BRUCE'S LAST BATTLE 1982/1986 aka BRUCE & THE SHAOLIN BRONZEMEN aka BRUCE'S NINJA SECRET
Bruce Le (Bruce Wang/Wang Lung), Lo Lieh (Alan), Chang Lee, Lita Vasquez (Miss Saiko/Oki), Chiu Chi Ling (Master Chow)
Directed by Joseph Kong (Joseph Velasco)
"The midgets were ordered...to come here...to find out...where the treasure's hidden..."--A dying man explains the wrath of the midgets to Bruce
The Short Version: The most highly recommended piece of shit I've seen all year is this re-edited alternate cut of BRUCE & THE SHAOLIN BRONZEMEN, an already wacky example of shit-kicker cinema in its 79 minute cut. This different version bearing a completely different English dub is stretched out to 87 minutes removing some of the original films fight scenes (including the ludicrously sloppy "Bronzemen" fight) and replacing them with fights from other Bruce Le movies. For whatever reason, some bits and pieces that pass for exposition are also removed making the longer release even more ridiculous proving once again, there's simply NOTHING on Earth like Asian cinema.
After finishing his kung fu training, Bruce Wang, the son of the unfortunately named Dick Wang, is instructed by his master to locate the other half of a medal that will lead to a vast treasure hidden after WW2. From there, it's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Kung Fu World as Bruce travels around the Philippines battling midget assassins and modeling an array of tank tops while excerpts of his journey to locate the coveted Kung Fu Finger Book (you know, the one Bruce Lee wrote?) from BRUCE'S DEADLY FINGERS (1976) pads the unconscionably wacky running time.
"So, the son of Dick Wang. Take some men and kill him."
This is likely the ultimate Bruce Le vanity project. Throughout Bruce Le's Excellent Filipino Adventure, he sports a neverending wardrobe of tank tops of different colors and even one with the word 'SAPLOT' printed on it (apparently a T shirt brand). He compliments this look with a pair of oversized sun glasses, which he's rarely seen without. For the no holds barred finale, Bruce is suddenly covered in oil so that you at home won't miss any of his musculature. Bruce Le (Huang Chien Lung) had got his start--like so many others--at Shaw Brothers studio appearing in movies like RIVALS OF KUNG FU (1974) and THE SUPER INFRAMAN (1975) before taking his place as one of the numerous martial artists saddled with the less than dignified role as a Bruce Lee clone. Huang later tried his hand at directing movies, too, with titles like NINJA OVER THE GREAT WALL (1987) and COMFORT WOMEN (1990).
No, he's not digging for gold, that's the 'Thumb Across the Nose' style perfected by the real Bruce Lee
Bruce Le, like the other Lee-alikes, take the Lee-isms to such an over the top degree, it becomes parody. Everything from the exaggerated facial expressions to the 'Thumb Across the Nose' technique are all on show here and never fails to cause unintended laughter. Even when he's kicking and punching the hell out of various bad guys, Le--the Chinese Richard Harrison--looks like he could go to sleep at any time, his heavy eyelids often hid behind a large pair of sunglasses. The Bruce Lee clone movies are arguably the most notorious, infamously awful brand of Asian exploitation. Can you imagine what a stream of Elvis impersonator movies would be like?
Bruce fights back falling asleep by thumbing his nose the first of about a dozen times in his patchwork LAST BATTLE
Bruce Le is no ladies man here appearing to fall asleep standing up while the too tall, too beautiful Lita Vasquez ponders a new career
Few of these Clone movies are worth a damn and those that pass for entertainment do so with the utmost conviction to creating the most lousily amusing movie possible. It's difficult to fathom that something like this could ever get made, much less played in an actual movie theater. But lovers of awful movies owe a debt of gratitude to the Spielbergian prowess of such filmmakers as Joseph Kong who apparently was following in the footsteps of kung fu colleagues like the Unholy Trinity of composite kings Joseph Lai, Godfrey Ho and Tomas Tang.
