February 27th, 2008

BRUCE LEE: STAR OF STARS (1976) **

Bruce Li stars The Tiger, a devoted disciple of Bruce Lee.  After Lee’s death, Tiger visits his grave and vows to find the person responsible for killing his master.  He poses as Bruce Lee and says his death was a “publicity gimmick” to draw out the murderers.  Turns out it was the Mob who killed Bruce Lee and now they’re after The Tiger too.  Tiger karate chops his way through the Mob’s ranks until he squares off against the kingpin on the beach for the climatic final kung fu battle.  

 

Li was one of the better Bruce Lee imitators (check him out in The Blind Fist of Bruce) but he isn’t given a heck of a lot to do in this movie except wear giant sunglasses and Hawaiian shirts and pretend to be Bruce Lee.  It also doesn’t help when the film is light on action (it takes almost a half an hour to get to the first major fight scene), most of which takes place in either junkyards or warehouses.  There is one halfway decent fight scene where Li tussles with a giant oaf of a man and one particularly violent encounter with some gangsters who torture him with a blowtorch.  Other than that, it’s yet another middling Bruceploitation clunker. 

 

The film also features stock footage of Lee’s funeral and the main title theme was stolen from Isaac Hayes’ score for Three Tough Guys.  Director Tso Nam Lee later re-teamed with Li for Fists of Fury 2 and 3. 

 

AKA:  Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger.

ENTER THE GAME OF DEATH (1980) ** ½

For my money, Bruce Le was the greatest of all the Bruce Lee imitators.  He was probably also the most prolific, as he starred in no less than FOUR Bruceploitation movies in 1980 alone. 

 

Now Bruceploitation movies generally fall into two categories.  The first are movies that were made after Lee died that exploited his death by having Lee (played by another actor of course) come back from the grave to kick some ass.  The second kind was movies had nothing to do with Bruce Lee and were re-titled and marketed to make you think he was really in them.  This flick falls in the latter category. 

 

In the opening credits, Le dresses up in the familiar yellow and black get-up worn by Bruce Lee in Game of Death and practices his nunchuck moves in front of a red background while the credits roll (SUPER Starring: Bruce Le!).  Bruce smashes up some vases, flower pots and sandbags; then the plot begins.     

 

As the title implies, the film is more or less a mash up of Game of Death and Enter the Dragon, except it takes place during WWII.  After Bruce defeats Bolo Yeung (from Enter the Dragon) in a karate tournament, a mobster tries to hire him to be his bodyguard.  When Bruce refuses, the gangster sends his best men to rearrange his face, but Bruce easily kicks their collective butts.  The British government then gets Bruce to retrieve some “important documents” from the Japanese for them and Bruce says no way Jose.  After some dirty Japanese dudes rape his cousin, he says okay though.   Bruce then has to battle a series of baddies in order to find the documents.  There’s a bald Shaolin monk, a snake charmer who shoots venomous blood out of decapitated snakes, an old man, and a Jerry Garcia look-alike.  There’s even a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar imitator in there too.  He finally catches up to the main Jap villain who of course is the same bastard that raped his cousin, so you just know that Li is gonna tap dance on his sternum like Gregory Hines on Angel Dust.  The government double crosses Bruce so he has to obliterate Bolo AGAIN and hunt down the two-timing government agent who sold him out. 

 

The set-up is more or less intriguing, but the fight scenes lack panache and get a little repetitive after a while.  There’s no real suspense or momentum to the fights and they are all pretty interchangeable (except the snake dude, he’s cool).  The overuse of irritating super slo-mo gets a little annoying as well because when the fights are slowed down so much the seams in the unremarkable fight choreography show even more.  The only fights that have any oomph to them are the ones between Yeung and Li.  Their brawls are far and away the best thing the movie has going for it. 

