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Ben Nagy reviews “The Fists of Bruce Lee”: Way, Way Too Much Plot to Get in the Way of the Chopsocky

Before we get into Kung Fu-bruary proper, have to get a quick note of congratulations out to filmmaker Ricky Glore, the stand-up comedian who decided to do a microbudget campout slasher flick down in Cinci-tucky that cost less to make than the last time Joe Burrow treated all his offensive linemen to an all-you-can-eat lunch at Skyline Chili.

All Your Friends are Dead, the “middle-age slasher” flick about the rampage of the so-called Kentucky Fried Killer that Glore wrote, co-directed and starred in (check out my review from back in August here), has secured wider distribution from SRS Cinema. It’s going to be available to preorder on physical media starting March 3 but ONLY FOR TWO WEEKS, then there will be the usual rollout on digital platforms.

If you’re sick of seeing nubile teenagers getting murdered while out in the woods and want to see some less-nubile Gen Xers or Elder Millennials get murdered (depending on what arbitrary artificial demographic label you prefer) check out www.SRScinema.com.

Sorry about those Bengals, Ricky, but hopefully this’ll help.

In our Facebook poll at the end of October, kung-fu flicks surprised the heck out of us by coming in second to woods flicks when we asked folks what they wanted me to review since I didn’t have enough Bigfoot flicks to fill out November, which we all by now know is our traditional Bigfoot-hunting season. I say that’s surprising because usually when I check out a kung-fu flick and then we share the reviews, they seem to get the least amount of traction among folks when it comes to the likes, the shares and the comments.

Well, since everything happens for a reason and there’s basically an inexhaustible supply of em out there, popular demand and the fact that it sounds catchy dictates that we’re going to visit Kung Fu City the next few weeks during Kung Fu-bruary EXCEPT for the traditional diversion when I’ll celebrate the 62nd Henry Rollins Day the week of Feb. 13 by reviewing a flick he’s in.

The flick kicking us in the teeth to start out Kung Fu-bruary is The Fists of Bruce Lee, aka The Message of Bruce Lee aka Interpol that turns out to be the least deceptive but most spoilery title.

Ben Nagy reviews "The Fists of Bruce Lee": Way, Way Too Much Plot to Get in the Way of the Chopsocky 1
These yellow sweatpants are the closest “The Fists of Bruce Lee” gets to actual Bruce Lee content. (Screen capture from a very crummy DVD by reviewer Ben Nagy).

Released in 1977, it was directed by and stars Bruce Lee impersonator Ho Chung Tao, aka Bruce Li, as Lee Min-Chin, who’s working as a security installer for whatever the Hong Kong equivalent of ADT in the mid-1970s is. Lee’s flown out to install a security system by this old guy named Master Lo who yells at people for reminding him to take his vitamins. Lo has some kind of secret list that would interest criminals in his mansion and a bunch of traps out in the woods surrounding his place, but he wants the interior taken care of, too.

To note — with these 1970s chopsocky flicks, beyond the choreographed fight scenes, you can expect two other staples — footage of a jet plane signifying transport of the main character and exciting stock footage of an airport’s exterior. If it’s a “modern” non-historical kung-fu flick and not a fantasy setting, about 95% of them are gonna have stock airplane and airport footage to add production value. Of course, the Spaghetti Western-style zooms and progressively more intense reverb overdubbed sound effects during all the fights also come standard.

Anyhow, Lee is taken to a hotel by a henchman named Octopus or Altoids (Ping-Ou Wei) who wears a pseudo-Kolchakian hat and has bad teeth. Lee senses something is up and fights Altoids and three other thugs and then finds a business card for Hotel Fortuna on Altoids after he knocks em all out, so he goes there.

So then he goes to the hotel where an acid jazz band is playing, gets scowled at by two guys, including one with impressive sideburns, finds another guy dead in front of a make-up chair, and then gets ambushed with a wooden stool, which evidently makes everyone in the hotel restaurant evacuate. That’s not entirely accurate, though, because there’s another dead guy in the restaurant after Lee comes to, so it might not have been the stool-smashing that caused the panic.

