Saturday, January 13, 2024

Imitating the Dragon: The Historical Significance of Bruceploitation Cinema Part 2 of 2

"There is something wrong inside of them, in their hearts. If a man feels at peace within himself he won't feel the need to challenge others. Moreover, these people who raise challenges have often been ridiculed and they use this type of competition to achieve some ulterior purpose."--Bruce Lee in a 1972 interview when asked about being challenged by other martial artists 
Easily the most flamboyant and enterprising of the Bruce's is Huang Chien Lung (Huang Kin Lung). Bruce Li may be the most respectable of the Bruce doubles, but the most prolific on the international scene was Bruce Le. Where Bruce Li wasn't keen on playing Bruce Lee, Bruce Le wore those roles like a badge of honor. And there was a clear distinction in the quality of both men's work. Where Ho Chung Tao's movies told a story and were, for the most part, reasonably well made, Huang's films lacked cohesion with barely any plot to speak of. Oftentimes looking like they made it up as they went along, the patchwork style of Le's flicks and the plethora of alternate titles only added to the rampant incoherence in every aspect of the productions. (Insert: Lebanese poster announcing upcoming Bruce Lee action in THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE)
A discovery of director Wang Feng (Wong Fung), Burma-born Huang Chien Lung (a few years before he'd take the name of Bruce Le)  was a real martial artist who ran a Kung Fu school in Macau. He'd began his MA training in both Chinese and Japanese arts at the age of 11 and later became just as hungry for the film business as he was for martial arts. Huang signed with Shaw Brothers in 1973 after accepting Wang Feng's invitation to appear in RIVALS OF KUNG FU, a story about famous Chinese martial arts hero Wong Fei Hung. Huang made six movies at Shaw Brothers, the most famous of which was THE SUPER INFRAMAN (1975); a motion picture where he had no opportunity to show much skill as a KF actor. 

Reportedly, at the time he was shooting RIVALS OF KUNG FU, someone at the studio told him he looked and moved like the late Bruce Lee. Huang replied back, "I look and move like Huang Chien Lung!"  This exchange must've recurred to Huang a few years later, giving him the idea to re-brand himself as a Bruce Lee imitator since it was working fairly well internationally for Ho Chung Tao, alias Bruce Li. (Insert: Huang Chien Lung and Run Run Shaw exchange New Year well wishes at the Shaw Studios Chinese New Year Party in 1975)

Since most of Huang's movies where he's billed as Bruce Le never played theaters in Hong Kong, it's difficult to find information on them as periodicals of the day seldom mentioned him; nor was he listed among some 160 leading actors working in Hong Kong in 1978. The rarest of his HK productions was, ironically, among the most publicized back in the day; and seemingly, Bruce Le wasn't initially among the cast. (Insert: Italian poster for 1979s BRUCE LE'S GREATEST REVENGE as BRUCE LEE THE FLYING DRAGOON)

THE BIG BOSS 2 (THE SECOND BROTHER FROM TANGSHAN in Chinese) began filming in 1976; it was funded by entrepreneur Chow Yi Fung (Zhou Yi Feng) and his HK Skylight Film Company (Tian Xiang Films). Mr. Chow was apparently far more successful in the aviation and shipping industries than his foray into the film world. His production house only made three movies before it shut down--the biggest of these being CHINA ARMED ESCORT aka THE BODYGUARD starring Taiwanese TV and movie actress, producer, writer and director, Pearl Cheung Ling. She was a martial artist who found international fame in a trilogy of Wuxia fantasies--WOLF DEVIL WOMAN (WOLFEN NINJA), MATCHING ESCORT (VENUS THE NINJA) and MIRACULOUS FLOWER (PHOENIX THE NINJA)
Strangely, THE BIG BOSS 2 was among the most heavily promoted Bruceploitation pictures at the time and has since become the hardest of the sub-genre to find. Judging by multiple articles about its filming in 1976, Bruce Le wasn't listed as part of the original cast. It's possible his scenes were added and shot some time later. Director Chan Chue had a legitimate Lee association; he'd been both an actor and the AD on the original THE BIG BOSS in 1971. (Insert: Filming BIG BOSS 2 in Thailand; Lo Lieh at right, Wang Ping in the middle, and director Chan Chue at left)

Exterior filming took place in Thailand. Actress Wang Ping (KING BOXER; THE SISTER OF THE SHANTUNG BOXER) was hired as the female lead due to her popularity there. In the end, THE BIG BOSS 2 allegedly cost over HK$1 million to make and only brought in HK$82,661 in 6 days when it was released in Hong Kong in 1978.

Apparently, Lo Lieh and Bruce Le would shoot the fan favorite BRUCE'S DEADLY FINGERS (1976) around the same time. This one makes about as much sense as most Bruce Le flicks. Large chunks of this movie would turn up in BRUCE'S NINJA SECRET, aka BRUCE'S LAST BATTLE; a movie strung together using equally large amounts of footage from Joseph Kong's Filipino lensed BRUCE AND THE SHAOLIN BRONZEMEN (1982); one of the wackiest of the Bruce Clone pictures.

Many of Bruce Le's movies didn't play in Hong Kong. He frequently worked in every other Asian market making approximately two dozen movies for P.T. Insantra Films--owned by Robert Jeffrey (Robert Theh) and Duncan Leong. This cooperation would give Huang Chien Lung a major boost on the international market by the start of the 1980s. (Insert: Lebanese poster for 1978s MY NAME CALLED BRUCE. The martial arts choreographers are billed as Mulo Chiba and Nelson Lee)
By the mid-70s in Southeast Asia, cooperation between territories was not only beneficial but necessary.
In 1976, Hong Kong and Indonesia formed partnerships with their respective countries for filmmaking endeavors after film industries in Southeast Asia were hit hard by the oil crisis, the television market, and Vietnam falling to the communists--resulting in the loss of that market and others like the Khmer Republic. Moreover, the Philippines then unified with China so that affected the industry as well. The 22nd Asian Film Festival, for example, was supposed to have been held there but it was reassigned to be held in South Korea due to the political conflict. (Insert: Spanish poster for FIVE PRETTY YOUNG LADIES as THE FIVE SISTERS OF BRUCE LEE)

