There’s no denying the fundamental influence the late Bruce Lee had on martial arts cinema and his death in July 1973 shocked the martial arts world leaving family, friends and students in a state of mourning. The international kung-fu movie scene was sent into a panic, and searched far and wide not only for those with decent martial arts skills but also those who in some way resembled the late Bruce Lee.
By the late 80’s over 25 names were counted and deemed worthy to be the new Bruce Lee or the resurrected Bruce Lee featuring a lot of Bruce’s and a lot of Lee’s. There was Bruce Li, Bruce Lai, Bruce Le, Bruce Thai, Dragon Lee, and Conan Lee, even Bronson Lee (aka karate master Tadashi Yamashita). The resulting productions came in thick and fast and were mostly rushed, low budget fare re-using music from other films like “Enter the Dragon” rehashing plots and even re-creating scenes now regarded as iconic.
The films totalling hundreds, featured top names in the industry such as Hwang Jang Lee, Bolo Yeung, director Lo Wei, and director/fight choreographer Corey Yuen. Whilst martial arts cinema changed over the decades, the Bruceploitation films became cult classics so we’ve rifled through the hundreds of titles to bring you our Top 10 Bruceploitation fight scenes featuring some of the best actors and fight scenes from this highly amusingly addictive and entertaining era of emulation!
- The Last Dragon (1985) – Taimak
- Enter the Game of Death (1978) – Bruce Le
- New Fist of Fury (1976) – Jackie Chan
- Ninja Strikes Back (1982) – Bruce Le
- Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death (1975) – Bruce Li
- Big Boss II (1982) – Dragon Lee
- Fist of Fury II (1977) – Bruce Li
- The Clones of Bruce Lee (1981) – Bruce Lai, Bruce Le, Dragon Lee
- Enter The Fat Dragon (1978) – Sammo Hung
This homage to Bruce Lee proved to be popular in the mid-80’s combining the quintessential kung-fu movie with a funky Motown soundtrack. A 19 year-old Taimak (a protégé of the respected GM Ron Van Clief aka ‘Black Dragon’) was picked to star as Leroy Green, a young martial artist on a spiritual quest and greatly influenced by Bruce Lee. His immersion in the teachings and influence of his idol see the young Leroy emulate his mannerisms and movements earning him the nickname “Bruce Leroy”. The final fight between Leroy and the Shogun of Harlem captures the thrills and essence of Bruce Lee on film with its tongue firmly in its cheek and heart boldly on its sleeve.
One of the most frequently borrowed Bruce Lee stories was his unfinished project “Game of Death”. For this incarnation Bruce Le (aka Burmese born Huang Jian Long) goes on a mission of national importance to recover secret documents locked in a pagoda tower, guarded by skilled martial artists. The final fight outside the pagoda featuring Le donning the famous yellow and black ensemble and fighting a gang of karate heavies is fast and frenetic. Le manages to capture the essence of Lee from his expressions and gestures to his fluid and non-style fight choreography.
“Fist of Fury” director Lo Wei was brought in to helm a young Jackie Chan in this sequel of sorts to Lee’s crowd pleasing blockbuster, and help launch the stuntman and bit player as the new Bruce Lee. It’s fair to say he clearly wasn’t judging by this scene, even the segment with his waving shimmering arm movement lacks any sort of drama or flow. Yet this deserves a note as Jackie clearly displayed great potential as an action star, helped by not imitating the late Bruce Lee. This epic battle, whilst not comparing to the original does encapsulate its drama and intensity adequately.
This tale of a reformed criminal on the run hired by Interpol to rescue an ambassador’s daughter borrows heavily from Bruce Lee’s work. Co-director and writer Le, pays a nod to “Way of the Dragon” as he battles superkicker Hwang Jang Lee inside Rome’s Colosseum to a disco soundtrack infused with some of Lalo Schifrin’s “Enter the Dragon” score. The choreography is crisp and fun to watch though little of it bears any resemblance to the late Bruce Lee, but by this point, Le had made capturing the nuance of his mannerisms an art form.