Then a guy shows up in a black 1968 Chevy Caprice or Impala with the sirens blaring in the distance and Lee gets in where they have a scintillating conversation of “Are you in trouble?” “Not really.” “Then why did you accept my invitation?” “I wouldn’t have gotten in had you not invited me.” “You think you’re smart. Am I right?”

This whole conversation does end up making tons of sense if you watch until the end, but at the time is seems like evasive battle-of-wits male posturing. It’s also being recorded and listened to by a bunch of guys in a room, each simultaneously smoking half a pack of cigarettes and expected by Li to do kung fu later in the flick, even the overweight leader guy with the combover.

Then the driver says that he knows that Lee needs to go see Master Lo, but first he needs to get through Poo Chi Chang (not Pootytang, but close), who we think is this woman in sunglasses toting a shotgun at the mansion. Poo’s actually a manservant in a white shirt who sweats a lot, dabs himself constantly with a handkerchief and has a porn stash that Lee finds later while doing his installation. Mr. Chevy Driver also tells Lee to meet him at the local garbage dump, which is downwind from the local amusement park, that night.

Lo asks Lee to install a security system, but he needs to leave Lo’s daughter alone. She was the lady threatening Lee.

Ben Nagy reviews "The Fists of Bruce Lee": Way, Way Too Much Plot to Get in the Way of the Chopsocky 2
Lee (Bruce Li), right in white, fights a bunch of thugs in an amusement park, although you couldn’t see half of it. (Screen capture from crummy DVD by reviewer Ben Nagy)

Lee decides to make good on his appointment, but while he’s walking around at the garbage dump, that doesn’t really look very dumpy, a guy with a bo staff and another guy attack him. He beats them up, and then two flippy guys do handsprings from opposite directions to try to ambush him and he beats them up with a flying double spread kick that misses both guys by at least three feet.

The guy from the Chevy Impala propositions him to do a job for him, Lee says heck no, and then a boss guy in the shadows orders Impala guy to get some thugs. Lee is then magically at the amusement park and has to fight two guys with bo staffs and five other guys. One guy blinds him with talcum powder, but before Lee gets overwhelmed by his foes, an actor who should have ended up in motion-picture history had he not died early from throat cancer comes in to save the day.

Ben Nagy reviews "The Fists of Bruce Lee": Way, Way Too Much Plot to Get in the Way of the Chopsocky 3
Kung Fu Tom Petty (Robert Kerver), right, comes to the aid of the blinded Lee (Bruce Li), left. (Screen capture from crummy DVD by reviewer Ben Nagy)

Yes, Kung Fu Tom Petty shows up with reinforcements. Played by Robert Kerver, he doesn’t back down, stands his ground and won’t be turned around.

Turns out, Octopus/Altoids sent those guys to save Lee and so he decides to deal with Kung Fu Tom Petty’s boss. The next day, while scouting around installing Lo’s security system, he finds Poo’s vintage porn stash. This makes a bunch of guys with ugly sticks suspicious. He makes one of the guys grab two wires and gives him an electric shock, so they fight and Lee embarrasses them in front of Lo’s daughter.

Then the hoodlums who were eavesdropping on Lee summon him and tell him to cooperate and they’ll pay him. Lee gives em a firm maybe.

Ben Nagy reviews "The Fists of Bruce Lee": Way, Way Too Much Plot to Get in the Way of the Chopsocky 4
Backed by Kung Fu Tom Petty and Kung Fu Larry Csonka (at right in glasses), the leader of one group of thugs prepares for a kung-fu fight. (Screen capture from a crummy DVD by reviewer Ben Nagy).

Then there’s a middle-of-the-night meetup between the hoodlum groups with Kung Fu Tom Petty and Kung Fu Larry Csonka on one side and Chevy Driver and eavesdropping chain-smoking overweight nerd guy on the other. Lee watches this all with the detached amusement that Bruce Lee had when he let the snakes loose in the control room in Enter the Dragon, grabs a Yosemite Sam dynamite bomb, then rolls it into the middle of the fight, but he faked everyone out as it was really just a bowling ball with some sparklers shoved in it, so nobody explodes.