As a result, other Asian territories decided to focus their resources on building their domestic product and imposed regulations on film imports from Hong Kong. This in turn affected the selling of HK movies to other countries like Thailand and Indonesia. So now, distributors became more selective on what titles they chose to pay licenses for. They also became more stringent on the types of movies they purchased. With the growing emphasis on stronger scenes of sex and violence, such films were frowned upon outside Hong Kong. Naturally, there would be multiple versions made exclusively for the various censor-prone markets that now had tighter restrictions than before. (Top: Italian fotobusta for BROTHERS TWO as BRUCE LEE: THE ROARING TIGER STRIKES AGAIN; insert: Lebanese poster for EAGLE'S CLAW re-titled as BRUCE LEE AND THE EAGLE'S CLAW)

On March 15th, 1976, a delegation of five film stars and four representatives from Cinemart Magazine were invited for the opening ceremony of the first color film laboratory in Indonesia, called P.T. International Cine and Studio Center, Limited. This was to be a bridge between the two territories for mutual cooperation in their industries. Among the stars present for the ceremony were Chen Kuan Tai, James Yi Lei, Li Ching, and Shaw Yin Yin. 
Bruce Le would greatly benefit from this by making many incredibly cheap action pictures not just in Indonesia, but South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. His movies were largely ignored in Hong Kong, and the few that weren't made little money there.
By 1977, Bruce Le had entered the Dragon sweepstakes and made what seemed like a million movies aping everything memorable about Bruce Lee's films. The actor made over a dozen pictures utilizing various iconography from Lee's limited filmography. Le's catalog is also confusing in the most frustrating way with a myriad of interchangeable titles, multiple versions, and mix n' match edits. His films never had much in the way of narratives either. What passed for plots in Le's movies was bare minimum and built around an endless stream of fight sequences. 
To add even more confusion, foreign distributors would market these films to give the impression Bruce Le was starring in a picture he wasn't actually in. One example is the German promotion for 1978s STORMING ATTACKS starring Bruce Li and John Cheung. Marketed as BRUCE LEE THE RAVENOUS COUGAR (see top image), the distributors decided to deceive patrons into thinking Bruce Le was also starring in the movie by putting his face on the advertising. Another example is a version of the French publicity for BRUCE LI IN NEW GUINEA (1979) as BRUCE LEE IN NEW GUINEA (see insert). It's a Bruce Li picture but this particular bit of promotion gives the impression both Li and Le are starring together!
One of Huang Chien Lung's films that played HK theaters was BRUCE AND SHAOLIN KUNG FU (1977). A P.T. Insantra production funded with Indonesian and South Korean financing, it featured many familiar faces both in front of, and behind, the camera. Actors James Nam (who also co-directs), Chiang Tao and Bolo Yeung appear while Joseph Kong acts as a screenwriter. Shaolin movies were big business between 1976-1978 so Bruce and his financiers were keen to chop off a share of the monastery market for themselves. (Insert: French poster for BRUCE AND SHAOLIN KUNG FU as THE VENGEANCE OF SHAOLIN)
When BRUCE AND SHAOLIN KUNG FU was released in HK in 1978, it only made HK$90,615. Astonishingly, it was kept in theaters for 7 days. This longer run for a pittance box office take may be due to the film only playing English theater lines. HK theaters that played movies made by or for foreigners tended to stay in theaters longer than local product. 

Despite not making money in HK, it must've made money elsewhere because a sequel was released the same year; likely shot simultaneously. The first film managed to get a Japanese release at the tail end of the Karate Boom there, released as FIST OF FURY PART 2. To accentuate how these imitator films were largely made for foreign audiences, the word 'Bruce'  is nowhere to be found in the Chinese titles. Part one is called BODHIDHARMA IRON FINGER KUNG FU while part 2 is titled BURNING AT THE GATES OF SHAOLIN.

When GAME OF DEATH (1978) was finally completed and released in 1978 by Golden Harvest, it was arguably the most polished Bruceploitation motion picture yet made. Unintentionally funny and as offensive as any of the no-budget imitator flicks, this was the second of three times Raymond Chow produced a movie banking money from the dead superstar. The first was the 1973 Lee documentary that Chow rushed into theaters, BRUCE LEE, THE MAN AND THE LEGEND; then GAME OF DEATH; and then GAME OF DEATH 2, aka TOWER OF DEATH (1981).
GAME OF DEATH 2 was reported to have begun filming in the summer of 1978 with shooting having commenced in Japan and Yasuaki Kurata starring. It was also reported that director Ng See Yuen was using outtakes from Bruce's movies to formulate whatever the plot of the film was originally supposed to be. Director Ng remained attached to the project but Kurata didn't by the time the film started up again in 1980.
TOWER OF DEATH (1981) is certainly exploitative but easily a better movie than its even more embarrassing predecessor. Korean martial artist Kim Tai Chung, aka Tong Long (not to be confused with Lou Rei's older brother), was Lee's stand-in on GAME OF DEATH (1978) and played his ghost in NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER (1986). Like many others, there was nothing about Kim that resembled the dead Kung Fu star. As it were, Hong Kong audiences showed an equal amount of disinterest in TOWER OF DEATH as they did most of the others in the late 1970s.
Bruce Le, who was always game for riding a bandwagon, would do his own version of GAME OF DEATH in what would be one of his more popular movies. 

ENTER THE GAME OF DEATH is not good but it's endlessly entertaining; especially the action sequences inside the "pagoda", that is nothing more than a small office lit with different color lighting each time Bruce takes on a new opponent. Like most Le movies, there's barely a plot and what little is there is held flimsily together by near constant fight scenes. A co-production with South Korea, it apparently got a HK release in 1981 after Le had attracted attention in America in 1980 when his films were being shown on television, ENTER being the first. (Insert: In Thailand, the distributors couldn't be bothered to put Bruce Le as the main image on the poster, so they used the real Lee instead)

By the start of the new decade in 1980, mainstream theater play for Kung Fu films had vanished. Drive-in's and their seedier major city equivalents were safe havens; but Chinese Fist n’ Kickers would have to find a new, more stable home.

