AKA: Bruce Lee Is Superdragon; The Young Bruce Lee; The Legend of Bruce Lee
Bruce Li's second attempt at a Bruce Lee bio-pic is a better kung fu movie than its predecessor, Bruce Lee: A Dragon Story, but is seriously lacking in the scandal and sleaze which made that picture considerably more interesting.
Instead, this is very much a work of fiction, playing almost as though it was a script inspired by Bruce until someone threw up their hands and decided they might as well be hanged for a sheep than a lamb, but ensured the supporting characters were changed enough that no-one got drawn and quartered for the whole damn flock.
Distributed internationally by wheeler-dealer Dick Randall, this film benefits from being dubbed in Rome, which makes a nice change of pace if nothing else, though as far as I'm concerned, it's just not a kung fu movie without Ted Thomas and the "but still…" crowd!
And judging from the slow and stilted kung fu on offer here, it wouldn't have been much of one anyway. Bruce Li has definetly come on leaps and bounds from his earlier film, now in better shape, clean shaven and starting to show off his tae kwon do kicks. And yet, the fighting remains uncoordinated and repetitive, the extras frequently missing their cues. It says something that the best fight Li has in the film is a scene where Bruce Lee and an old kung fu master debate fighting techniques verbally, with the moves shown as "what ifs" via split-screen (the English dubbers intentionally left this scene in Chinese, adding to the off-beat flavour).
The best fights in the movie are not technically part of it, and their appearance depends on which print you watch. Essentially we see Lee/Li/whatever directing a movie. Despite the entirely stationary camera next to him, the footage we see him directing is handheld, and borrowed from other movies. My DVD, the Goodtimes release under the title The Young Bruce Lee, shows some incredibly shakey and hard to follow action, possibly derived from a Korean production. It's similar to the chaotic messes seen in Toei's Karate Bullfighter, and frankly, gave me a headache. I'm not exactly looking forward to seeing a whole movie like that!
However, the US prints went one better (well, two better, actually) and instead utilised lengthy clips from The Screaming Tiger (AKA Wang Yu: King of Boxers, thus giving Jimmy Wang Yu special billing on the posters) and Slash! The Blade of Death (AKA The Chase, poor James Tien NOT getting special billing on the posters!).
These few fights play second fiddle to the tedious soap opera of the main story, which is not interested in Bruce and Linda (who appears briefly, played by a rather cute actress), or Bruce and Betty Ting Pei (who doesn't appear at all, at least not in the print I've seen), but rather Bruce's fictional childhood friend, who learns Wing Chun alongside him and becomes a popular Peking Opera actor. Scenes of this guy moping around getting depressed slow the pace down horribly. I imagine he's meant to be Unicorn Chan, but since this guy doesn't trick Bruce into appearing in a low-rent flick, the connection is very slight. Curiously enough, this marks the debut of the recurrent bro-mance that would appear between Bruce Li and actor Chung Au-yeung, which would carry on for another movie or two.
Thankfully lending the film a bit of class is Wei Ping-ao, here playing "Mr. Wang", who is basically Raymond Chow, and historically marking the first time a Bruce Lee bio-pic cast one of his co-stars in a supporting role. Bruce Li's regular co-stars Shan Mao and Lung Fei are rather underused and even for the 70s lack fashion sense, the former in a stripy gondolier t-shirt, the latter in yellow tracksuit pants and a vest, which reveals him to be a lot more wiry then I had previously realised.
And as for the death scene…we don't get one. I think we're meant to take it from the last fight that Bruce gets done in by the dim mak, but my suspicion is everyone was just hoping that things would be OK so long as they didn't mention that woman…
Rather like Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, then. Only, not as good.
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