Friday, September 11, 2009

Fists of Bruce Lee

Plot: Late 70's Hong Kong: ailing gang boss Master Lo (Chan Wai-Lau) wants to beef up the security system of his mansion after an attempted break-in. The current security system consists of some precariously hung garden tools (such as a "magnificent flying rake" and a sledgehammer), so he wisely decides to upgrade to an electronic system. On receiving a mysterious coded telegram, enter detective Bruce Li; who takes the job undercover as an electronics expert. On his arrival in Hong Kong, Bruce is jumped by a welcoming committee (led by Ngai Ping-Ngo) but manages to liase with his connection at a hotel bar. On arrival at the mansion he meets the gang: effete toady Po Chee Chang, hellcat daughter Lam Mei-Ling, and not-in-the-film-nearly-long-enough bodyguard Lo Lieh. While Bruce messes around with the alarm installation and flirts with Mei-Ling, the plot gets murkier: two rival gangs are after a list of names in Master Lo's possession, which somehow add up to a street value of £3 billion (which in those days was a lot of money). After a series of double-double-double crosses which will leave your head spinning, and which includes a great enemies being taken down one at a time sequence, it all boils down to Bruce vs Lo Lieh in a fight to the death. Well, almost, but the full ending is too complicated to convey in written language.

Production: directed by Hu Chung Tao for Lucky Star, this is low budget but with a good cast of known faces (Lee Keung, Hau Pak Wai, Wong Chi-Sang, Wong Fei-Lung to name a few) and some clear effort to make it a bit more colourful. The credits sequence features Bruce in a GoD tracksuit sparring blindfold to The Average White Band's 'Picking up the pieces'. We later get snippets of 'Live and Let Die', wah-funk, and rather cheekily, 'Enter the Dragon'. Locations are average but with some funky interiors: check out the hexagonal bar billiards table Lo Lieh is playing on, even he looks confused. There is a bit of novelty with a night fight at a funfair, and the usual array of shocking 70's fashions: some of the shirt collars could be used as emergency runways. There is great use of European baddies, especially the blonde Robert Kerver (the Russian kicker from Snuff Bottle Connection) who is dubbed with a Chinese accent and dresses like Napoleon Dynamite - Geek Fu! Some dialogue highlights: "I don't like sunlight, and I don't like you", "My father was a Shaolin expert, I learned Kung Fu in the womb". And the "Hotel Fortuna" is hilariously mispronounced as the "Hotel For Tuna", which is nice given the plummet in world fish stocks...

But is it Bruce? For the most part of the film Bruce Li does not try to copy Bruce Lee's signature tics and moves; rather he is pretty laid back in his acting. For the fights: the earlier stuff is simple punch and block with some signature Bruce Lee facial expressions , with the night fight at the playground reminding me of the alley scene in Way of the Dragon with the colourful array of multi-ethnic villains.
There is even a fight that could almost be classed as shapes!
It is only in the final fights of the last twenty minutes that he starts to truly 'Bruceploit': sudden head flicks with mean stares, yelps with every strike, windmilling overhand punches and brutal sidekicks. We even get a slow-motion leap and stamp on a prone opponent, and a cut cheek (but no tasting of the blood). The fight against Napoleon Dynamite is good, with blondie resorting to hidden weaponry; and this all leads up to the showdown with Lo Lieh. Lo is suprememly badass here, with a steel hand and another trick up his sleeves.

Overall: 3 out of 5, the continual plot twists will drive you nuts, but the fights keep it going until the last half hour which is well worth a look. Version watched was a UK PAL fullscreen, 96 mins, dubbed; a widescreen version is (as always) worth it to get the most out of the fights.