Apparently Bruce Lee's family
opted for the "Fred Flintstone"
style of tomb marker.
In the spirit of Christmas we offer the Yuletide classic Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave. We actually rented it because we haven't yet reviewed any of the myriad movies that have mined Bruce Lee's grave for inspiration. Oops, did we say inspiration? We meant quick cash. But in a happy coincidence, it turns out the movie takes place in the waning days of December.
For a movie with the name "Bruce Lee" in the title, Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave has very little Bruce Lee in it, real or posthumously manufactured. The star is listed in the credits as Bruce K. L. Lea, who is a perfectly suitable Bruce Lee impersonator in that he has two eyes and a nose, just like Bruce Lee! They both had black hair -- another trait in common! Plus, they were both carbon-based life forms who moved via bipedal locomotion! But beyond those shared attributes Bruce K. L. Lea doesn't remind us that much of Bruce Lee.
"Which flight will take me
to movie obscurity?"
The "fights back from the grave" part of the title is also a bit overstated, because Bruce K. L. Lea is not playing Bruce Lee alive or dead. As a matter of fact, people more cynical than we are might think that Aquarius Releasing grabbed a completely Bruceless movie, slapped on a prologue that shows Bruce Lee bursting out of his grave, and re-titled it "Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave" to make a buck. We, being filled with Christmas cheer and good will towards man, will assume that the title and the obviously tacked-on prologue were added to the film in a sincere attempt to honor the memory of Bruce Lee.
Wong Han (Lea) arrives in Los Angeles at the request of his friend Go Hok Hung. Years earlier Hung emigrated to the US from Korea to find his fortune. But when Wong arrives at Hung's apartment building, he finds that Hung is dead, having thrown himself off the roof of the building. Moreover, the other tenants seem to be holding his funeral in the basement of the high-rise! After a few words are said, Hung's body is stuffed into the building's incinerator, and when some blackened bones emerge Wong appears to pick one up and kiss it!
"I'm a very patient lumberjack."
When Wong retires to Hung's apartment that night after holding his own private wake, he is attacked by a black man wearing a cape. Wong fights back against his assailant, who appears to be equal parts Jim Kelly and Batman, neither one of which helps him in this particular fight since Wong kills him but good. Wong ends up at the local police precinct, where he is interrogated by a sardonic police officer. Their conversation is a brilliantly subtle dissection of the morés of two different cultures. For example, when the officer gets a phone call that tells him Wong has somehow managed to make bail, the following exchange takes place:
Wong: "A sudden change of fortune is in the scheme of things."
Officer: "God damn you!"
Bizarre comments from Wong like the one above pepper the film, masquerading as Oriental wisdom. The "kung-fu Chinaman visits America and finds it very strange" plot has been done to death, but we must report that Wong Han is one of the stranger Chinamen you'll see in this sort of fish-out-of-water story. Naturally, our protagonist has a sense of honor and propriety, but this manifests itself in strange ways.
New improved Dead Guy --
now with convenient carry case!
For example: We're no experts on Chinese funereal practices, but is it really necessary for Wong to carry Hung's remains around his neck in a cardboard box for the duration of mourning? What's with Hung's picture on the outside of the box? Do all Asian nationals keep 8x10 glossy head shots of themselves handy, just in case they should die unexpectedly? And if Wong is so hell-bent on finding the men who killed Hung, why does he spend so much time doing anything but?
Ah, you see we're getting ahead of ourselves. Wong has been bailed out of police custody by Scott Lee, a rich Asian man who lives in a clever facsimile of Wilt Chamberlain's house. Lee wants Wong to find a certain woman, but Wong refuses. Even so, a short time later he happens to run into the woman, Susan (Deborah Chaplin), and saves her from a rapist. In this movie, Los Angeles is a place where crimes are constantly being committed, and most of them happen to our two main characters. Fresh off the plane, Wong was hijacked by his cabby, and had to kick the cab's window into the guy's face, causing facial lacerations. And after all that, the cabby still wanted a tip! Truly, America is a wicked place, and Los Angeles must be the most wicked city in it.