The box states this as BRUCE'S LAST BATTLE, but the onscreen title is BRUCE'S NINJA SECRET. Anybody who ever rented one of Video Gems string of kung fu movies like RENEGADE MONK (1978) and NINJA MASSACRE (1979) will recognize the same red background, lettering font and music from those releases before the actual films credits appear. The bulk of this movie is Joseph Kong's BRUCE & SHAOLIN BRONZEMEN (1982), a film that runs 79 minutes. A small chunk of another Joseph Kong movie also lensed in the Philippines, BRUCE'S DEADLY FINGERS (1976), is implemented to pad the movie out to 87 minutes. Incidentally, a handful of dialog scenes from the BRONZEMEN version are excised which mercilessly confuses an already limited narrative. Oddly enough, the shorter BRONZEMEN version comes complete with ending credits while the longer cut fades simply to a 'The End' card to the accompaniment of the 'Love Theme' from FLASH GORDON.
The original version was an Asso Asia Film and features different credits from this alternate cut. The BRONZEMEN version opens with Bruce Le doing his thing while the credits contain such odd names as Paeng Giant, Perry Boy, Peedoy, D'Vultures and a group known as the SOS Daredevils. The BRUCE redux has names mangled and even gives a co-starring credit to Lo Lieh (billed as Lo Lien) and Chiang Tao (billed as Chiang Dao) who only shows up during an inserted fight at the end with Chang Lee.
Chiu Chi Ling (SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW) shows up briefly in more footage from BRUCE'S DEADLY FINGERS. Lita Vasquez is billed as Eiko Lita. Billed with the credit, 'In a very special role' is Ernie Ortega who occasionally featured in US productions like MISSING IN ACTION (1984) and erotic thrillers like DARK TIDE (1994). As for BRUCE'S LAST BATTLE, US distribution company, 21st Century reportedly shelved this amalgamated version deeming it unreleasable. A shame really as they had an unequivocal, if nonsensical crapola hit on their hands.
Amazingly, some of the fights from the original cut are eliminated including Bruce's bush-league battle with the Bronzemen of the title. It's horribly choreographed, but then so is an attack on Bruce by a horde of half naked, sickle weilding midgets. However, a fight with rabid midgets has a lot more potential than a lackluster 'punch and jab' with a gaggle of old men doused in gold paint.
"He's dead. Murdered by those two midgets!"
The films preoccupation with pygmy's is astonishing. You expect the Filipino pee wee sensation Weng Weng to jump in and help Bruce at any moment considering the carnival level of villainy on display. And that's not counting the transvestites and homosexuals that are trotted out here, too! This is absolutely the single most politically incorrect rib tickler kung fu movie I've ever seen.
"Alan took your uncle...two midgets and one giant fat man..."--Another dying character to Bruce
Two weirdos desire a chubby kids two buckets of ice cream and will do anything--including taking his shirt and pants off--to get it. It's Bruce and his Adidas Bag Kung Fu to the rescue.
The film defies common sense, human decency and a sheer lack of cohesiveness. As long as Bruce Le is mugging for the camera, or showing off his Adidas bag, all is right in this oh so wrong movie. For instance, Bruce is enticed into a pretty girls home for a cup of coffee. Of course, the coffee is drugged. Bruce passes out and the lady proceeds to 'slip into something more comfortable'. You'd think she was going to take a ride on Bruce's Chungking Express, but instead, the lethally amorous woman now has a big knife behind her back ready to plant it in our seemingly sleepy hero.
This overly anxious guy on the left slips and busts his ass jumping into the frame and thankfully, due to the frantic nature of HK cinema, the filmmakers blessed us by leaving it in.
The BRUCE & BRONZEMEN cut also has a totally different dub with different voice performers that looks as if the actors were actually speaking English. It also has a different soundtrack made up of a lot of cues from Jerry Goldsmith's score for the original PLANET OF THE APES (1968). BRONZEMEN redux swaps out the APES tracks for disco tunes and tracks lifted from ALIEN (1979), THE BIG BRAWL (1980) and FLASH GORDON (1980) among others. The sound effects are also night and day between the two films. The BRUCE'S LAST BATTLE mishmash has the more familiar and traditional HK style sound design and voices that are the icing on the proverbial kung fu cake.