Then there’s a hot tub scene with a bunch of guys in yellow towels talking about the Black Eagle code or something and how they need to kidnap Lo’s daughter.

Then Li and Lo’s daughter frolic before getting trapped by two guys in a subway tunnel, so he fights them off and they run away to the melody of “Live and Let Die.” Then he fights this gang of people led by Chevy Driver, who is his enemy now and gets re-re-reintroduced after stepping out of the shadows with the first few chords of the James Bond theme playing on the soundtrack.

About 55 minutes in, there gets to be way too much plot getting in the way of the chopsocky. Everybody on Altoids’ side, including Kung Fu Tom Petty, meets in this warehouse with an artificial shark, which you can’t really see in the crappily cropped full-screen version and they decide to assassinate the rival gang. Then, in the span of about four minutes, one gangster guy stabs a guy on some railroad tracks, Kung Fu Larry Csonka visits an archery range and arrows a guy in the chest and then Kung Fu Tom Petty defeats the guy with impressive sideburns from the hotel in a great fight by whipping out these double-knife-edged nunchucks and then cutting the shirtless sideburns guy to ribbons. A woman also poisons a guy.

After all the gangster stuff is settled, Kung Fu Tom Petty and the surviving bad guys kidnap Lo’s daughter, intending to hold her for ransom for that secret list, so Lee has to do a 0.25 Jackie Chan, steal a bike, beat up two teenagers who wreck him while en route, and so he runs to the brick factory on the outskirts of town to try to save the girl before Lo surrenders the list.

Ben Nagy reviews "The Fists of Bruce Lee": Way, Way Too Much Plot to Get in the Way of the Chopsocky 5

Best Use of Prosthetics: Lo’s black-gloved security expert (martial arts legend Lieh Lo) takes off his hand in the final fight (a la Mr. Han in Enter the Dragon) and flings it around with a chain trying to wound people with its cutting edge.

Best Show of Contempt to a Contractor You Just Met: Master Lo to Lee — “I don’t like sunshine, and I don’t like you.”

Best Sign to Back Off: After Lee goes into Lo’s daughter’s bedroom to check her circuits (no, really), she uses a doll to shoot poison darts at him for fun. “I’m very safe here. No need to check circuit. Please leave.”

Best Advocate for Oral Health: Lee gets overtly concerned about his host’s teeth and asks Poo why Master Lo doesn’t have dentures.

Best Bravado: “Bumbling idiots,” Lee says. “They were no match for me. When you are in trouble, one always has to remain cool.”

Truth be told, the disc I watched was terrible with absolutely abysmal cropping to full-screen dimensions that made me completely embarrassed for the manufacturer. Check out these examples of screen shots.

Ben Nagy reviews "The Fists of Bruce Lee": Way, Way Too Much Plot to Get in the Way of the Chopsocky 6
Check out this great crop of the overweight chain-smoking criminal geek. (Screen capture from crummy DVD by reviewer Ben Nagy).
Ben Nagy reviews "The Fists of Bruce Lee": Way, Way Too Much Plot to Get in the Way of the Chopsocky 7
Here’s another great crop — Lee (Bruce Li), left, and Altoids/Octopus (Ping Ou-Wei). (Screen capture from crummy DVD by reviewer Ben Nagy)

Because of the atrocious presentation on the DVD, I was going to only give the flick a half star cause I couldn’t see half of what was going on and the flick got way, way too complicated trying to do the Fistful of Dollars triple double-cross plot while also throwing in some spy nonsense. The presence of Kung Fu Tom Petty and Kung Fu Larry Csonka and even the scene where Lee discovers Poo’s vintage porn stash couldn’t bring the rating up. The version on TubiTV was no better.

However, some saintly folks on YouTube (I’m looking at you, Wu Tang Collection) have put the true widescreen version on there. Granted, the audio is different (no unauthorized “Live and Let Die” or James Bond theme because that would get em yanked) and you might have to deal with French dubbing and English subtitles. Once I put the original English audio from the DVD on and synched it up roughly with a widescreen version on YouTube while muting that audio, it was an OK experience. Still, you have to watch it about 11 times to figure the plot out.

Two stars.

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