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KUNG FU-A-PALOOZA: DRAGON LEE-A-PALOOZA

DRAGON LEE VS. THE FIVE BROTHERS (1978) **

Dragon Lee is sent by a rebel leader to find a missing bracelet. Along the way, he tries to retrieve a warlord’s hit list that contains the names of rebel spies. Before long, Dragon finds himself tangling with the titular siblings and he gets a mysterious lady Ninja to help take them down.

Lethargic plotting and uneven action scenes pretty much sinks Dragon Lee vs. the Five Brothers. It seems to me that the DVD I watched must’ve been an edited down version, because the plot gets really choppy in some spots. The usually charismatic Dragon Lee gets lost in the shuffle and is unable to carry the cumbersome plot.

All of that aside, the film has some colorful characters that make it tolerable. The hot chick in white Ninja pajamas that constantly bickers with Dragon is pretty cool. My favorite character though was an assassin with an iron hand who doubles as a master of disguise. Sometimes he dresses up like Captain Jack Sparrow, sometimes he goes around in a Johnny Legend beard, and sometimes he’s seen sporting an oversized Fu Manchu moustache. Every time he’s dressed up though, his iron hand sticks out like a (beg the expression) sore thumb. (You’d think he’d wear a glove or something over it, but no.) Other than that, the movie is pretty forgettable.

AKA: The Angry Dragon.

KUNG FU FEVER (1979) ** ½

The real Bruce Lee is seen at a press conference where he talks about writing a book on “Finger Technique”. After his death, some bad guys try to get their hands on the book and they beat the shit out of anyone who stands in their way. Bruce’s prized pupil Ricky (Dragon Lee) learns of the book’s whereabouts and honors his master’s wishes by protecting it at all costs.

Kung Fu Fever is a pretty funny slice of Bruceploitation cinema. Part of what makes it so funny is the way the filmmakers try to blend fact with fiction. For example, Ron Van Clief shows up as himself. But the thing that’s so funny about that is that he’s basically just hired muscle for the bad guys.

The fight scenes are a tad uneven, but there’s still some pretty good stuff here. For every goofy scene (like when Dragon spins his opponents around to make them dizzy), there’s at least one memorable one (like when Dragon’s girlfriend beats up a couple of thugs with her motorcycle). I also enjoyed the Streetfighter-esque X-ray shots of skulls getting punched. Of course, they couldn’t afford an X-ray effect, so they just showed a picture of a skull under flashing strobe lights.

Although Kung Fu Fever is amusing for a while, it doesn’t take long before the film falls into a familiar pattern. People demand the book. Dragon won’t give it to them, and a fight breaks out. The abbreviated running time (76 minutes) certainly helps, but the flick still suffers from obvious padding (like the can-can dance scenes).

To me, something like this is far more enjoyable than Dragon Lee vs. The Five Brothers. There’s just something endearing to me about this kind of exploitative trash. I’d take this sort of bizarre flick over a straight historical Chinese epic any day.

Oh, and if someone ever wants to play a drinking game with this movie where you have to take a shot every time someone says “Finger Technique”, don’t accept the challenge. If you do, you can pretty much kiss your liver goodbye. Probably the funniest use of the line comes when the villain tells Dragon’s girlfriend: “Let us both share the benefit of The Finger Technique”!

CHAMP AGAINST CHAMP (1983) ** ½

The copy of Champ Against Champ that I own is a part of “Ninja Theater” hosted by Sho Kosugi. He does some Ninja moves and then introduces the film. I don’t know if there are any other films in the Ninja Theater series, but I’d sure like to see more of them.

Dragon Lee and his dad are on a journey to meet his fiancé. (It’s one of those arranged marriages deals.) Along the way they get embroiled in some political intrigue involving a letter than contains names of spies. The bad guys kill Dragon’s father and kidnap his future father in-law and it’s up to Dragon to rescue him. Dragon eventually loses his leg to a poison dart wound and with the support of his wife, he makes himself a steel leg and learns the deadly “18 Steel Leg Kicks”

The McGuffin is essentially the same as Dragon Lee vs. the Five Brothers. The fights in this one are slightly better and the plot is a bit more coherent, but that doesn’t exactly make it great. We get a funny fight scene choreographed to classical music and scenes of Dragon fighting clowns, chicks with an inexplicable ability to teleport, and a dude that breathes fire for no reason whatsoever.

Sure, the fight scenes are all over the place, but the amputee drama is actually sorta decent. Dragon does a good job at playing the Self-Pitying-Dude-That-Winds-Up-Becoming-A-Badass. It’s definitely one of his finer roles.

Godfrey Ho directed this one and it’s one of his more mundane efforts. That being said, the main villain throws deadly flowers and one guy attacks people with hula hoops. But even still, it’s not nearly as nutty as Ho’s best stuff.

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