|The Plot: Bruce Lee, before he passed away, authored one final book that was meant to remain a secret. In the martial arts community however, word soon spread and now Jack Lee, the man who holds the only copy, is stopping in to Manilla to visit his friend Peter (Bruce Le). Peter runs his own Tae Kwon Do school and greets Jack by taking him to a local martial arts contest. Peter is unfortunately beaten by a Caucasian rival who just so happens to be in town with nefarious intentions. When this evil gentleman discovered Jack would be transporting this book into the Philippines he gathered his best men to stake him out at the tournament. After dispatching of his own opponents in the tournament, Jack returns to his hotel room where he is jumped by six assassins… who are all handled quite easily, thanks to Jack’s studying of Bruce Lee’s secret book. They return to their master who lampoons them and finds his next set of employees to take on Jack Lee. Will this evil man succeed in stealing this most precious book or will Jack and Peter manage to keep it out of the hands of evil doers?|
Even though I do it for every review for one of these types of movies, for those of you unfamiliar with the Brucesploitation genre I’ll go into a little background information. The long and short of it is that after Bruce Lee died, the Hong Kong film industry lost the largest cash cow it had ever seen up until that point. So, with a lot of young talent hanging around and Bruce Lee’s name becoming even more legendary with each passing day, many producers started casting their movies with actors who bore some kind of resemblance with the famous actor. So from there we got Bruce Le, Bruce Li, Dragon Lee, Bruce Lai and others. I’ve reviewed a number of these movies on the site over the years and I just keep returning to the genre. Much like the Italian cannibal genre, there’s just so much bad out there that it completely overshadows what good there might be. However, unlike that genre, what is defined as “good” here is completely and utterly subjective. When I go into a Brucesploitation flick I’m looking for garbage cinema. I want something goofy, funny and above all else entertaining. Bruce Lee’s Fist of Vengeance is almost the antithesis of any of those qualities. Essentially, it’s rather dumb, poorly made but not silly or insane enough to be all that memorable.
The movie is just so cheap, I wish there was more information about it available out there. As it went along I just knew that it wasn’t your average Hong Kong production. In fact, it’s not even a Hong Kong production at all! Going off of appearances, at first I just figured It looked like some kind of mainland Chinese production, but with all the talk about Hong Kong it slowly had me thinking it was some kind of cheap independent Hong Kong release… but I knew that just wasn’t right. There’s the foreigner bad guys, the Karate outfits and the fact that Bruce Le actually teaches at a Tae Kwan Do academy… not normally stuff you see in that many Hong Kong flicks. For those of you who don’t know, Tae Kwan Do is generally more of a Japanese or Korean sport. Then I took note of the look of the extras, like those at the academy, and didn’t see really any solid Chinese features. Then I put things together and figured it was a Filipino film. It was only until the third quarter of the movie where I actually heard someone mention Manilla that I knew my instincts were correct. It could have possibly been stated earlier in the movie, I’m not sure, but you watch it and tell me how easy it is to actually make out a good majority of the dialogue here!
That leads me to my biggest conundrum with the movie. Was the terrible audio something that was messed up by the distributors here in the US when it was originally released or was it messed up in the trasnfer to DVD from VHS? If it was part of the initial distribution, I’m willing to judge it as a part of the film since it was a lot closer to the original filmmakers at that point. Yet, if it’s just a goof up on the DVD I’m going to feel bad for thrashing it… but still, I have to say, I have never seen dubbing this poor. Andreas Schnaas’ Zombie 90 Extreme Pestilence comes pretty close, but the two might have to share a podium for this one. We literally have gun shots being seen at least two to three full seconds before we actually hear them. We have characters who are apparently speaking English on set but are dubbed over with the same exact dialogue – but STILL manage to completely muck up the sync. It is frustrating while watching, but still leads to some of the better laughs found in the movie as it becomes so ridiculous and unintelligible. Well, part of that comes from the really poor plot progression, but that’s a given.
Going into Bruce Lee’s Fist of Vengeance, you know that it’s going to be bad. We all know that. However, there’s over-the-top bad where the film remains fun and doesn’t take itself so serious and then there’s dumb-bad. This is unfortunately more a case of the latter than the former. It certainly has it’s moments that shine, such as the first time Jack Lee opens the book by Bruce Lee; the scene was likely added by the US Distributors, but it’s a sequence where Jack opens the book and all of a sudden the theme to Enter the Dragon hits the soundtrack and we go into a two or three minute montage of still photographs of Bruce Lee only to come back out of it with Jack closing the book up. It’s so incredibly out of place and bizarre that I couldn’t help but kind of lose it at that point. Jack Lee is also tortured by having his legs placed over his head where his nose is buried into his crotch. Bruce Le sleeps with a spotlight above his bed where a Bruce Lee poster hangs above him. Then there’s that dubbing and some of the really odd dialogue choices. My favorite bit was from our Caucasian bad guy who was never given a name that I could pick up on. Well, Bruce Le yells the name out at one point but the audio was so atrocious I couldn’t actually understand him. Anyway, this white guy is talking to one of his girls who is supposed to go undercover to retrieve the great Bruce Lee Book of Information and he gives this sterling piece of advice: “You cannot fail… If you fail… I fail… and I don’t like that… I never fail.” Even when dubbed over, you can literally FEEL how stilted the performances are. Absolutely amazing.
The fight sequences here seem to get a lot of guff but I really didn’t have a major problem with them. Not to say that we’re dethroning Yuen Woo Ping or Sammo Hung with this one, but I didn’t see too much bad to put it on level with the fight choreography of Dolemite. The first showdown in Jack Lee’s hotel with the six assassins is both ridiculous and entertaining for its insanity. Jack manages to pin his opponent against the door with his back, then throws a kick over his shoulder three times in a row, busting the guy’s chops over and over again. Then the fight takes on a comedic edge as he start playing peak-a-boo with this magical book by Bruce Lee. It is unfortunate how repetitive the movie becomes though, as the good majority of the fight scenes all take place in this same location: Jack Lee’s hotel room. There must have been a short amount of time allotted for this set to be used or something because there are four or five fight scenes shot on this one location. Four or five out of probably seven total fight scenes. It’s an absolutely terrible movie, there’s no getting past that. The best bet of having fun with it is if you’ve got a room full of friends over but by and large, it’s not the best example of a fun Brucesploitation flick. I gave it a one out of five, because there are a few redeeming qualities and it’s not the worst movie ever made… but yeah, it’s pretty awful.