Exploring a bizarre chapter in cult film history, Enter the Clones of Bruce.
Enter the Clones of Bruce: A Bizarre Chapter in Cult Film History
Bruce Lee is a name that needs no introduction. The legendary martial artist and actor has left an indelible mark on popular culture, inspiring countless films, TV shows, and video games. But what many people don’t know is that after Lee’s untimely death in 1973, a strange phenomenon occurred in the world of martial arts cinema: the rise of the Bruce Lee clones.
These clones were actors who bore a striking resemblance to Lee and imitated his fighting style and mannerisms. They starred in a slew of low-budget martial arts films that flooded the market in the 1970s and 80s, capitalizing on the public’s insatiable appetite for Bruce Lee content. But while some of these films were entertaining in their own right, most were shameless cash grabs that tarnished Lee’s legacy and exploited his fans.
So how did this bizarre chapter in cult film history come about? To understand the rise of the Bruce Lee clones, we need to look at the cultural and political context of the time.
In the early 1970s, Hong Kong cinema was undergoing a revolution. The Shaw Brothers studio had dominated the industry for decades with their lavish historical epics and kung fu films, but a new wave of filmmakers was emerging who sought to break away from the studio system and make more realistic, gritty films that reflected the social and political upheavals of the era.
One of these filmmakers was Bruce Lee. After achieving success in Hollywood with his role in the TV series The Green Hornet, Lee returned to Hong Kong and made a series of groundbreaking martial arts films that revolutionized the genre. His films, such as The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, and Way of the Dragon, were not just showcases for his incredible fighting skills, but also critiques of social injustice and colonialism.
Lee’s sudden death in 1973 shocked the world and left a void in the martial arts film industry. Fans were hungry for more Bruce Lee films, but with no new material to offer, studios began to look for ways to cash in on his popularity. Enter the Bruce Lee clones.
The first Bruce Lee clone was Bruce Li (real name Ho Chung-tao), a Taiwanese actor who had previously worked as a stuntman on Lee’s films. Li bore a striking resemblance to Lee and had a similar fighting style, so it was only natural that he would be cast in films that imitated Lee’s formula. Li’s first film, The New Game of Death, was a blatant rip-off of Lee’s unfinished film Game of Death, which had been released posthumously in 1978.
The New Game of Death was a huge success, and soon other Bruce Lee clones began to emerge. There was Bruce Le (real name Huang Kin-lung), who starred in films like Bruce’s Deadly Fingers and Bruce and Shaolin Kung Fu; Dragon Lee (real name Huang Jian-long), who starred in films like Enter the Dragon Lee and Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave; and Bruce Leung (real name Leung Siu-lung), who starred in films like Bruce and Shaolin Kung Fu 2 and Bruce and Shaolin Kung Fu 3.
These actors were not just imitators of Lee’s fighting style, but also his persona. They adopted his trademark scowl, his cocky swagger, and his philosophical musings on the nature of martial arts. They even dressed like him, wearing the iconic yellow jumpsuit from Game of Death and sporting his signature haircut.
But while the Bruce Lee clones may have looked and fought like Lee, they lacked his charisma and depth as an actor. They were one-dimensional caricatures, mere shadows of the real Bruce Lee. And while some of their films were entertaining in a cheesy, B-movie kind of way, most were forgettable and formulaic.
The rise of the Bruce Lee clones also coincided with a period of political turmoil in Hong Kong. The city was still a British colony at the time, and there was growing resentment among the local population towards the colonial government. Many of the Bruce Lee clones’ films tapped into this sentiment, portraying the Chinese as heroic underdogs fighting against oppressive foreign powers.
But while these films may have resonated with audiences at the time, they also perpetuated harmful stereotypes and reinforced nationalist ideologies. They were also often riddled with inaccuracies and historical revisionism, portraying Chinese martial arts as a superior form of combat that could defeat any foreign foe.
The Bruce Lee clones may have been a bizarre and often cringe-worthy chapter in cult film history, but they also represent a fascinating intersection of politics, culture, and fandom. They were a product of their time, a reflection of the public’s obsession with Bruce Lee and the changing social and political landscape of Hong Kong. And while they may never be able to match the real Bruce Lee’s legacy, they remain a curious footnote in the history of martial arts cinema.