 

Bruce and Bolo have three major fight scenes:  one a forest, another in the ring, and in the final climatic battle, in a handsomely landscaped grotto.  Bolo even has a great extended fight scene where he takes on several opponents in the ring Diggstown style and Steve James, a veteran of the American Ninja series, has an early role as one of the villain’s henchmen.  Both of these seasoned professionals bring something to the table and prevent the movie from being completely forgettable. 

 

But it’s Bruce Le who kicks the most ass in his fight scenes.  Le has a lot more charisma than any of the Bruce Lee imitators and his considerable screen presence makes what would have otherwise been a lackluster action flick worth watching; making Enter the Game of Death a hair or two better than most Bruceploitation flicks.  Le also starred in the excellent Challenge of the Tiger the same year. 

 

AKA:  The King of Kung Fu. 

MISSION FOR THE DRAGON (1979) **

 

Dragon (Muscle of the Dragon) Lee and Carter (Big Trouble in Little China) Wong star in the middle of the road kung fu flick about a grave robbing fiend in a scary looking Halloween mask who steals precious family relics out of people’s tombs.  He makes the mistake of killing Dragon Lee’s dad, and that pisses him off royally.  Lee has just achieved the rank of Kung Fu Master so he knows how to kick ass and take names, and he sets out for revenge.  Since everyone thinks it was Dragon’s poppa who vandalized the graves, they come after Dragon wanting to kick his ass for swiping the family jewels.  So now not only does Dragon have to deal with the masked graverobber, he’s got to worry about every looney who wants a piece of him too.  When he learns that the villain is sensitive to light, Dragon dons armor made entirely of mirrors to reflect sunlight into his eyes in order to defeat him.    

 

With the exception of one or two decent fight scenes (like the perplexing run-in with a dude who looks like a cross between Dracula and El Santo), there’s very little worth recommending about Mission for the Dragon.  Lee makes for a decent hero, but there are way too many superfluous supporting characters that get in the way of his karate chopping and slow the plot down considerably.  He also has an annoying comedic sidekick who talks with a grating Cockney accent and has a gigantic wart on his nose that wears out his welcome pretty fast.   

 

Director Godfrey (Diamond Ninja Force) Ho was never known for making movies that made a whole lot of sense, but this flick actually has a plot.  The problem is that it has way too much plot and not enough kung fu.  Fans of Dragon Lee may want to check it out though, if only for the climatic mirror armor fight. 

 

AKA:  Rage of the Dragon.

SCORPION (1986) * ½

 

When you start watching this movie, you’re gonna think you got gypped because for the first ten minutes, nobody speaks a lick of English.  They’re either speaking Spanish or Dutch, both without the benefit of subtitles, but luckily a bunch of American generals show up to explain the plot:  A group of Middle Eastern terrorists are skyjacking people left and right and it’s up to the good old US of A to stop ‘em.    

 

No name Tonny Tulleners stars as a spy named Scorpion who stops driving around Mexico in a Porsche and getting into bar fights long enough to take the mission.  First step is to walk onboard the airplane wearing nothing but Jockey shorts so the terrorists can see he doesn’t have any concealed weapons.  (He doesn’t, if you catch my drift ladies.)  Second step is to kung fu Middle Eastern ass all over the plane.  When his childhood buddy gets iced by the terrorists, Scorpion goes to work kung fuing even more Arabs and tossing them off the top of buildings until he finally takes on the terrorist leader.     

 

Basically it’s Delta Force without the Force.  In fact, Tulleners kinda looks like Chuck Norris if you stripped him of all his charisma, acting ability and basic common sense.  In one scene he actually gets out-acted by his moustache.  I’m not kidding. 

 

The fight scenes are all ineptly filmed and the only thing Tulleners does that even remotely approaches being an action star is that he looks vaguely similar to Chuck Norris.  We also never learn exactly how Tulleners can afford not one but TWO Porsches when he lives on a houseboat either.  In the end, Scorpion, both the movie and the character are instantly forgettable, but at least it tried to tell us to be wary of crazed Arabs willing to blow us all up.