, until you also realize that "Gonna Fly Now" from ROCKY is playing under these push ups! Why waste a good bit of music theme theft if you can use it twice!
SIDE B-Bruce Lee's Deadly Kung Fu / Bruce's Fist of Vengeance
Bruce Lee's Deadly Kung Fu-AT LAST, Ho Chung Tao, better known as Bruce Li appears. This one is a bio-pic that just has a young Bob (uh..Bruce) discovering his own system (which looks unsurpisingly like a renamed Jeet Kune Do) and smacking around a bunch of white guys. Bob and his buddy look for work after losing the waiter gig they count on because tempers can't help but get lost and Bob loves to serve up "pepper chicken...good for gut-WHAM!" No matter where he goes, the evil whites and the guys who run the kung fu schools won't leave him alone. So even more fighting ensues. Li gets some first class support here though, as the walking deltoid Carter Wong joins the cast. Sure, many don't dig him, but I love Carter Wong's fighting style on film...and it's fun to see Li square off with him. AND then, the bootmaster himself, Hwang Jang Lee shows up wearing a cape!! He beats down Carter and Bob! Hell yeah...so it's up to Bob's new kung fu system to devise a solution to the furious feet of Hwang. Can he? Well...c'mon, he is supposed to be Bruce Lee right? It's a lot of fun getting there though-with fights, kid fu, t-shirt fu, kung fu outfit fu and the use of "Well my friend...what do you want?"
Another less than lovely (and more washed out than the previous two) VHS transfer. Not the best way to see Bruce Li for anyone who hasn't yet experienced the fun but sufficent at the right price. There must have been a run on black pants and white T-Shirts in the local mart that week...and the Shirts vs. Sweatsuits battles are always plentiful in this one. Look at Bruce Li though...he really looks like the Real Bruce Lee here in a big and scary way. Try Bruce Li in New Guinea first, but for a nice look at a Lee BioPic, this one is fairly satisfying.
Bruce's Fist of Vengeance-Maybe they hoped you wouldn't get this far. Bruce Le, the least of the Lee clones in my opinion, is in Manila (oh jeez...you know it's gotta be cheap, just ask Fred Williamson!) His buddy, Jack Lee is coming to town during a big tournament-and after Le gets his ass kicked, decides to bequeath his buddy with the secret book. It's always a secret book! Yes, the missing techniques of Bruce Lee will be revealed, though I'll be damned if we see them in the film, because nothing looks too impressive. Defining the ugly side of cheap Fu, this one looks horrid and has very few redeeming qualities. However, it's a must to at least skip to the section where Jack Lee is captured by the bad white guys and tied up, with his LEGS BEHIND HIS HEAD! They carry him around that way and it is damn strange looking. Also the token bad white dude is played by Ferdinando Baldi alumni, Romano Kristoff. Ah, it's a tournament film, it's a secret book film...it's earwax. It looks bad as well, but better than Bruce Lee's Deadly Kung Fu at least. Dim praise, dim film. Well, if you combine the two leads, you get Bruce and Lee out of the pseudonyms.
Overall, the Dragon 4 Pack is a nice Bruceploitation primer...and at the price, it can't be beat for diehards, all those who want to see something strange though...try and find a tape of Clones of Bruce Lee instead. You'll pay less and gain more! Videoasia disappoints with this one-letting synch issues blow what could have been a fine release for it's type. Given the amount of junk they would flood the market with-this one film and the sound issues may have been the most disappointing of all.