The owners of P.T. Insantra then struck a deal with Roy Winnick, proprietor of Best Film and Video Corporation, to release Bruce's Insantra catalog in America. If you grew up in the 1980s, you surely saw a multitude of Bruce Le pictures in K-mart in the VHS section; and in video stores across the country. Winnick then licensed the titles for television syndication. This, of course, was around the same time the Black Belt Theater packages hit the airwaves in what became the second Kung Fu Boom in America. (Insert: Italian poster for 1973s THE CHIVALROUS KNIGHT, aka THE CHINESE GODFATHER as THE CHINESE GODFATHER: THE LAST DAYS OF BRUCE LEE)

Another of Bruce's films that played HK was his most ambitious feature at the time, 1981s BRUCE STRIKES BACK; ambitious in scope and not its funding. It was promoted as being the first Kung Fu picture fully funded by European producers but directed by a Chinese; that being Bruce Le and apparently an un-credited Joseph Kong, a frequent collaborator with Bruce who also went by the name of Joseph Velasco. (Italian promotion for BRUCE STRIKES BACK, aka BRUCE'S NINJA SECRET, as BRUCE LEE STILL LIVES, crediting Bruce Lee and Joseph Kong as directors)
One of the highlights of the movie was the final fight with Korean kicking sensation Hwang Jang Lee taking place inside the Roman Colosseum; something that hadn't been allowed before. Bruce Lee got some shots of the famed locale for his final duel in WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972), but the actual fight was shot inside a studio. The budget for Le’s globe-trotting KF adventure was only US$50,000. (Insert: Bruce Le behind the camera setting up a shot on BRUCE STRIKES BACK)

Actor and bodybuilder Yang Tze, aka Bolo Yeung, was a frequent performer in Bruce Le's movies. Bolo had taken a role as a bodyguard in ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) after he and Bruce Lee met on the set of a cigarette commercial for Winston cigarettes. Lee was promoting his movie WAY OF THE DRAGON and he and the strongman became friends. Unfortunately, we never got to see the two men fight in the released version of ENTER THE DRAGON, but Bolo was nevertheless an integral part of the mythos; so fans got to see the muscleman battle the fake one many times. You never saw him in Bruce Li's films so Bruce Le rectified this by fitting him in whenever possible.
To the detriment of already shoddy productions, Bolo was rarely ever utilized sufficiently in those films; he would get a fight scene or two and be defeated far too quickly. There may have been reasons for this; like his out of the blue appearance in fan favorite BRUCE'S DEADLY FINGERS (1976). Bolo's screen-time amounts to about five minutes, which may have been simply a favor while he was on a break from filming another movie a few blocks down. (Insert: Bruce Le and Bolo battle in ENTER THE GAME OF DEATH)

Whether for good or ill, the mass exportation of cheap Kung Fu pictures killed off the genres theatrical staying power in overseas markets. The most likely scenario is that audience tastes and expectations for how movies were made changed due to STAR WARS in 1977. Mainstream viewers had moved on while the Drive-in and 42nd Street crowds remained. In 1978, even HK journalists were noting that if Chinese filmmakers wanted to maintain and even increase the US market for their KF films, they needed to make fewer of them and increase the quality or else they will lose what little market share they had at the time. (Top: Mexican promotion for BRUCE'S SECRET KUNG FU, a cut-and-paste movie made up of footage from BRUCE'S FINGERS and BRUCE AND THE SHAOLIN BRONZEMEN; aka BRUCE'S NINJA SECRET)
Like the moniker "Spaghetti Western", a label that later became a term of endearment, the Kung Fu flick had a far more condescending and derogatory term applied, that being "Chopsocky". Further, the plethora of dubbed KF flicks snatched up on an almost daily basis did nothing to change casual viewers and critics perceptions of these movies. Leading the charge was the seemingly endless series of pictures starring Bruce Le.

The enterprising Lee-alike had successfully made the move to the US home video and burgeoning cable television market. TV became the new home of Kung Fu via Black Belt Theater packages. Made up mostly of Shaw Brothers pictures, there was an occasional Bruce-ish flick mixed in like DYNAMO (1978) and barely bio's like BRUCE LEE'S WAYS OF KUNG FU. Video store shelves were stocked full of titles from companies like Saturn Video, Master Arts, All Seasons Entertainment and Unicorn Video to name a few. Among them were a proliferation of Bruce Le flicks like BRUCE LE'S GREATEST REVENGE, BRUCE VS. BILL, BRUCE THE SUPERHERO, and BRUCE'S FISTS OF VENGEANCE to name a few. (Top: Greek poster for BRUCE VS. BILL; insert: Bruce Le VHS releases)
Bruce Le was also a director, and guided himself in a handful of his Pretend Lee pictures. He famously turned up in the Euro-US gore-horror spectacle, PIECES (1983). Produced by Dick Randall, Bruce was a close friend of the American exploitation peddler, so he got a bizarre cameo appearing on-camera with Lynda Day George. Le's career includes movies that are outside the Bruce Lee Imitator spectrum like THE MAD COLD-BLOODED MURDER (1981) and THE SUPER GANG (1982), but it's the incredibly cheap, barely decipherable Bruce-a-thon's that fans remember best. (Insert: Spanish lobby card for SUPER GANG as THE BRUCE LE GANG)
There were many more Heirs of the Dragon and others important to his legacy...

