These Fists Break Bricks authors recommend the 5 Best Brucesploitation movies
In These Fists Break Bricks: How Kung Fu Movies Swept America and Changed the World, (out Sept. 19) authors Chris Poggiali and Grady Hendrix document the boom in martial arts movies which followed the massive success of 1973's Bruce Lee-starring Enter the Dragon.
"I did a book called Paperbacks From Hell about the horror paperback boom in the '70s and '80s," says Hendrix, author of the horror novels The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires and The Final Girl Support Group. "Chris read it and he had this massive collection of ad materials and posters and stuff [from arts films] and was like, 'I'd love to do something using this material.'"
In the course of the book, the writers explore the strange world of the Brucesploitation movie, a subgenre that bloomed following the death of Bruce Lee in 1973.
"In the wake of Bruce Lee's death, all these producers and distributors, both in the US as well as in Asia, tried to capture the magic of Bruce Lee," says Poggiali. "In the States, distributors would pick up these movies and put 'Bruce' or 'Lee' or 'Dragon' somewhere in the title. Some of it is respectful and people genuinely admire Bruce Lee and then [for] others it's just a cash grab."
Below, Poggiali and Hendrix talk about their five favorite Brucesploitation movies.
Bruce Lee Against Supermen (1975)
CHRIS POGGIALI: Bruce Lee Against Supermen was a cash-in on The Green Hornet. You had Bruce Li, whose real name was Ho Chung-tao June, playing Cato and the Green Hornet is in the movie but very briefly. It's a case involving this doctor who has invented this foodstuff made from petroleum by-products. He gets kidnapped and so Cato has to rescue him. The villain is called Superman and for some reason Cato and the Green Hornet wear capes and, even though they're the Green Hornet, they're all dressed in red. It's really cut-rate from start to finish. It's just crazy.
Bruce Lee: His Last Days, His Last Nights (1976)
GRADY HENDRIX: Shaw Brothers, the big Hong Kong movie studio, made Bruce Lee: His Last Days, His Last Nights, starring Danny Lee who would go on to play opposite Chow Yun-fat in The Killer and be a big Hong Kong movie star. I can only assume that Shaw was bitter because Bruce Lee had the audacity not to make any movies with them. Betty Ting Pei, the woman who was with Bruce Lee when he died, plays herself in the movie, which begins with her sat in a bar saying, "No one knew the real Bruce Lee." She proceeds to tell this ridiculous story about Bruce Lee, in flashback, starring Danny Lee as Bruce Lee, basically playing a guy who gets drunk a lot, is a sexual maniac, and ultimately saves Betty Ting Pei from gangsters in a big fight in a gravel pit. It is crazy tasteless and I find it extremely entertaining. But it's got nothing on the next one…
The Dragon Lives Again (1976)
POGGIALI: It opens in the Underworld with the corpse of Bruce Lee (Bruce Leong) and he gets wrapped up in this ridiculous story involving an attempted takeover of the Underworld that's being planned by Dracula, The Godfather, The Man with No Name, 007. It's just all these pop culture characters and Bruce Lee is joined by Popeye, The One-Armed Swordsman, and Caine from Kung Fu. It's a lot of fun.
HENDRIX: If you've ever wanted to see Bruce Lee and Popeye fight Dracula and Clint Eastwood stand-ins, this is the one!
Tower of Death (AKA Game of Death II) (1981)
HENDRIX: After Golden Harvest, Bruce Lee's home studio, used unfinished Bruce Lee footage to make Game of Death, it did really well. So they wanted a sequel. They lured this director, Ng See-yuen to direct this sequel by telling him they had all this extra footage of Bruce Lee. So he signed on and they didn't have any extra footage of Bruce Lee. They had maybe a minute. So he's stuck making this movie.
At a funeral for one of Bruce Lee's friends, a helicopter steals the coffin and Bruce Lee jumps on it to stop it, then falls off the coffin and dies. At that point, it turns into this really fun, ridiculous version of Enter the Dragon, where Tong Lung, who is the Bruce Lee imitator from Game of Death, goes to an island and has to fight Roy Horan, this westerner who's leading this tournament. The action is actually really fun but it's got these moments that are really just ridiculous, like Bruce Lee falling off a coffin being stolen by a helicopter and Tong Lung witnessing the majesty of this army of trained peacocks. Somewhere between an Austin Powers movie and Enter the Dragon lies Tower of Death.
Enter the Fat Dragon (1978)
POGGIALI: Enter the Fat Dragon is an early Sammo Hung movie. He directed as well as starred in it. He plays this pig farmer who is encouraged by his father to leave the farm, go to the big city. He's such a big Bruce Lee fan, at one point he ends up on the set of a Brucesploitation movie. He's insulted by the actor who's supposed to be Bruce Lee. He thinks he doesn't look like Bruce Lee and he has a bad attitude. Sammo Hung ends up wiping the floor with the whole crew. It's a very funny scene.
HENDRIX: The thing with Sammo Hung is, he was one of Jackie Chan's brothers in Chinese Opera School, this brutal opera school, but he's a big fat guy who was one of the most incredible martial artists and a really amazing action director and film director. Sammo Hung is in Enter the Dragon and he does probably the most dead-on Bruce Lee imitation, for a guy weighing probably around 200 pounds, you'll ever see in your life. So this movie's actually really good. It's a lot like a Brucesploitation movie, it's a lot of fight scenes loosely strung together, but the fights just scream, man. This one's from '78, so, at that point, I think audiences found it very gratifying to watch a Brucesploitation imitator getting the floor mopped up with his face.
These Fists Break Bricks is published by Mondo Books.