Eye For Film >> Movies >> Enter The Clones Of Bruce Lee (2023) Film Review
Enter The Clones Of Bruce Lee
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Bruce Lee may only have lived to the age of 32, but he made an impact on cinema which few people have come close to. He also left it with a massive problem. Thanks to films like The Big Boss and Fist Of Fury, he was already a big star in Hong Kong before he got the call from Warner Bros. which would make him an international megastar. He could fight, he could act, he was bursting with charisma – but six days before Enter The Dragon was released, he suffered a cerebral oedema and died.
It was a tragedy for Lee’s family and friends. It saddened his established fans and the wider martial arts community. Beyond that, something else happened. Millions and millions of new fans, all around the world, began demanding to see more of Lee. The studios with rights to his work quickly responded. Hastily dubbed Hong Kong hits packed out cinemas – but there weren’t very many of them. What happens in a capitalist society when there is massive demand for a product which simply isn’t available? Imitation products emerge, regardless of the human cost. This documentary, which screened at Frightfest on the 50th anniversary of the release of Enter The Dragon, profiles the men who suddenly found themselves working as Bruce Lee clones.
There were a lot of them. First up, the talented but reluctant Ho Jong-dao, renamed Bruce Li for marketing purposes, who laments the career which he might have built in his own right had he not been co-opted into roles which were plainly created with the intention of fooling some viewers into thinking that he was the same man. Then Moon Kyeong-sok, dubbed ‘Dragon Lee’; then Bruce Le, all the way from Burma. Later, Bruce Thai and Bruce Liang. Different versions of the product were introduced in an effort to connect with different market sectors: blaxploitation met Bruceploitation in the films of Jim Kelly, and Ron Van Clief, labelled ‘the black dragon’, made a big impression. They called Angela Mao ‘the female Bruce Lee,’ attaching her firmly to the fad when she, too, had promising star power of her own.
As well as meeting surviving clones, some of whom have fascinating stories of their own, David Gregory’s film looks at the wider story of Bruceploitation, which it identifies as beginning with Bruce Lee And I, a film cobbled together from behind the scenes footage and released whilst the star was still alive. It looks at the wave of films like Bruce Lee Fights Back From The Grave (aka America Bangmungaeg) which latched onto conspiracy theories surrounding the star’s death, and at the increasingly inaccurate biographies which emerged, each purporting to tell the never-before-seen true story, without a thought for the impact on his family. Then there were the films whose posters identified him as the headline star even though all they had was a snippet from an old TV episode in which he had appeared, or even footage from one of the films he made as a child. The extent to which filmmakers would go to lay claim to him – and sometimes other stars besides – is astonishing to see, and extremely pertinent in light of this film’s appearance at a point when actors are challenging studios over the appropriation of their images.
In amongst the cheap knock-offs and the hideously insensitive reworkings are a handful of gems, such as The Clones Of Bruce, which features Bruce Le, Dragon Lee and Bruce Thai all together as the products of a mad scientist’s attempt to clone Lee and create his own army of martial artists. Inevitably, the film wends its way towards the only man who really could give Lee a run for his money: Jackie Chan. The emergence of Drunken Master in 1978 looked set to change everything – but then, of course, Star Wars came out in that same year, and suddenly moviegoers wanted something else.
A fascinating portrait of a cinematic era which will leave those who remain martial arts fans with a lot of titles to hunt down, Enter The Clones Of Bruce Lee is also an intriguing piece of socioeconomic analysis which explores a ruthless marketing machine gone completely off the rails. It closes with an opportunity for the clones to reflect on their careers and on what might have been. For some, it’s a sad tale of being railroaded into somethong they never wanted. For others, despite numerous injuries and the temporary loss of their own identities, it was an adventure well worth having, and an opportunity to pay tribute to a uniquely talented man whose legend brings people flocking into cinemas even today.Reviewed on: 27 Aug 2023