Delving into the confusing realm of Brucesploitation, three Bruce Lee “clones” get embroiled in gang intrigue and a jewel heist
In the spirit that there were three Magi and that the certain holiday that they were involved in is mere days away, I picked out a movie that well befits the numerics involved.
Now – let’s all take a deep breath here, because herein lies the way to chopsocky madness. I took eight pages of notes on this flick trying to keep things straight. I have 11 browser tabs open while writing this (five of which are Far East bootleg DVD sites based in Saskatchewan) and am also referencing Re-Enter the Dragon Mr. Stewart Home’s book overviewing 146 movies considered to have links to the Brucesploitation genre. I am probably going to get something wrong here, and I am resigned to that fact.
So let’s enter Enter Three Dragons, aka Dragon on Fire, a 1978 Hong Kong movie directed by Joseph Velasco (aka Joseph Kong, aka Joseph Kong Hong). This is not to be confused with a movie called The Dragon, the Hero that had the alternate title of Dragon on Fire in Korea that came out in 1979 that starred Brucesploitation actor Dragon Lee (aka Mung Kyong-sok). Dragon Lee is the third “Dragon” we are introduced to in Enter Three Dragons but who ends up being in the final fight.
But first, a digression.
After Bruce Lee’s brain exploded in 1973 and even before, entrepreneurs in Hong Kong recognized the Kung Fu mania that was exploding in the West. There was a need for product both in the East and in the West thanks to the popularity of the martial arts star’s breakout Enter the Dragon, but with Lee’s untimely death came a big vacuum, especially when it came to finding the next big martial arts star.
Thus was born “Brucesploitation,” where actors who vaguely looked like Lee (aka “The Little Dragon”) and could do passable kung-fu moves were given Westernized names such as Bruce Le, Bruce Li, Bruce Lei, Bruce Lo, Bruce Lai, Bruce Thai and Dragon Lee (just to name seven) and starring vehicles, crossovers and whatever else to make a buck by linking up their flick in some way, shape or form with Bruce Lee. The actors frequently aped Bruce Lee’s mannerisms, wore clothes similar to Lee in their flicks and lacked the inherent charisma of the late star. But there had to be a demand, and money had to be made because THEY KEPT MAKING THEM to the point where one of Joe Bob’s favorite NYC theaters always had “Three Giant Kung Fu Hits” playing for a decade until Mayor Ed Koch screwed things up in the 1980s.
So here’s Enter Three Dragons, made four years after Bruce Lee’s death and featuring three of the so-called “clones of Bruce Lee” — Bruce Lai (aka Chang Yi-Tao), Bruce Thai (aka Chang Chung Yee) and Dragon Lee. (By the way, there was a 1980 movie called The Clones of Bruce Lee, also directed by Velasco, that had four, count em, four Bruce Lee imitators in it, including the three guys in this one and Bruce Li [aka Ho Chung-tao].)
The flick opens up with a stolen jewel exchange gone bad when Sammy (Samuel Walls, aka Steve James — the late action star who probably is most recognizable as Kung Fu Joe in I’m Gonna Get You Sucka but who was also in The Delta Force, the American Ninja series and The Exterminator) and the guy he was getting the jewels from get knocked out. When he comes to, the other guy is dead, the jewels are gone and Sammy has to figure out what the heck to do.
Sammy gets in touch with his buddy Min (Nick Cheung Lik) and they call in a relative of Min’s (a cousin, I think) named Dragon Hung (Bruce Lai) to come in to help out. After some stock footage of a jet landing is shown, a cross-eyed guide picks up Dragon Yeung (Bruce Thai) instead of Dragon Hung and takes him over to Min’s house.
So that means that Dragon Hung is left at the airport and so he wanders around for a while accompanied on the soundtrack by what is likely the unauthorized use of Giorgio Moroder’s “The Chase” from Midnight Express (the original Coast-to-Coast A.M. theme) until he gets into about a two-minute long fight with a bunch of guys at a construction site.
Keep in mind – this is a kung-fu flick. One thing about kung-fu flicks of this era is that if you expect stuff like, oh, a coherent narrative and a sensible chronology as the film moves along, you’re gonna probably end up being disappointed. There’s no sepia tone indicating a flashback. You are lucky if the dubbed dialogue names the characters. You gotta figure this stuff out, and this one is especially fun because we have Dragon Hung and Dragon Yeung and the first names are the same and the last names are dang similar and they both come out of the airport wearing those classic 1970s Bruce Lee sunglasses.
So both of these Dragon guys and Min say they’ll help Sammy out of this predicament that involves a couple of gangster brothers who also look alike with flour in their hair, adding to the confusion, and there’s also Dragon Hung’s half-brother, Bruce Hung, who is out there practicing his kung fu out on the mountaintop and in local gyms when he’s not out visiting the local Buddhist temple and learning stuff from the local priest like “beat the bastards” and “evil must be repaid by evil — we must be bad to them.”
The criminals get double-crossed, Dragon Yeung and Min’s sister get kidnapped, there’s a dozen fights ranging from 30 seconds to a minute to tw minutes in duration until there’s constant fighting for the last 15 minutes of the flick, there’s a bunch of 1970s fashion, Bolo Yeung shows up and beats the heck out of Steve James, and it pretty much doesn’t make a lick of narrative sense unless you watch it about five times.
I forgot to mention that there’s also a couple Benny Hill-type scenes and the cross-eyed guy gets his clothes stolen by a loan shark since he owes him $700 and has to wander around wearing a cardboard box.
• Best Fight: The last 15 minutes are an ongoing kung-fu battle with Bruce Lai and Min going to the crime boss’s headquarters battling about 11 guys in primary colored T-shirts, then Bolo (the guy John Saxon kicked in the nuts in Enter the Dragon or the big baddie in Bloodsport, depending on what era you’re from), then a bunch of guys carrying lead pipes, then a skinny bald guy in a yellow tank top and then the Big Bad Boss, Kao Fei (Philip Ko).
• Best Insult: Dragon Hung, upon meeting Bolo: “You must be the one called Bolo — a large body but a very retarded mind.”
• Best Multi-tasking: Kao Fei does that lazy kung-fu style where he keeps one hand behind his back and then he fights two guys for about 40 seconds with his pipe/cigarette holder in his hand before getting serious and putting it down. Wong, the traitorous double-crosser, also gets into a fight and fights for about 30 seconds while holding the briefcase full of jewels. Marvelous.
• And here’s the death toll (spoiler alert):
1. The guy Sammy was getting the stolen jewels from (pre-credits)
2. Informant guy Georgie and ally of Sammy gets kicked to death during a fight.
3. Crime Boss #2 gets betrayed, slashed by lackey guy Leung in the stomach and then impaled by a bamboo stake.
4. Wong gets gut-stabbed by Leung.
5. Leung gets killed by Crime Boss #1.
6. Bolo gets killed by Dragon Hung.
7. Dragon Hung gets killed in the second-to-final fight.
8. Crime Boss Numero Uno dies in the end to Bruce Hung.
Three stars (of course).
Enter Three Dragons, aka Dragon on Fire, is available on DVD from Far East Flix but Lord knows whether this is an official release or not. I’m leaning towards not. I saw a VHS copy under the Dragon on Fire title on eBay for $100. I think a better option (and the way that I watched it) could be through the Wu Tang Collection channel on YouTube.
Check it out.