1. From Korea came Dragon Lee, aka Moon Kyoung Seok (or Keo Ryong); one of the top three most recognizable and prolific of the actual Bruce Lee clone actors. The Korean Dragon is very popular among Kung Fu fans although few of his movies played in HK theaters; those being films like KUNG FU FEVER (1979) and fan favorite, THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE (1980). DRAGON ON FIRE (1979), alias THE DRAGON, THE HERO is another. It's not a leading part for Dragon Lee, but was promoted as one in some areas. 
Directed by Godfrey Ho, it's memorable for the infamous scene where a dog bites off Chan Lau's penis. It's actually John Liu (Liu Chung Chiang) in the leading role. Liu was from Taiwan and studied Japanese arts winning tournaments at 14 years old. He's also reported to have defeated Chuck Norris in Paris during a live event in 1976. Liu was discovered by Ng See Yuen through European martial arts magazines. He called Paris home and taught his own style there, Zen Kwan Do. John Liu is popular among fans, but he was never a major star in Hong Kong. In some markets, it appears John Liu was billed as Bruce Lei. THE DRAGON, THE HERO is the only movie John Liu did with a Bruce impersonator. (Insert: Lebanese poster for THE DRAGON, THE HERO with John Liu seemingly listed as Bruce Lei above Dragon Lee and Bruce Lee misleadingly top-billed over everyone else)
Some of the bulkier Dragon's most enjoyable entries had him co-starring with Korean super-kicking sensation Hwang Jang Lee; three of their South Korean-made movies being SECRET NINJA, ROARING TIGER (1982), MARTIAL MONKS OF SHAOLIN TEMPLE and 5-PATTERN DRAGON CLAWS (both 1983). These productions showcase lots of HJL kicking action and Dragon Lee in fine form. (Insert: Lebanese poster for FIVE PATTERN DRAGON CLAWS as KING OF DRAGON BOXERS)

Built like a brick wall, Dragon Lee was a more lithe version of Bolo Yeung. He looked like he regularly lifted weights while Bolo had a body akin to a power-lifter. Whenever Dragon Lee did his Bruce impersonations it looked comical, particularly when he'd shake his head wildly. Even when he was doing films not marketed as a Bruce clone work, some of Lee's mannerisms crept in anyway. (Insert: Turkish poster for 1981s ENTER THE INVINCIBLE HERO. In this instance, Dragon Lee must've had marquee value since the promotion doesn't resort to billing Bruce Lee in the title)
Easily the most popular movie to star Dragon Lee was THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE (1980). It also starred Bruce Le and Bruce Lai, alias Kwok Si Chi. The latter Lee-alike had been a bit player in some Shaw Brothers pictures and CLONES was his biggest role. Of the three Lee's featured, he looks the least like the Little Dragon. CLONES is a favorite of many for its kooky story, non-stop action, send-up of spy movies and the HK film industry itself. (Top: Mexican promotion for THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE)
2. Taiwanese actor Lung Tien Sheng mimicked Lee in some of his early movies like THE REVENGE DRAGON (1973). By the end of the decade he was doing it again in 1979s SEA GIRLS or, as it was also known in Asian territories BRUCE LEE AGAINST SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW; that title cashing in on both the Lee name as well as the explosion of Jackie Chan--who in 1978 had found the fame he'd been looking for in Yuen Woo Ping's SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW; and to a greater degree, in DRUNKEN MASTER (both 1978)

That same year in 1979, Lung Tien Sheng would play Bruce Lee in THE TRUE GAME OF DEATH; and did a surprisingly good job in the role. On a par with the utter ridiculousness of this sub-genre, some Chinese posters pasted Lung's head onto Lee's body in an image taken from ENTER THE DRAGON; while other versions of the poster used the unobstructed image of Bruce Lee in the same pose. This example of false advertising may have been inspired by the infamous shot in GAME OF DEATH where an image of Bruce Lee's head is taped to a mirror concealing the actor's real face.
By the end of December in '79, Lung Tien Sheng would be at Shaw Brothers Studio in Hong Kong to start re-shoots on Chang Cheh's TEN TIGERS OF KWANGTUNG (1980) and play a leading role in Chang's FLAG OF IRON (1980). He was a known actor in Taiwan, but in Hong Kong, he was a new face. Possessing a lot of charisma, he unfortunately never hit the big time in Hong Kong. His portrayal of Bruce Lee remains an underrated performance. (Top: Italian fotobusta for THE TRUE GAME OF DEATH as BRUCE LEE, THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD; Insert: German poster as BRUCE LEE: HIS BEST FIGHTS)
3. FIST OF FEAR, TOUCH OF DEATH (1980) stands out from virtually every other movie in the Bruce impersonator sub-genre; and that's not because it's a good movie. Depending on one's point of view, Matthew Mallinson's 1980 flick is either one of the most entertaining or the most tasteless of the lot. It also stands out by not having an actual clone in the movie, but Lee himself! 
What's wildly offensive about it (or hilarious, again depending on your POV) is that it utilizes old footage of Lee as a young teenager and adult and dubs new, totally unrelated dialog over the footage. There's also footage of the Taiwan-lensed Swordplay feature FORCED TO FIGHT, released here as THE INVINCIBLE SUPER CHAN, that is used to tell the story of how Bruce's grandfather was a samurai warrior! 
It showed that American producers could milk the Lee name as deceptively as the Chinese producers; it's a one-of-a-kind movie that must be seen to be believed. The reason for the sub-genres existence was to mine as much money off the dead superstar as possible. Before his death, the hope was to find an actor that could compete with Lee. After, it was finding one who could mimic him.... it wasn't just the men, either. 
4. In February of 1973, journalists were referring to actress Chia Ling (Judy Lee) as "the female Bruce Lee". She was a hot commodity in Taiwan after an impressive debut in QUEEN BOXER (1972) aka THE AVENGER (HATRED in Chinese). In this picture, Chia Ling plays Ma Su Chen, the sister to Ma Yung Chen of the HK box office sensation BOXER FROM SHANTUNG starring Chen Kuan Tai and directed by the venerable Chang Cheh. A discovery of actor-filmmaker Peter Yang Chun, Chia Ling was a student of the Fu Shing Drama School. She studied Peking Opera alongside classmates Angela Mao Ying and Charlie Chin Hsiang Lin for a ten year period. 
Signing with HK Fong Ming Motion Pictures in 1971, it was a new independent company founded by the husband and wife team of Yang Chun and Florence Yu. They had Chia Ling doing martial arts demonstrations on television before introducing her to movie audiences in THE AVENGER and THE ESCAPE, both directed by Florence Yu and released in 1972. THE AVENGER (released in America as QUEEN BOXER where she was promoted as “the female Bruce Lee” on the poster) purportedly made more money in Taiwan, but was the most profitable of the BOXER FROM SHANTUNG spin-offs in Hong Kong. It held out for 11 days in theaters, bringing in HK$753,121 at the end of its run there. In 1973, Chia Ling told journalist Annie Wong, "My greatest wish in this industry is to be a good actor, and not a movie star". Chia Ling stayed busy in movies the entirety of the 1970s.