Susan, a very pretty young woman who worked at Hung's "Turkish bath," saw Hung meet five people who may have been complicit in his death. These five are the Village People of martial arts: the black man Wong killed, "a white man, a Japanese man, a Mexican, and a cowboy." Well, that narrows it down to the Chippendales clubs in L.A. there can't be too many of those to check. Wong asks Susan to identify the remaining men so he can kill them. This allows for a romance to bud between the two, and for Susan to educate us on civics:
Susan: America is meant to be free, but what a lie. Nothing is free in this country. Everything has a price on it.
The dangers of being a cabbie
during a Subway Series.
For example, the price for watching this movie is a rental fee and most of your brain cells.
Soon after meeting Susan, Wong's wacky Asian values start to surface again. Wong tells his pretty hostess that it would be improper for him to stay in her house, but somehow it is perfectly appropriate for him to use her money to buy a camper van where he can sleep. This sounds more like the machinations of a stereotypical Jewish mother than the Asian notions of honor, but the very idea of arguing with a screenwriter named Chee Do Hong is just too demoralizing to contemplate.
Wong's first plan to find the bad guys is as follows: Wong goes to Chinatown with Susan. He picks a suspicious-looking Chinese guy, slaps him around, and demands to be taken to the poor schmuck's boss. The schmuck complies and, surprise, surprise, the boss is the white guy! Wong returns to the house of "the white guy" after dark and attacks him. W.G. fights back with a couple of burning brands, but Wong defeats him anyway. Before this particular Evil Village Person can spill the beans, however, the cowboy kills him from a distance with a throwing star (a traditional cowboy weapon) and vanishes. (Why didn't he just kill Wong when he had the chance?) Wong is left with no recourse but to steal W.G.'s wallet.
"If you play Grandma Got Run Over
By a Reindeer one more time,
I swear I'll go insane!"
When Wong examines the wallet, he comes upon a business card that he finds quite significant. We get to see the card and, in what has got to be one of the most bizarre coincidences in martial arts movie history, it appears for all the world to be Shô Kosugi's real-life business card. Kosugi, for the uninitiated, is a martial arts champion who is famous in b-movie circles for his appearances in seminal Eighties ninja films likeNinja III: The Domination and Nine Deaths of the Ninja. Keep in mind that even by the latest date that this movie could have been made (dates from 1976 to 1978 are claimed in various references, and the tape is dated 1980), the appearance of this card predates Shô's movie career by years! But unless the dojo that Wong visits is Shô's, the card is the limit of his participation in this movie. Lucky him.
Through all of this Susan and Wong are stalked by a mysterious figure dressed in black. Oh, and at one point Wong manages to lose Susan's car to a thief. (It was a Ford Pinto, so there's no great loss there.) To cheer himself up, Wong takes in a local Christmas parade, complete with people in the crowd waving to the camera. Once he finishes goofing off, Wong returns to the important business of tracking down the Village People and uncovering the identity of the mysterious man in black.
"How dare you unmask El Santo?!"
A frustrating aspect of reviewing a film like Bruce Lee Fights Back From the Grave is the amazing amount of bad information that exists about the movie, on the web and in print. Various sources attribute the film's direction to Italian action/horror director Umberto Lenzi, but unless Lenzi researched and used some very authentic Korean names for himself and his film crew in the credits, that simply isn't true. We have our doubts that Lenzi would have directed a film with such a generic style, but there are even posters for this film that credit "Bert Lenzi" as the director! Perhaps Lenzi was involved in the making of the brief prologue (which shows "Bruce" bursting out of grave), but the main feature is unmistakably an Asian film. It just goes to show that movie rumors die hard.
Add to this the fact that none of the sources we checked (including our normally trusty Videohound) had correct plot information. Hey folks, if you can't even give us the plot correctly ("Bruce Lee fights the Black Angel of Death?" Keith at Teleport City informs us that this misleading description comes from one of the film's early trailers.), why should we think you verified the director's identity? Some sources even credited Bruce Li, another Bruce Lee imitator, as the film's star. We are forced to throw our metaphorical hands up in the imaginary air out of frustration while dutifully submitting the information from the film's credits to the Internet Movie Database.
Let's just call it our Christmas gift to Bruce K. L. Lea. Wherever he is.