||Story of the Dragon (1977)
Chi Chang and Hua Chen
Hua Chen and Hsin Yi Chang
Bruce Li, Carter Wong, Hwang Jang-lee and Roy Horan
||The Plot: Bob (Bruce Li) is a down on his luck martial artist who has recently lost his job at a restaurant after getting into a fight with a group of American martial artists who disrespect the Chinese. When Bob takes off with his best friend (who also worked at the restaurant), the two soon find work on the docks where a local Chinese businessman decides to take care of the two young men. When the time arrives for Bob to demonstrate his fighting skills, on the same American martial artists from earlier who attempt to save face by hiring more goons to take Bob down, all of his coworkers immediately seek to become as powerful as him. Bob then opens a school and immediately runs into conflict with other local teachers who don’t feel he should be teaching the Westerners all of the hidden Kung Fu techniques that he has learned. Soon enough Bob will run into the leader of this American martial arts school that has challenged him and the final conflict will surely arise.
Brucesploitation. How about I start the review off by defining these films? A sub-genre of martial art films made in the wake of Bruce Lee’s death. These films often acted as sequels to Lee’s most popular films, or more often the case they were simply marketed that way and featured actors who looked vaguely like the fallen star. If you’ve followed Varied Celluloid for any period of time, you’ll know that we have a definite fascination with this strange breed of Kung Fu cinema. What is it about the Brucesploitation sub-genre that draws us in though? This is a good question with a not so difficult answer: these movies are, more often than not, utterly atrocious. Poorly made and totally surreal, the more outrageous these movies tend to be the better they become. In fact, there’s a certain amount of disappointment that is felt when these movies are simply marketed as “Bruce Lee” titles but never feature anything remotely exploitative. In those instances the Brucesploitation genre has given birth to some of the most awful and boring movies found in any genre. When the stars align perfectly though, it has also developed some of the most outrageous and outlandish pieces of cinema that have ever been created.
While Story of the Dragon
definitely doesn’t re-invent the wheel or offer the most bizarre content that this genre has ever produced, it does occasionally wade into some rather ludicrous waters. There’s no getting past it, this is definitely one of the more strange pieces of Bruceploitation out there. Although it doesn’t fully commit to its madness, we’re never really sure what to make of the movie. From the synopsis I had read elsewhere, the movie was often described as being a autobiographical piece on the early life of Bruce Lee himself. It doesn’t take long for the audience to figure out that instead this is simply a Taipei staged martial arts film featuring the legendary Bruce Li (the universal favorite of the Bruce Lee imitators) in the title. In the beginning through, we’re never really sure what this film is actually about. Perhaps the hype was correct? I mean, the backgrounds look a little bit like America and the filmmakers went through a lot of trouble to hire black and white actors for the bit roles throughout. With the film seemingly taking place in California, perhaps this really is a crude display of Bruce Lee’s early teaching career… Then everything is shattered when we finally discover Bruce Li’s character goes by the name of “Bob”.
That’s right, Bob. Chances are the film possibly had the intention of being more Bruce Lee centered than it ultimately turns out here in its international form. There are bits throughout that seem to harken back to certain aspects of the mythology surrounding Bruce Lee, including the establishment’s disapproval of his teaching techniques and his acceptance of all students. Then there’s the Jeet Kune Do (Bruce Lee’s martial art, created by himself) mentality that is hinted at throughout the movie, which also seems to point towards being a part of the Bruce Lee legacy… but this character’s name is Bob! The movie ultimately abandons most of Bruce Lee’s teachings in order to instead paint him as a Chinese patriot. Story of the Dragon
is a film that is in no way related to any legitimate portrayal of Bruce Lee’s philosophy. Instead it’s an attempt to promote Chinese patriotism and show the overall superiority of Chinese Kung Fu over Japanese Karate, and just about every other form of martial arts that there is. This is, of course, completely out of doctrine with what Bruce Lee ultimately believed and I don’t think any fan of the man needs to be told this. However, it is quite funny to watch Bruce Li chastise his best friend for worrying about going to college and getting an education, which Li finds to be ridiculous when instead he feels that he should be out in the street fighting due to his Chinese ancestry being disrespected. Could anyone in their right mind every imagine seeing Bruce Lee chastising someone for improving their mind instead of taking vengeance out in order to prove their patriotism?
The movie is almost nonsensical in its plot navigation, which actually works in favor of the movie since it takes it from being a generic piece of b-cinema into something special. The first few sequences within the film break down like this: we meet Bruce Li and his partner who are working at a local restaurant, they then get into a fight with a group of American martial artists, they head home, they are then scared away by some elderly white woman who lives downstairs from them (who is never mentioned again) and so they jump out of the window and land in a gigantic body of water. Okay, so I guess they lived on the dock? Anyway, when they swim to shore they are on a dock area with cargo palettes everywhere and they are harassed by the dock-boss’ daughter for not working hard enough. As the two eventually point out, they don’t even work on this dock (yet I have to question why they are walking through a closed off wharf area…), so the boss-man decides to hire these two goons AFTER the karate school from earlier (the one that the American martial artists attended) shows up to beat them into groundmeat… wait, what? How do these pieces work? Truth is, they don’t. Why are they walking through the dock, how did the Karate school know they would be there and why does the dock-boss stick his neck out over Bruce Li and his partner? It is idiotic, but brilliant. I can only imagine a young child with ADHD writing out a script that jumps to as many ideas as this one does. The ridiculous movements of the script aren’t the end of this insanity either. The frequency of the fights and the cheesy low budget attempts to make this seem like its actually shot in America is also part of the unique fun that Story of the Dragon
offers. I kid you not, we have a Chinese actor painted in black-face wearing a very bad “afro” wig in an attempt to fill the role of an African American. The fashion in general is pretty deplorable, including an older martial artist who sports a sequin covered kangol hat with a long sleeve turtle-neck under a muscle shirt. There are also enough tracksuits here to fill the closet of an entire Mafia or Yakuza crime family. Phil Cohen from The Fists of Bruce Lee
also shows up in another Bruce Li title and is once again wearing his shirt tied around his midrift in an inexplicably non-macho way.
Featuring a loaded cast of awesome martial artists, such as the underrated Bruce Li, the immortal Carter Wong and the amazing Hwang Jang-lee, this one definitely shows a great deal of promise from the outset. Other foreign HK veterans pop up along the way including Roy Horan, who many will know as the “priest” in Yuen Woo-ping and Jackie Chan’s breakout hit Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow
. In fact, it is said that Horan first met Hwang Jang-lee, who also starred in Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow
, on the set of Story of the Dragon
and he even began training with the legendary kicker shortly thereafter. The fight scenes between these main cast members are of course universally great, as one might expect. Bruce Li vs. Carter Wong is exceptionally good, but these guys could turn it on with literal blindfolds over their eyes. They’re two tremendous workers within the business and although it doesn’t seem right that such a small and inconsequential subplot would lead to these two “heroes” battling it out, I’m glad that they did. Hwang Jang-lee doesn’t get as much screen time as I would like, but his role here as The Oriental Killer
is both hilarious for its racial insensitivity and entertaining because all he really does in the movie is fight. His two showdowns with Bruce Li are worth the wait and make great use of slow motion.
I won’t lie, this is a terrible movie. It is bad through and through, but the entertainment factor is stuck on HIGH from the get go. I’m really torn on this one. I want to call it a four, but to be honest it doesn’t reach the patent levels of ridiculousness that one might expect from such a high rating. Still, even with a three out of five I can’t help but give this a very high recommendation! Check it out if you get the chance!
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