By far the most recognisable and popular of the Bruceploitation actors was Bruce Li. Born in Taiwan as Ho Chung-tao, his almost twin-like resemblance to Bruce Lee caused heads to turn in the streets. Li received praise for both his acting and martial arts abilities, and is the only actor from this era to have played the great man himself in films like “Bruce Lee: The Man The Myth”. Here, he plays a down-on-his-luck gambler whose girlfriend is held captive in a, you guessed it, pagoda tower guarded by skilled martial artists. Our hero must fight his way through to rescue his love. Gritty martial arts action with a little tongue-in-cheek, Li looks and moves every inch the part which, at times, almost makes you forget that he is not Bruce Lee.
Also titled “Dragon Lee Fights Again” the name change was clearly to capitalise on the increasing Bruce Lee phenomenon as it is in no way a sequel to the original. North Korean born Dragon Lee (real name Moon Kyoung-seok, aka Keo Ryong or Giant Dragon in South Korea) plays a Chinese resistance fighter who has to transport a list of names across Japanese occupied territory. Dragon Lee might not have borne much resemblance but definitely seems more relaxed in his portrayal of Lee’s expressions and gestures matched with awesome fighting skills as in this final battle against villain Bolo Yeung sporting um…a Hitler-esque moustache.
A direct sequel to the original Bruce Lee epic, sees Bruce Li as Chen Zhen’s brother Chen Shan who returns to Shanghai upon hearing of his brother’s death and finds the Chin Woo school closed and abandoned. Now he has to avenge Chen Zhen’s execution and restore the pride of Chin Woo as he takes on the Japanese school headed by Miyamoto (Lo Lieh). Much of the first film is re-captured including the infamous nunchaku battle and facing off with Miyamato in his own school. Li once again proves to be the best of the Bruceploitation era.
Why have just one Bruce Lee when, thanks to the rise of Bruceploitation you can have three all in the same film? That’s the premise born of scientist, Professor Lucas (played by “Way of the Dragon’s” Jon T. Benn) cloning the late Bruce Lee from extracted brain cells, to fight crime in Southeast Asia. This particular scene has a touch of irony with the three Bruce clones being trained by none other than Bolo Yeung. Most definitely a film not intended to be taken seriously.
Directed by and starring a young Sammo Hung this entertaining take on “Way of the Dragon” sees Sammo play a pig farmer and Bruce Lee fan who heads out to the big city to earn a living working in a restaurant. There he finds a group of thugs intimidating the owner and so takes it upon himself to challenge the gang and save the day. The film is a more of a parody satirising Bruceploitation films as in this scene where he is employed as an extra on the set of a kung-fu film starring a Bruce Lee imitator.
…and in at #1 is…
Game of Death (1978) – Yuen Biao
By the time of his demise Bruce Lee had completed filming three fight scenes which would be featured in their entirety in the John Little’s 2000 documentary “Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey”. Before then, Golden Harvest worked with “Enter the Dragon” director Robert Clouse to come up with a vehicle for these scenes to be included.
This posthumous version, a tale of an actor who fakes his death to take on the mob, involved two body doubles as stand-ins intercut with scenes from Bruce Lee’s films to give the impression that he had in fact finished the film. This scene featuring the kinetic, acrobatic human-spring himself legend Yuen Biao (doubling as Lee) fighting Bob Wall is perhaps the most flawless intercutting of exciting fight action with Biao perfectly mimicking Lee’s fighting style. There are cutaway scenes so convincing that you might well believe Bruce Lee uttered the line “You lose, Carl Miller” at the end!
And there we have it folks, 10 Bruceploitation Fight Scenes from some of the best known actors and movies of the Bruce Lee emulation era, a phenomenon which still persists to this day! So, Bruce Lai, Bruce Le, Bruce Li, Dragon Lee…who turned out the best performances and who would win the Bruce Lee X Factor contest in your opinion? Cast your votes and let us know below, join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. (Feel free to check out our other Top 10’s available for your greater FU-filment!)