In their decade of dominance from 1974 - 1984, the Bruce Lee exploitation
movies unleashed many heroes and villains onto the jade screen. After the
death of the legendary Little Dragon on that fateful day in '73, movie
producers were desperate to find the next big thing. This was the birth of
In the early 1980's you could walk into your local video rental store to find the shelves littered with "stars" such as Dragon Lee, Bronson Lee, Bruce Liang, Bruce Lai, Bruce Thai, Bruce Chen, Bruce Lei and many others. Of all the men who sought to be the new King of Kung Fu, the most well known of the imitators was for many years Bruce Li. However in hindsight Li, real name Ho Chung Tao, even in his best production "Bruce Lee - The Man, The Myth", was never really that good a martial artist. Take a closer look into the dark and sometimes dirty realms of this particular genre and you will discover Wong Kin Lung, better known to his fans as "Bruce Le - King of Bruceploitation".
Kin Lung was born in the late fifties and grew up in Taiwan. After studying gymnastics and Kung Fu in Burma he was given the opportunity to work as a contract player for the mighty Shaw Bros. The prestigious film company renamed the young hopeful Bruce Le, but strangely neglected his potential with small cameo and supporting roles. After serving his apprenticeship and confident of his own abilities, Le took a bold step and reportedly terminated his Shaw contract in 1977. Going on to sign a multi picture deal with the small Hong Kong independents, PT Insantra, Bruce Le began his journey into the depths of Bruceploitation and beyond. The rest as they say is history...
Although it is generally regarded that "The Bruce Lee Story", (released in 1974 and starring Bruce Li) is one of the very first exploitation movies it is a little unclear as to when Bruce Le's first entry into the genre actually materialised. In his heyday Le made far too many movies to list them all and although "The Clones Of Bruce Lee" was definitely not his first appearance, this camp, cult classic of Kung Fu cinema is a great place to start.
"The Clones Of Bruce Lee" tells the tale of mad scientist Lucas, played by John T Benn of "Way Of The Dragon" fame. Secretly employed to produce three fighting machines from the blood of the very recently deceased Bruce Lee. "Not one, not two, but three Bruce Lee's" will receive intense training from genre regulars Kong Tao and Bolo Yeung. The Clones will then act as government agents for Special Branch. Le's character is sent on a crazy mission to destroy the maniacal Doctor Ny and his army of tongue in cheek, Y-front wearing Bronzemen.
With their missions complete the clones return to head office. Professor Lucas becomes power hungry and decides to take over the world as every good mad scientist should and pits all the clones against each other. This movie was a Bruceploitation fans dream come true as not only did it display the talents of Le but also Korean Taekwando expert and fan favourite, Dragon Lee. An excellent idea, Bruce Le and Dragon Lee went one on one as the viewer cheered on their favourite Bruce!
Bizarre, ridiculous, action packed and strangely entertaining from the outset, "The Clones Of Bruce Lee" was and still is the quintessential example of a much maligned but often misunderstood genre. Whilst other exploitative efforts set out to tell the "true" story of the Little Dragon's rise and fall, with rumours, lies and disrespect, "Clones.." was harmless fun from start to finish. Not once did this movie callously refer to Lee's life, focusing instead on the exploits of it's central characters with some furious Kung Fu fighting. Possibly the greatest Bruce Lee exploitation movie of all time.
Oddly enough during his exploitation days, Le never ventured too far into the bio-pic scene and his one and only effort seems to have been "Bruce - King Of Kung Fu" released in America as "The Legend Of Bruce Lee". This production allegedly represents Lee's younger days and the problems he encountered before leaving Hong Kong for the States. A good idea in principal but the movie quickly distorts into nothing more than an excuse to cash-in on not one but two kung fu movie heroes. Bruce learns the "Drunken Snake Fist" style to avenge the death of his friend and what follows are several training sequences reminiscent of the Jackie Chan classic "Drunken Master". Add to the mix an appearance by Enter The Dragon's Shek Kin, who had also recently appeared in Chan's "The Young Master" and you had the perfect money making spin-off. Le hardly made an attempt to imitate the Little Dragon instead taking on a more traditional "drunken" kung fu appearance.
The aforementioned connection with "Enter The Dragon" would continue for many years to come as composer, Lalo Schifrin's legendary work was recreated and remixed on several occasions. Almost every Bruceploitation movie ever made, be it Le's or otherwise featured the familiar instrumental score which would in time become somewhat of a trademark for the exploitation genre. However it is very doubtful that Schifrin would have ever received the money he deserved from Bruceploitation royalties!
When movie producers were not recreating Lee's life, they often sought to fool the public into thinking that Lee had appeared in many more productions than his untimely death would allow. A great opportunity for the money minded filmmakers was the fact that "Game Of Death" remained incomplete, therefore Bruceploitation distributors stepped in with an abundance of interpretations on the Little Dragon's final legacy. Whilst these movies were made simply to "cash in" on Lee's premature passing, several of the scenarios were actually closer to Bruce's original concept than the "official" Golden Harvest version finally released in 1978.
"Enter The Game Of Death" was PT Insantra's attempt at bringing to life the movie that Bruce Lee fans were dying to see. Produced as usual by Robert Jeffery and directed by Joseph Valesco, Insantra once again used their main man Bruce Le to fill those famous yellow training shoes vacated by the late, great, martial arts legend.
"Enter The Game Of Death" sees Le's character hired by a Chinese secret society to locate and recover vital security documents. These papers have been stolen by the Japanese and are also wanted by the Germans. To avoid invasion from either enemy Le must battle his way to the top of a pagoda and fight martial arts experts of various origin. Whereas in earlier efforts Le had used more traditional Kung Fu styles, "Enter The Game Of Death" saw this new Dragon hit full throttle with his use of Lee-like manoeuvres and facial expressions. One scene in which he collides with Bolo mirrors both the Bob Wall fight from "Enter The Dragon" and the Kareem Abdul Jabbar encounter from "Game Of Death" as our hero finally chokes the big guy out. Le completes his mission making good use of Bruceploitation's favourite weapon, the "nunchucks" and having picked up a few, very familiar facial scars.