To add to this hysterical miasma of moronic magnitude, both cuts have a different order of sequence. In the LAST BATTLE edition, scenes are shuffled around to such an extent, that it wreaks havoc with Bruce Le's near constant costume changes. One minute he's wearing a dark colored tank top, then in the next scene, he's changed to a light colored one. He rarely changes his pants, though. He dons the same pair of tighty whitey bell bottoms most of the running time.
One such instance of devout stupidity occurs near the beginning in the LAST BATTLE cut and a little later in the BRONZEMEN version. Bruce shows up to save a chubby kid from two cretins attempting to steal his two buckets of ice cream. Why they need to remove his pants to take his ice cream is anyone's guess. Maybe they wanted some "cake" to go with their ice cream? Anyway, Bruce beats them up easily as the two guys seem more interested in eating the ice cream than anything else. Then there's the 'Bruce Back Rub' scene where our treasure hunting hero is receiving a massage from a fat lady assassin. Instead of simply crushing him when she had the chance, she tells him to turn over and attempts choking him instead!
By the 66 minute mark, Bruce find the "treasure" in what amounts to a small jewelry box only there's nothing in it. We learn ever so briefly from Chang Lee (who sports a different hairstyle between the two films mashed together here) in the following scene that this supposedly grand and much sought after treasure has already been taken by some unknown party(??), and that it belongs to the country and no one else. Bruce nonchalantly agrees and casually walks away to take part in a sea of fight scenes that make up the remaining twenty minutes with every conceivable villain ones mind could muster.
More midget mayhem ensues, Bruce fights more painfully strained comedy relief goons and duels with the leggy Miss Saiko by the ocean along with her motley clutch of knife fighting women warriors hidden beneath the waves(!) Finally, a massive array of samurai, escrima and various other martial arts fighters attack Bruce for about twenty minutes till a rather disappointing last minute fight with Miss Saiko again. Played by Lita Vasquez, she's a beautiful Filipino actress with skyscraper legs and about a foot taller than Bruce Le. She makes up in looks what she lacks in skill. She also fought the diminutive Weng Weng in THE IMPOSSIBLE KID (1982).
Lo Lieh was Asia's version of John Carradine and like him, Lo made a name for himself in a few trailblazing pictures before renting out his face to any smut peddling kung fu quickie that came down the pike. His scenes in BRUCE'S LAST BATTLE amount to the footage ported over from BRUCE'S DEADLY FINGERS (1976). That film, known as KING BOXER 2 in some territories, was no doubt capitalizing on Lieh's name value from the 1972 Shaw Bros. production that got the proverbial kung fu ball rolling. It also speaks volumes about Lo Lieh's then popularity considering the film is actually Bruce Le's movie.
Anyway, for this here kung fu mash, Lo's scenes are re-dubbed to match the treasure hunt aspect of the already fractured narrative. His scenes really add nothing to the movie, but the makers manage to use these sequences to supplement what's lacking in the much shorter cut under the BRUCE & THE SHAOLIN BRONZEMEN moniker; a title that shamelessly exploits the popularity of Joseph Kuo's hit, THE SHAOLIN BRONZEMEN from 1976. For the Bruce Le version, the appearance of the Bronzemen is sloppily utilized and appears little more than an afterthought.
This BRUCE hodgepodge is non-filmmaking trash at its finest. Quite possibly the greatest piece of cinematic dirty underwear you'd ever be tempted to put on, if equally shitty movies like THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE (1981) and any number of masking tape stitched patchworks from Godfrey Ho tickle your funny bone, give BRUCE'S LAST BATTLE (or whatever the hell you want to call it) a spin in your DVD player.
This review is representative of the Code Red double feature DVD paired with THE GODFATHER SQUAD (1974). The box erroneously states 1.78:1 for BRUCE'S LAST BATTLE.
DVD stats: 2.35:1; anamorphic; 1:26:48
*BRUCE & THE SHAOLIN BRONZEMEN version--1:18:43
*A big thanks to Luca for sending me the BRONZEMEN version some time back. It definitely came in handy!