5. When Bruce Lee died, there were already numerous other big stars and many hit films; the desire was for a new performer that could hit the off-the-chart box office highs for action movies in the HK$3-HK$5 million range the way Lee did. That didn't come till 1978 and from Jackie Chan, a one-time pseudo Bruce imitator and an actor whose action movie style was the exact opposite of Bruce Lee. Lo Wei tried turning Chan into an assortment of genre personas from heroes to a villain. His first flick for Lo Wei was an attempt to recapture an earlier glory with NEW FIST OF FURY (1976), discussed in PART 1. (Insert: Israeli promotion for NEW FIST OF FURY)
Chan's success at the end of the decade eventually led to the destruction of the traditional Kung Fu movie. Like Lee, Chan was even more obsessed with topping himself; and in so doing, he killed the genre off, then brought it back again in a different form in the early 80s with films like DRAGON LORD (1982) and PROJECT A (1983). In reference to both men, Bruce Le's company, Dragon Films, distributed a Bruce-Jackie combo clone flick called BRUCE AND JACKIE TO THE RESCUE (1981).

6. Another HK Kung Fu flick that was re-packaged in America as a Bruce Lee styled motion picture was 1972s KUNG FU, THE INVISIBLE FIST aka THE GOOD AND THE BAD starring Chen Sing and Yasuaki Kurata. The latter was a Japanese Karate master whom Chang Cheh gave a career in Hong Kong KF movies to after putting him in THE ANGRY GUEST that same year. The poster for KUNG FU, THE INVISIBLE FIST had the most instructive tagline of all the US Kung Fu releases that repeatedly confused the Chinese and Japanese arts with, "Learn the difference between Karate and Kung Fu!"  
Later re-titled THE REAL DRAGON, Kurata was then marketed as Sonny Bruce--equal parts Sonny Chiba and Bruce Lee. Kurata was also being promoted as Bruce Lo for THE DRAGONS CLAW, a Japanese Karate picture titled WHICH IS STRONGER, KARATE OR TIGER? (1976). Kurata has the distinction of being the sole Japanese film actor in the American distribution of Chinese-language movies to have two monikers milking the Bruce Lee lineage. (Top: Italian fotobusta for KUNG FU THE INVISIBLE FIST, aka THE REAL DRAGON, as THE VIOLENT ARM OF KUNG FU)

7. It was KING BOXER (1972) that started the world's fascination with Kung Fu movies in 1973. But in Japan, what really caused the Karate Boom in Nipponese society was Bruce Lee. Several dozen Chinese martial arts flicks were scooped up and released in Japan in 1974 after ENTER THE DRAGON was a smash hit there. This inspired Toei executives and superstar Sonny Chiba to produce their own martial arts actioners. The boom lasted from 1974-1977; and by 1978, period-set Samurai sagas took control. Bruce Lee, though, was still very popular in Japan with re-releases of his films bringing in good box office. In the Land of the Rising Sun, the Clones were no substitute for the real thing. (Insert: SOUL OF BRUCE LEE in Italy as BRUCE LEE'S SCREAM STILL TERRIFIES)
Among the last of the Karate pictures was VIOLENT DEATH! WAY OF THE EVIL FIST (1977), known elsewhere as SOUL OF CHIBA and SOUL OF BRUCE LEE. Independently co-financed by stars Sonny Chiba and Tadashi Yamashita, this Thai-shot actioner co-stars Bolo Yeung, Etsuko Shihomi and Shikamura Ito, aka Lu Chuan; a Japanese martial artist who worked frequently in Hong Kong, and primarily at Shaw Studio. (Insert: combo Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba ballyhoo on the US poster for SOUL OF CHIBA)
Outside Japan, Tadashi Yamashita had a brief flirtation with the Bruce Clone movement. In America, New Line Cinema had some degree of success with the first in his trilogy known in Japan as THE KARATE (1974-1975). It was re-titled for US release as BRONSON LEE, CHAMPION. The film must've been popular elsewhere because Tadashi co-starred alongside Yasuaki Kurata in a Hong Kong movie produced by indy company Goldig titled THE MAGNIFICENT 3 (1980). For the HK promotion, and other territories, Tadashi was billed as Bronson Lee. Just as Bruce Lee had been, Charles Bronson was very popular in Hong Kong. (Insert: French poster for THE MAGNIFICENT 3 as THE 3 KUNG FU PROFESSIONALS)
8. Henry Yu Yang, star of 1973s THE AWAKEN PUNCH (or EARTH-SHATTERING FIST), became an unwitting Bruce Lee knock-off in America. The 1974 film THE BRAVE LION was re-titled REVOLT OF THE DRAGON for stateside release. The film's poster infers the movie is about the late Bruce Lee, using an image of Henry Yu Yang who isn't even in the movie. The still used for the poster is from the 1974 Kung Fu Comedy WITS TO WITS. Continuing Henry Yu's tenuous Lee connection, he co-starred with Chen Sing in 1972s TOUGH GUY. In America, TOUGH GUY was re-titled KUNG FU MASTER: BRUCE LEE STYLE; the poster featuring an image of the Little Dragon in the top corner.
A graduate of Shaw Brothers Nanguo Experimental Theater Troupe, he declined signing with the company and went with Cathay Pictures, the other major company in HK at that time. When they shut down in 1971, Yu Yang went the indy route.  A student of his AWAKEN PUNCH co-star Fang Yeh, he co-starred in Ng See Yuen's surprise hit THE BLOODY FISTS in 1972 alongside former Shaw support player and new leading man Chen Sing. Henry Yu Yang, though, wasn't an imposing figure on-camera; so the actor whose leading man status took off was his co-star Chen Sing. It's important to note that Yu Yang wasn't being promoted as a new Bruce Lee in Hong Kong; he was only being pushed as a new action star there. 

