Bruce Lee managed at least one really good trick in his brief career: examining my (admittedly) out of date copy of Video Hound's Golden Movie Retriever, I find that Lee is credited with 24 movies, which is amazing since he only actually appeared in about a quarter of them. Lee's untimely death in 1973 led to an astounding spate of movies, like the pseudo-documentary Fist of Fear, Touch of Death, the pseudo-bio-pic Bruce Lee, We Miss You and the utterly dismal but beautifully-titled Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave.
There were also the inevitable flood of Lee-alikes: Bruce Le, Bruce Li, Bruce Lai, Bruce Thai, Dragon Lee, Conan Lee, Bronson Lee, Richard Li, Lee Press-On Nails.... anyway, someone had the brilliant idea of getting some of the Lee-alikes together, and the result was this movie. Cool idea, predictably poor results.
We start with Lee being rushed to the hospital on the day of his death. We know it's Bruce Lee because he's wearing Bruce Lee sunglasses. (Our favorite part of Bruce Lee, We Miss You was the Lee-alike's hyper-violent, convulsive, thrashing death scene - in slow motion - during which the sunglasses remained firmly in place. Luckily, the ambulance crew did not remove the glasses, or we might suspect that the guy on the gurney is not actually Bruce Lee!)
After Lee is declared dead, enter two Anglos - Mr. Collin, who apparently heads up the Special Branch of Investigations (hereafter the SBI), and the Professor, who draws some blood from Lee's body. No permission is granted from the emergency room staff or Lee's family; apparently the SBI has wide-reaching, discretionary powers that would make your average X-Files villain swoon with envy.
The Professor uses the blood to make three Bruce Lee clones, named Bruce Lee One. Bruce Lee Two, and, in a fit of creativity, Bruce Lee Three. They are apparently numbered in order of actual resemblance to the fallen film star, with One (Dragon Lee, I think) looking closest and Three (Bruce Lai, again I think) not having a chance on the darkest of stormy nights. Disturbingly, the Professor conditions each of the clones to obey only him.
After some intensive training (one of the teachers is Bolo Yeung, whom the real Lee stomped on in Enter the Dragon), the Lees are judged back up to snuff, and the SBI begins to send them on missions. This is where we get into the actual meat of Clones of Bruce Lee. The first Bruce Lee is sent to work undercover at the film studio of Chi Lo, a gold smuggler (how heinous!) You have to question the wisdom of sending the clone of a well-known film star to work undercover at a film studio, but then you realize that the clone doesn't look that much like the original...
In any case, the "New Boy" at the film studio is getting some notice, as we see him kicking some stunt men in front of a very bad sky cyclorama. Chi Lo is the suspicious type, however, and orders The Director to "get rid of him". To this end, they dispatch the hired killers White Panther and Quick Tiger, two white guys who proceed to get themselves beaten up quite rapidly. White Panther seems to take his name from his habit of wearing a gi, the traditional white outfit normally only seen in dojos or tournaments. Kinda makes him stick out on the street.
Rhat night, Bruce Lee One listens in on the Director and Chi Lo. Chi Lo feels it more important than ever to do away with The New Boy because the smuggler is about to dig up his gold ("Burying the gold in the ground... that was a good idea!"), so he's sent two more hired hit men after Bruce Lee One. The Director, on the other hand, has the brilliant idea to "shoot him in front of the camera... then we can sell a lot of tickets!"
Rhat's an eerie moment in an otherwise two-dimensional film full of sub-comic book claptrap: a subplot that bizarrely presages the tragic death of Lee's son, Brandon, almost two decades later on the set of The Crow.
After stomping the next two hit men into the ground, Bruce Lee One receives a visit from Nancy, one of the professor's assistants, who has come to inform him of Chi Lo's plans. It's a remarkable, rushed piece of breathless voice acting, the best Speed Racer delivery I've heard outside of that fine program.
Well, something goes wrong with the "shoot him in front of the camera" plan, so all the stuntmen (in Chi Lo's employ, after all) gang up with various implements of destruction (all right, a bunch of pipes and a knife) on Bruce Lee One. Hey, you morons: You're fighting Bruce Lee! It's ass-kickings for all, and Bruce Lee One apparently beats Chi Lo to death, just for good measure.
Then it's time for another mission, and Bruce Lee Two and Bruce Lee Three are sent to Thailand, where they meet up with Agent Chuck (Bruce Thai, who does not resemble Bruce Lee enough to be a clone). There, they are to track down and take care of Dr. Nye, a Mad Scientist Who Is Up To No Good. And as this is a crap film, it must be time for... travelogue footage! Ah, scenic Thailand!
But wait! Just to make up for that... Nekkid Women! A whole bunch of them! Capering about on the beach and rubbing suntan lotion on themselves! (And having absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie!) Having made sure her breasts are liberally coated with SPF 30, our featured nudette opines, "Now all we need is a man!" Enter one skinny nerd, amazed at the display of female pulchritude. The nudettes spot him and charge, cheering. The skinny nerd screams and runs away, demonstrating that it is, indeed, a culture far different from our own. In a nod to the movie we just left, Bruce Lee Two asks Agent Chuck, "Do those girls need help?" "Nah," is the reply. "He's the one who needs help." And our stalwarts walk away, ultimately helping nobody.
