Trashterpiece Theater: Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: The Bizarre World of Bruceploitation

After Bruce Lee's tragic death at the height of his career in 1973, there was a huge hole left in Hong Kong martial arts films (especially the ones that were being brought over to the west). Instead of rallying around a new upcoming star, a glut of imitation Bruce Lee flicks started popping up starring actors who dressed and acted like him. With stage names like Bruce Li, Bronson Lee, Bruce Liang, many low budget cash-in projects were made to milk whatever popularity was left from Lee's legacy. This lasted for quite awhile until Jackie Chan made a name for himself and the Shaw Brother's film era blew up in the west with films like The Five Deadly Venoms and The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Bruceploitation spawned some truly wacky films, however, and I have chosen three of the craziest ones I have seen to highlight.

Bruce's Deadly Fingers (1976)

Bruce's Deadly Fingers leans a lot more heavily into the exploitation side of things than many of the more lighthearted and goofy entries into Bruceploitation. The film follows a group of gangsters who are trying to get their hands on Bruce Lee's legendary Kung Fu Finger Book (yes, that's the official title) which, legend has it, holds the secret behind Lee's famous One Inch Punch technique and also imbues the owner with incredible finger-based fighting skills. The aforementioned tomb of knowledge is a shitty looking spiral-bound-notebook that Lee apparently just left on his kitchen counter before he died, but I digress.

The evil gangsters kidnap Lee's ex-girlfriend in an attempt to find out the location of the book. At the same time, a mysterious Bruce Lee fanboy named Bruce Wong (Bruce Le), who looks and dresses exactly like the real Lee gets involved in the search for the Kung Fu Finger Book and ten thousand adequately choreographed fights ensue. While the fight scenes aren't the worst thing ever, there are just so damn many of them and after awhile things get monotonous. A few Shaw Brothers alumni make some cameos and there is one hilarious scene with Bolo Yeung basically bear-hugging people to death with his well-oiled pecs.

While most of the film is concerned with the hunt for the book, there are these weird unsettling asides where the gangsters molest women in terrible ways. One such scene has a women being tortured with a venomous snake placed between her legs and another sequence has the gang making a ring of literal fire and trying to rape the women inside the ring. As hideous as this sounds it's so poorly acted and executed that it becomes ridiculous, especially since it's obvious they didn't know how to keep the ring of fire controlled and it instantly blazes up and engulfs the actors. Bruce's Deadly Fingers is full of campy moments like this and it's made even better with the terrible English dub. A fun drinking game would be to take a shot every time someone mentions the Kung Fu Finger Book as they shove it into every single conversation

The Dragon Lives Again (1977)

"This film is dedicated to millions who love Bruce Lee."

This is the crème de la crème of Bruceploitation flicks, a surreal mind fuck of a film that can't decide if it's a parody, an action movie, or a soft core sex romp. The gist is that after Bruce Lee died, played here by Bruce Leung Siu-lung, his soul goes to Underworld and he ends up under the rule of the so-called King of the Underworld. The King is a huge fan of Bruce and wants him to be his bodyguard but Bruce refuses. Bruce isn't without allies in Hell though, as he befriends Popeye (played by Eric Tsang who went on to have a very successful career), Caine from the TV show Kung Fu, and The One Armed Swordsman from the Shaw Bro films. It turns out that there is a gang of other iconic '70s pop culture figures who are making the lives of the denizens of the Underworld hell: Zatoichi, Clint Eastwood, Dracula, James Bond, the priest from The Exorcist, and sexploitation star Emmanuelle (yes, that Emmanuelle).

I can't even begin to describe how weird it is seeing all of these characters interacting with each other (occasionally even engaging in fisticuffs) and none of them are played by their original actors. The beginning credits has Bruce Lee facing off against all of these peeps and it's hilarious as their real theme songs will play when they come out, which I am sure was used very much without permission. Absolutely nothing makes sense, and for whatever reason the Underworld looks suspiciously like the regular world. About halfway through the film it turns into a skin flick with Emmanuelle being sent to seduce Bruce Lee with her infamous seduction skills. When that fails, she ends up having fairly graphic sex with the King of the Underworld for fun and profit.

Of note, is the fact that Lee's ultimate weapon is called "The Third Leg of Bruce" and apparently his penis can turn into a leg and kick people which he uses to get out of sticky situation while fighting Dracula and a group of his zombies. I can't make this shit up. This gem of a movie must be seen, it's a trashterpiece of epic proportions.

The Clones of Bruce Lee (1981)

As if making imitation Bruce Lee movies wasn't insulting enough, how about making a film about THREE fake Bruce Lees? In The Clones of Bruce Lee a scientist takes a sample of Bruce Lee's cells after his death and uses them to create three clones which are cleverly named Bruce Lee 1 (Dragon Lee), Bruce Lee 2 (Bruce Le), and Bruce Lee 3 (Bruce Lai). After their creation we are treated to a lengthy training montage with special guest trainer Bolo Yeung (why is he in so many of these movies?) as they need to be brought up to the fighting level of material.

What we have here is a Bruceploitation crossover event, with all sorts of Bruce Lee impostors fighting crime and eventually each other. Not one to waste any opportunities for sleaze, there is also pointless segment in the second act of the film where the clones decided to take some R&R at a beach in Thailand and happen to watch a bunch of fully nude women who enjoy frolicking together. The Bruce Boys have no such time for these frivolities, however, as they have been assigned to take down the evil mastermind Dr. Ngai, who has been creating unstoppable men with metal skin with his serum (these are just dudes in their underwear with bronze paint, but whatever, let's roll with it).

Like many of these films, most of the run time is padded with what seems like endless fight scenes, and although it's apparent that the actors who play the Lee clones are proficient fighters, the choreography is incredibly dull and boring. Eventually, the clones end up where they began and their creator, who is upset that they have not made him enough money with their exploits, orders them to fight each other. MIRROR MATCH! It's just as yawn-inducing as all the other fights and after what seems an eternity, justice prevails and the scientist guy is arrested for...something? Perhaps this was his punishment for daring to play God?

--Michelle Kisner