9. One actor who was being quietly pushed as "Bruce Lee number 2" at Golden Harvest was Korean martial artist Byong Yu. He looked nothing like Lee in any way, but apparently the producers saw something in him that resonated the late JKD founder. The company's own publication, Golden Movie News, heavily promoted Byong's expertise in the arts in the hopes he would stand out in an already crowded field. After a star turn in the modern day thriller called THE ASSOCIATION (1975), it was one-and-done for Byong Yu's movie career.

10. Then there was the 1976 Korean Kung Fu fight-fest VISITOR TO AMERICA starring Korean TKD expert Jun Chong. That title doesn't exactly scream action so Aquarius Releasing gave it a new name and a wacky opening scene to match the thoroughly bizarre title they saddled it with--BRUCE LEE FIGHTS BACK FROM THE GRAVE. It's worth a watch to see an early performance by future ninja sensation Sho Kosugi (see insert with Jun Chong)
When he was a boy, Jun Chong's mother encouraged him to learn martial arts although he had little interest in it. This was amplified when he suffered a broken arm during his training. He persevered and eventually won a gold medal in Korea's Olympic games in 1964. He came to America in 1966 and by 1970, Jun Chong was teaching TKD. Unlike Bruce Lee, Jun competed in tournaments and won the USA National TKD Tournament's Grand Championship in 1972.

When Jun first became interested in making movies, he auditioned for the role of Bruce Lee in Robert Clouse's abandoned Bruce bi-opic 'Tribute To Bruce Lee', later called 'The Life and Legend of Bruce Lee'. According to Jun in a 1976 interview, after VISITOR TO AMERICA was a big hit in his native Korea, he returned home and made two additional films, 'The Kingdom' and 'Triple Agency', but never learned if either picture played theaters in his homeland or anywhere else. By 1980, Jun Chong had went back to teaching his growing number of students (in the thousands) and never acted again.

11. Then there was a Hawaiian martial artist named Myron Lee who co-starred with ENTER THE DRAGON's Jim Kelly in DEATH DIMENSION (1978) directed by Al Adamson. The cast featured two James Bond alums including one-time 007 George Lazenby; Harold Sakata was the other. As for Myron, he was re-named Myron BRUCE Lee for the film's advertising. Like other potential heirs to the KF crown, Myron never did another movie.

12. In Part One, the first so-called Bruce Lee imitator came from Taiwan; that man being Luo Zhen, or Lo Chen (not to be confused with Lo Chen the film director), or Tong Lung, better known as the older brother to Alexander Lo (or Lou or Luo) of movies like INCREDIBLE KUNG FU MISSION (1980), NEW SOUTHERN FISTS NORTHERN KICKS (1981), SHAOLIN VS. NINJA (1983), SHAOLIN VS. LAMA (1983) and MAFIA VS. NINJA (1985). Since very little is known about him, this section can expand on who he was and his Chinese Connection to the Lee-alike sub-genre. (Top: Tong Long in THE GROWLING TIGER; Insert: Tong Long and his brother Lo Rei duel in SHAOLIN CHASTITY KUNG FU)

Lo the elder came from a martial arts family and studied TKD in Taiwan. He had a two year period as a leading man before dropping out of the industry and reappearing in 1976. In 1974, Tong Lung became friends with former-actor-turned-filmmaker Lan Tien Hong. Mr. Lan would produce Tong's last movie during his leading man phase with THE BEST OF THE WORST (1974), aka CAPTURE THE KILLER for his Lan Tien Motion Picture Company.
Lan's connection to Tong also extends to the Bruce clone movement as he was the producer of THE STORY OF THE DRAGON (1976), aka BRUCE LEE'S SECRET, aks BRUCE LEE'S DEADLY KUNG FU--starring Ho Chung Tao and Carter Wong. It was through producer Lan that Tong's brother (also a MA champion), Lou Rei, got into the film industry where he would then meet Robert Tai Chi Hsien. 
The younger Luo brother debuted in Robert Tai's DEVIL KILLER (1981), a film that was largely made up of scenes from his older brother's CAPTURE THE KILLER from 1974. All four men--Lan Tien Hong, Tong Lung, Lou Rei, and Robert Tai--worked on this picture together and on subsequent films after it. Tong never had a major leading role upon his return to the industry, but he did receive leading villain roles in a handful of Robert Tai's movies like SHAOLIN CHASTITY KUNG FU (1983) and MAFIA VS NINJA (1985). He should be remembered as one of, if not the first actor, to be marketed as a Bruce Lee-style action star in both Chinese-speaking territories and overseas markets. (Insert: Turkish poster for DEVIL KILLER)

13. In 1975, it was announced that Robert Clouse would direct a Warner Brothers documentary about Bruce Lee's life titled 'Tribute To Bruce Lee'. It was to have been based on Linda Lee's 1975 book, 'Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew'.  The actor chosen to play Lee was a 23 year old martial artist named Alex Kwon. Born in Hong Kong as Kwok Ki Chung, he had studied the Northern KF style, My Jhong Law Horn, since he was 6 years old. What was immediately evident, and something that wasn't lost on Warner executives, was that Kwon didn't look like Bruce Lee; nor was his traditional Kung Fu style remotely similar to Lee's JKD, a style that abandoned traditional Chinese fighting forms. 