Dr. Nye, it should be mentioned, has made his science henchmen come up with some sort of bubbling brew that will kill all vegetation. He motivates them with a scintillating corporate-style speech ending with that phrase you've heard so many times before, "Today we will conquer Thailand! And tomorrow... the entire world!" Then he goes to relax in his Super Villain Den, where a suspicion I have long held about Super Villains was confirmed: Dr. Nye has several Nekkid Women waiting for him*. (That's a lot of female flesh packed into one tiny corner of this movie - looks like someone figured out they were skating too close to a mere PG rating and decided to throw in some R material - "The Americans insist on it, you know.")
The two Bruces and Chuck Storm the Castle (some secret agents!), and run afoul of one of Dr. Nye's experiments: somehow, by a series of injections, he has managed to turn the flesh of several of his henchmen into bronze, by which we mean there are a bunch of gold-painted stuntmen walking around in their skivvies. Luckily for the world, Bruce Lee Three discovers (by suspiciously convenient accident) that a local poisonous herb not only kills bronze men dead dead dead, but tastes so good they can't resist it! Soon there's a lot of yum-yum-yumming and clangs as the bronze men eat themselves to death. Then Dr. Nye receives his comeuppance, as Bruce Lee Two apparently beats him to death, just for good measure. Or maybe it was Bruce Lee Three.
Oh, hell, we've still got movie left! The Professor receives a heartfelt thanks from Mr. Collin of the SBI, and this is enough to send the scientist over the deep end, as he feels that a mere 'thank you' is not enough. Well, he'll show them! He'll show them all! For some reason, Showing Them All in this case entails ordering the three Bruce Lees to fight each other to the death. That'll show 'em, hah? Hah?!?!
Unfortunately for the Professor, his two assistants, Nancy and Cathy, are good, and figure out that to save the Bruce Lees, they must cut the wires to the "magnetators" which allow the Professor to control the clones. This they do in a highly un-suspenseful fashion, and now it's time for the Bruce Lees to go after the Professor. To do this, each Bruce Lee (having taken wildly different routes, it seems) must fight one of the Professor's bodyguards, which just happen to be their trainers. Bruce Lee One takes on Bolo. Then Bruce Lee Three is killed by a death ray trap in the Professor's sanctum. Then Bruce Lee Two kicks through the wall into the sanctum, bypassing the death rays and taking on one last bodyguard out of frickin' nowhere, giving the Professor time to escape right into the waiting arms of Collin and the SBI. The Professor probably takes cold comfort in the fact that one of the surviving Bruce Lees did not apparently beat him to death, just for good measure. The end.
No, I mean it. The end. In my print - as there were in a lot of kung fu cheapies - there is no fade to black, no end credit roll - the movie doesn't actually end so much as stop. The final fate of the last two Bruce Lees remains unresolved, forever. My personal opinion is that the importing company didn't want to spring for the cost of an English end roll, but still - leaving incredibly loose ends concerning your title characters is pretty criminal.
Not that this should surprise us. This movie is primarily a novelty act - past the opening concept, not a whole lot of thought was devoted to this project (and the novel concept is the only reason this movie scored as highly as it did. Well, that and the fact that the professor's laboratory appeared to be on loan from either The Astro-Zombies or The Time Tunnel). This is particularly shameful given the rich possibilities in the setup. Granted, the clones have to be trained; it is not simply assumed that cloning Lee's DNA also clones his abilities (it does, however, seem to duplicate his trademark sneer and cat-like ki-ya).
But there is much that is glossed over; the clones seem to accept their lot quite peacefully. A particularly interesting bit of character development is missed here - "Good morning; you're actually dead, and you are a carbon copy" would not be the most soothing of wake-up calls. Then again, the concepts of character development and this movie do not go together particularly well. The Bruce Lees seem particularly cold-blooded; witness not only the beating deaths of the two villains, but a scene where Bruce Lee Two cooly tortures one of Dr. Nye's science henchmen to obtain the good doctor's whereabouts. Perhaps this can be construed as indicative of a clone's lack of a soul. More likely, it is indicative of really poor filmmaking.
Another wasted moment is when Bruce Lee One tells Nancy that he has a "score to settle" with Chi Lo - perhaps Chi Lo could have been responsible for the original Bruce Lee's death? We'll never know. If it's a plot point, it whizzed by me so fast it finally skidded to a halt in a movie over three blocks away.
Although the Lee-alikes are in superb shape, and certainly know their Lee chops, there is a deadening sameness about the fight scenes that eventually robs the movie of all joy; this flick is, after all, 95% fight scenes. I've always preferred the swordplay-oriented kung fu movies- the more weapons, and the more bizarre, the better. Let's face it, the numerous styles notwithstanding (and there are several on display), there are only so many ways to aim a blow at your opponent and only so many ways to block that blow. Without a good fight coordinator, like Lee himself, Jimmy Wang Yu, Samo Hung or a host of others, after forty-five minutes of the same fight over and over, each subsequent fight becomes the kinetic equivalent of white noise: your mind more or less goes on vacation.
In all honesty, though: viewing parts of the film again to do the vidcaps, I came to feel that Bruce Lee One's segment was far superior to Two & Three's combo mission. The fights are more frenetic, and it ends on a very high note as Bruce Lee One swims out to Chi Lo's boat to personally kick the living sh*t out of each and every creature aboard. It's a pity the weaker second story arc (and oooh so lame final act) serves mainly to poison your memory of the first one.
This leaves us only with the things kung-fu film fanatics look forward to when watching such films: the first is spotting which movies the soundtrack is stolen from - in this case, The Warriors, and during the training segment, the theme from Rocky (Hopefully that was an intentional laugh). That, and the fact that every defeated opponent makes the same sound, a sort of pained "Ai-ow-oooowah".
Sadly, that was the same sound we were making by the
time this movie was over.
- June 13, 1999