THE IMAGE OF BRUCE LEE (1978)
dir – Kuen Yeung. rated: Fair
Bruce Li and 21st Century Distribution Company strike again. Both Bruce Li and 21st Century kept kung fu flicks alive in the waning days of the genre before the emergence of Jackie Chan. What sets this one apart is this time Bruce Li is joined by John Chang, star of Snake in Monkey’s Shadow (one of my all time favorite kung fu flicks and one of my most treasured 35mm film prints), as an antagonist co-lead.
A shipment of counterfeit U.S. currency has flooded Hong Kong. The authorities believe the culprits behind the bogus bills are the Han Family, lead by the father (Yin-Chieh Han) and his son Steven (John Chang, not wearing his usual bangs, and practically unrecognizable due to that fact). As well as an out of town gang of Japanese counterfeiters led by Bolo (Chinese Hercules) Yeung, in one of his better roles, as the amusingly nicknamed “The Hakido Bear”.
Hi Chi (Bruce Li), a cop for special squad, and his mustache-wearing partner Lai (Chang Lei), affectionately called “Mustache,” are sent to tail the gangsters in hopes of their leading them to the counterfeit plates. Well, if by tail, you mean start a fight with them every chance they get, Chi & Mustache get right to work.
Meanwhile the Han’s niece Donna (Dana Lei), who lives in Japan, has flown to Hong Kong carrying the paper needed to print a new batch of bills. But when negotiations between the two different gangster clans become heated, Donna, Fistful of Dollars-style, begins playing one group against the other.
The story is divided between the machinations involved in the Han’s printing a new batch of bills and the two cops tailing, chasing, and fighting them. Like many a Hong Kong movie, the cops come off more brutal then the crooks. Mustache even threatens to burn down a crowded night club unless the owner supplies him with information. And since there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the cops investigation, our interest and sympathy moves to the more interesting Han family of counterfeiters. Especially Donna, who emerges as one of martial art films’ rare femme fatales. This Veronica Lake-inspired creation has all the best dialogue, whether she’s double crossing the two counterfeit gangs, wrapping Bolo Yeung around her little finger, seducing cousin Steven into her bed, or flirting with Chi and Mustache (it’s she who dubs Lai Mustache). Dana Lei dominates the film with her attitude, outlandish wardrobe, and generous helping of full frontal female nudity (not so usual in a kung fu flick).
While it maybe lacking in the script department, and the fights, though good, are usually unprovoked and undramatic, the cast is good. John Chang has about as much screen time as Bruce Li and comes across as a legitimate co-lead, raising the stakes when the two finally face off for a final showdown on a beach. Both Bruce and his partner Chang Lei match up well, and they even try and develop a Hawksian rivalry over Donna that, if more time was spent on the cop story, could have payed off more. Bruce doesn’t have much of a character this time around but he fights good and looks sensational in his seventies fashions. In fact, the whole film sports better seventies style fashions then usual in a Hong Kong film.
And just as the unmotivated fights begin to become tedious, a terrific end fight between Bruce and Old Man Han caps the film off excitingly. The film also starts with a funny little scene (gallows humor) of Bruce trying to save a man from jumping off a building, that I’ve never forgotten since I saw the film in 1978. The rest of the film I forgot, but not that opening grim joke. Even Kevin Thomas of the Los Angles Times mentioned it in his review. Oh btw, the film, as per usual, has nothing to do with Bruce Lee.