Ultimately, this film was never made. Allegedly, neither Linda Lee nor director Clouse could agree on details of the production so they parted ways. The ENTER THE DRAGON director would return to Hong Kong to begin work finishing Lee's THE GAME OF DEATH (1978) at Golden Harvest in 1977. In 1993, Linda Lee Cadwell's book 'Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew'  would finally be brought to the screen as DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY with Jason Scott Lee (no relation) in the role of the Dragon. Linda Lee would write another book about her late husband in 1989 titled 'The Bruce Lee Story'. As for Alex Kwon, he reportedly moved to London where he went back to training students in the martial arts. (Insert: Linda Lee and Alex Kwon looking over the script for the unmade Bruce bio)

14. Bruce's wife, Linda Lee Cadwell, is also an important, if unwitting, individual in this much-maligned sub-genre. You would occasionally see some occidental actress playing her in some of these films. Linda Lee sued the American producers/distributors of some of the Bruce clone movies for using her late husband's likeness without the estate's permission. Two films were cited-- 1974s SUPER DRAGON, aka THE DRAGON DIES HARD and 1976s CHINESE CHIEH CHUAN KUNG FU, aka BRUCE LEE: SUPER DRAGON. The Los Angeles Superior Court ordered Allied Artists, Hallmark Productions, Esquire Productions and Winthrop Amusements to pay $25,000 to Lee's estate. (Insert: Linda Lee in Great Britain on her book tour in 1975)
When it came to the exploitation of her husband in Hong Kong, Linda Lee was reported to have objected to, then quietly dropped her rejection towards, the release of BRUCE LEE, THE MAN AND THE LEGEND (1973); the documentary Raymond Chow rushed into theaters a few months after Lee's passing. (Insert: Lee's butler Wu Ngan, Linda and Raymond Chow at court over the mysterious death of Bruce Lee in 1973)
Curiously, Linda was friendly with Bruce's paramour, Betty Ting Pei. At a court hearing about Bruce's death in October of 1973, Linda was seen holding Betty's hand. The following day she attracted more attention by personally taking Ting Pei to dinner. With Betty next to her, she made a public statement for citizens to please not believe the stories of Bruce and Betty, citing their friendship for the past year. This was a futile attempt to calm the fury of the public that felt a seething hatred towards Ting Pei. In 1981, Betty Ting Pei revealed in an interview that she and Linda remained friends and that she had written her a letter after Bruce's death and that she would never reveal its contents. (Insert: Bruce and Linda celebrate Lee's birthday in 1972)
15. Then there's Robert Lee (Li Zhen Hui, or Li Jun Fai), Bruce's younger brother. He chose a different career path from his older, more famous brother. A popular HK musician in the mid to late 1960s, he would move to the United States in 1969 to go to college. While there, he took computer courses. In 1975, he recorded an album dedicated to his late sibling titled 'The Ballad of Bruce Lee'. Robert Lee would return to Hong Kong in 1976 for singing engagements and to sign a three-picture deal with Golden Harvest. The reason he signed with the company was he wanted to make a film about his relationship with Bruce Lee. Raymond Chow had other plans, putting the singer and would-be actor in two comedies co-starring with Sylvia Chang. It was reported in 1978 that Robert was soon to begin shooting 'The Dragon's Brother'  for the company. Announced as being directed by LADY WHIRLWIND's Huang Feng (sometimes listed as Wong Fung, but not the same Wong Fung that discovered Bruce Le), filming was to have taken place in Holland, South Korea and Macau. The younger Lee did do one more movie for the Central Motion Picture Company, A TITLE RE-WON (1979), a film that looks like a Chinese version of ROCKY (1976). Robert Lee did finally do a film about his brother's life in the 2010 Hong Kong film, BRUCE LEE, MY BROTHER.

16. One martial artist who is often referred to as a Lee impersonator wasn't technically one of them; but did play Bruce Lee in one of the more rare and popular clone pictures. Bruce Liang was the real deal. The son of a well known martial arts instructor,   Liang Hsiao Leung (Liang Hsiao Lung) starred in THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN (1977), his one time playing Lee in what amounted to a playful spoof that was intended to be a tribute of sorts to the late superstar. The rumor that his penis was hard at death is visualized for tastelessly comedic effect here. There's no plot to speak of other than Lee goes to Hell and meets a variety of famous film and pop culture characters like Zatoichi, Popeye, The Exorcist, Emmanuelle, The Man With No Name, the One Armed Swordsman, etc, and fights mummies and skeletons. Like most of these impersonator flicks, moviegoers in Hong Kong weren't all that interested in the Dragon's resurrection as depicted in Law Chi's cult favorite. It made HK$423,932 in six days.

17. Director To Lo Po has the distinction of shooting movies starring the Big Three--Bruce Li, Bruce Le and Dragon Lee. He started his career helming RETURN OF THE HERO OF THE WATERFRONT (1973), and would later direct BRUCE AND THE IRON FINGER (1979), a movie with ambiguous connections to the Little Dragon. The Chinese title (BIG MASTER AND THE PROSTITUTE) zeroes in on the film's Kung Fu Murder Mystery plot, while the English export title gives the impression you're in for some Lee-alike action. Billed under his real name in the Chinese release, Ho Chung Tao plays a cop named Bruce. Co-starring with him is Bruce Liang (Liang Hsiao Lung). It's an unusual actioner that's worth your time if you're a KF fan. (Insert: French poster for BRUCE AND THE IRON FINGER as THE FIGHT OF THE KING OF KUNG FU)

Director To also directed JEET KUNE THE CLAWS AND THE SUPREME KUNG FU (1979), aka FIST OF FURY III, discussed in PART 1; and BRUCE LE'S GREATEST REVENGE (1979), another FIST OF FURY styled do-over. To Lo Po then guided Dragon Lee in two Clone pictures, DRAGON BRUCE LEE PART 2 and DRAGON LEE FIGHTS AGAIN (both 1981). The former is another FIST OF FURY type actioner even though it also goes by the title of BIG BOSS 2, confusingly enough. You'll see Bolo battling the Dragon in this one. The latter title is also known as MUSCLE OF THE DRAGON. Shot entirely in Korea, it's a Filmline Production that has footage from THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE (also a Filmline picture) inserted into it. Some of the film's advertising uses images of Bruce Le from CLONES.

