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BRUCEPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE

Bruce Lee is by my estimation, the greatest movie star of all time. Here’s my reasoning on that. He’s the only movie star I know of that inspired a whole subgenre of films starring fake versions of himself. Can you imagine yourself watching a movie starring a fake Arnold Schwarzenegger? No way. But if it’s a fake Bruce Lee, it’s okay. I don’t know about you, but for me, the more mondo the Bruceploitation movies are, the better. Any films that incorporate footage of him and/or borrow tidbits from his personal life are more fun to watch; mostly because of the WTF factor. “Regular” Kung Fu movies that have been redubbed and retitled to cash-in on Bruce Lee aren’t nearly as much fun, but they still have their own rewards. Here’s a nice sampling of what the genre has to offer:

GOODBYE, BRUCE LEE: HIS LAST GAME OF DEATH (1976) ** ½

Goodbye, Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death kicks things off with an awesome theme song, “King of Kung Fu”. This toe-tapping ditty belongs on your Ipod. Sadly, the rest of the movie isn't nearly as cool.

After Bruce Lee’s untimely death, the producers behind his final film comb the country looking for a suitable replacement to finish the movie. They think Bruce Li is the man they’re looking for. They invite him to a screening room to view their unfinished film. The plot of the film-within-a-film has Bruce getting duped into becoming a courier for some stolen money by some gangsters. Once he figures out he’s been hornswoggled, he goes out for revenge. However, the bad guys kidnap his girlfriend and take her to the “Tower of Death”. Once inside the tower, Bruce has to fight his way up level after level to rescue his girlfriend.

The fake Game of Death scenes are kinda funny. In one part, Bruce fights a basketball player who steals a package from him and spins it around on his finger. The fights that occur in the Tower of Death are naturally the best, but while the fights happen at regular intervals, none of them are exactly great.

The thing I liked about the final scene was that Bruce doesn’t kill all of the bosses in the Tower of Death. He leaves most of them bewildered, broken, or scared out of their mind. I also liked the way the villains stood on the stairway and watched Bruce fight each boss. The funny thing about that was that once it became apparent the boss was going to lose, the bad guys would quietly tiptoe to the next level.

The odd thing about Goodbye, Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death is that it never follows up on its opening scene. There’s no scene at the end where Bruce Li finishes watching the film and tells the producers he’ll make the movie. In fact, as far as I could tell, the movie he was watching looked complete to me. Because it sorta leaves us hanging at the end, I have to take some points off, but for the most part, Goodbye, Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death is a decent enough Bruceploitation flick.

AKA: The New Game of Death.

BRUCE LEE FIGHTS BACK FROM THE GRAVE (1976) ***

The great thing about Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave is that it only takes him about twenty seconds to do so. We see Lee’s tombstone, then there’s a flash of lightning, and then Bruce jumps out of his grave! What’s especially impressive about this scene is the fact that it switches from day to night in like two seconds. Then Bruce goes to Hollywood on a quest to find the drug dealers who killed his friend.

Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave is not a great Bruceploitation film; I’ll give you that. It is pretty entertaining though. Of course, it’s only entertaining if you pretend that the footage of Bruce Lee jumping out of his grave in the beginning of the film is actually related to the plot. If you do that, I’m sure you’ll dig it.

But even if it didn’t have that terrific bad taste opening, Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave would still be a decent Kung Fu flick. The film does have some good fights. There’s a fun scene where Bruce beats up a taxi driver and his fight with an axe wielding maniac is solid. And of course, the dubbing is wonderfully atrocious. (Bruce sounds like Howard Cosell.) So it has that going for it.

The flick stars Bruce K.L. Lea. I’ve got to say he’s one of the more underrated Bruce Lee imitators. He looks a little like Bruce (not necessarily a requirement in these films, but it helps) and handles himself rather well in the fight scenes. Lea later showed up in L.A. Streetfighters under his real name (Jun Chong).

Personal Aside: The long scene where Bruce stops to take in the Hollywood Christmas parade pretty much singlehandedly got me into the Christmas spirit.

FISTS OF BRUCE LEE (1978) **

Bruce Li stars as a security expert hired by an eccentric crime lord. Naturally, he falls in love with the boss’s daughter. When Bruce reveals that he’s an undercover agent, it causes him some problems with his new love.

Fists of Bruce Lee is a Bruceploitation flick that I just can’t work up a lot of enthusiasm for. Nothing very memorable happens and the plot just sits there. The love story is especially dull and pretty much slows the movie to a crawl. And to make matters worse, the flick features none of the wackiness you’d expect from Bruceploitation movie.

The fight scenes for the most part are a washout too. It really says a lot for the movie when the dopey looking blond guy gets better fight scenes than Bruce Li. He steps in to saves Bruce’s bacon more than a few times (like the fight in the an amusement park) and handles his nunchucks rather well.

Fists of Bruce Lee is okay for a laugh or two I guess. I chuckled whenever the soundtrack stole music from an infinitely better movie. (Like Enter the Dragon or Live and Let Die.) The odd dialogue is sorta funny (“Whether you like it or not young lady… Open the door to your bedroom!”), but there isn’t nearly enough funny lines here to make the flick worthwhile.

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