Another vital figure in the American Kung Fu craze and Bruce Lee Mania phase in the 1970s was producer-distributor Serafim Karalexis. Closing out this two-part article series are 10 questions on his career in the business of releasing Kung Fu films in America.
VENOMS5: How did your interest in importing and producing Kung Fu movies start?
SERAFIM KARALEXIS: I saw 5 FINGERS OF DEATH and the next morning I was on a flight to Hong Kong to acquire a martial arts film for distribution. I distributed the second martial arts film in the US, a Shaw Brothers film, THE DUEL, that I retitled DUEL OF THE IRON FIST.
V5: What led you to Yang Tze Productions in Hong Kong?
SK: I met Yeo Ban Yee (Yang Man Yi), the owner of Yang Tze Productions in 1973 in Cinecitta, Rome, Italy. I had distributed a couple of martial arts films prior to meeting him, but I wanted to produce one, and HK was where they were being made.
V5: What sort of man was Yang Man Yi? For an indy company he had a steady number of films coming out per year. What was the average budget of a Yang Tze picture?
SK: I knew him as Yeo Ban Yee, though his name was pronounced differently by different people. He was a very nice person, polite, courteous and a man of his word. We made deals on a handshake. He owned a film developing laboratory and he produced a number of low-budget films, lower than Shaw Brothers, though I don't know the exact amount of his average budget, since they varied.
V5: He made several movies in South Korea with Jason Pai Piao and Tony (Tommy) Lu. Did you get to know them well?
SK: Yeo Ban Yee made films all over Asia, including South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, and HK, and possibly other places. His interest was to show a variety of locations and of course to find the best production value to produce the film. Jason Pai Piao, Tommy Loo Chung and other actors were used by Yeo for a number of films. I got to know them well, since I was on the set everyday and we would go out to dinner. Thompson Kao Kang also came to New York where I used him in DEATH PROMISE with Charles Bonet.
V5: Did you interact much with cast and crew--and if so, were there any difficulties due to cultural differences?
SK: I was there on a daily basis, while the film was being produced. Most of the guys were somewhat westernized, due to HK being a British colony and they spoke English well. Tommy was less westernized than the rest.
V5: You had a great deal of success with THE BLACK DRAGON, aka TOUGH GUY. How did that picture come about?
SK: AMERICAN TOUGH GUY was the working title which I later named THE BLACK DRAGON. It was my first co-production with Yeo Ban Yee. I wanted to use a black actor as a co-star and not have him killed, since Jim Kelly and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were both killed in their movies. I proposed the production to Yeo Ban Yee and he accepted my offer. Based on that, I made a second film with him, THE DEATH OF BRUCE LEE (1975).
V5: Ron Van Clief made a few more films in the series for them. I take it he had a good experience with Yang's company?
SK: I made two films with Yeo where I used Ron and he appeared in two other films for Yangtze. Yeo Ban Yee did not interact with the cast very much other than when they were hired. He was an arms-length producer and the two co-productions I made with him, he never appeared on the set once.
V5: How did THE LAST FIST OF FURY come about, and the casting of Dragon Lee, and how did it become THE REAL BRUCE LEE?
SK: THE REAL BRUCE LEE was a series of four B/W films of Bruce Lee when he was a child actor. After his death, it was important to showcase his early films, to see the acting experience he had, but the audience, though interested, wanted to see action and Bruce Li and Dragon Lee provided the action.
V5: Did you meet either Bruce Li or Bruce Le?
SK: No, though I did distribute films starring Bruce Le.
V5: What was your opinion of the Bruce Lee imitators then, and your opinion of them now?
SK: There was no one who could imitate Bruce Lee. The look-alikes did not look like Bruce Lee, act like him, or perform and fight like him. They were acceptable at the time, since there was no other option, but today they would not be considered to be used as imitators. There's one maybe two other actors who are much better fighters than Bruce Li and Le, but they would also not be able to pull off being a good Bruce Lee imitator. 
Fifty years after Lee's passing, controversy surrounding his life and mystery hovering over his death remain. There are only three people with the answers to both and two of them are dead; those three being Betty Ting Pei, Raymond Chow (died November 2nd, 2018), and Bruce Lee (died July 20th, 1973).

Looking back at the Bruceploitation movement, it was a sub-genre that was widely mocked by critics and largely rejected by the local audience. For occidental viewers, the films were akin to the Carnival Sideshow where the allure of seeing human oddities was hard to resist. The spirit of Bruce Lee and his short but successful life looms large over the men that copied him; and the movies that were less about keeping the man's name alive than making a fast dollar off of it. Regardless, the evolution of the Bruce Imitator phase was a distinctive time in HK film history that cannot be captured again. It began and remains a contentious and divisive subject that fans can relive, love, hate, and debate for years to come.
***This two-part article was sourced from Cinemart, Southern Screen, Hong Kong Movie News, International Screen, The Milky Way Pictorial, Fighting Stars Magazine, and Martial Arts Movies Magazine.***
If you'd like to purchase a copy of Serafilm Karalexis's 2023 book, 'How To Produce a Low Budget Film (Without Any of Your Money)', you can do so at Amazon HERE or directly from Bear Manor Media HERE

If you'd like to read more on Kung Fu Cinema spanning the entirety of the 1970s, there's THE WILD, WILD EAST: DUEL OF THE INDEPENDENT FILM COMPANIES PARTS 1-5. PART 1, PART 2, PART 3, PART 4, PART 5.

If you'd like to read interviews with actors in the Hong Kong and Taiwan movie industries, you can click the names below...

PHILIP KWOK (the Lizard of the FIVE VENOMS)
LU FENG (the Centipede of the FIVE VENOMS)
JAIME LUK KIM MING (if you're interested in the inner workings of the Shaw Brothers Studio and the industry on the whole, you need to read this interview)

If you want to read about the author's memories growing up with Kung Fu movies, there's FISTS, KICKS, AND KUNG FU THEATER: GROWING UP WITH MARTIAL ARTS MOVIES that you can find HERE.
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