Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fighting Eastwood, Bond, and the Excorcist in Hell
What Bruce Lee’s been up to lately...

In our heart of hearts, I think most everyone has to admit: in general, Bruce Lee's movies weren't very good. Or, at least, they didn't really live up to the aura and charisma surrounding the man himself. But even that's not exactly fair, since Bruce's own forays into writer-director seemed a touch misguided. I guess I'll just leave it at Bruce's movies were a mixed bag, watchable but not quite the classics we've turned them into. (Enter the Dragon is probably still the top...but I still won't forgive them for killing off Jim Kelly instead of John Saxon.)

However, despite the continued steady stream of martial arts madness from the Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest, Bruce's death left a void. So in order to exploit the love of the fans and the box office weight of his name, an explosion of knock-offs hit the screens in what is now collectively known in the genre film world as Bruceploitation.

Most of these movies involved investigating Bruce's death, stories about Bruce faking his own death, and stories about Bruce coming back from the dead (as well as the occasional biopic or pseudo-sequel.) But only one that I've found deals with what movie-world Bruce did WHILE he was dead. I give you:

DRAGON LIVES AGAIN (1977, d. Kei Law)

The Story: (This is a tough one) Bruce awakes in the underworld, and must help it's citizens defy the Lord of the Underworld, as well as stop a plot against the Lord of the Underworld led by the "Excorcist" and the "Godfather" (I'm not kidding...and it gets worse...just keep reading).

The Review: There's no real way to review this in any realistic sense, and any attempt to do so would make the reviewer look like an idiot. No one watched these movies for their cinematic integrity when they came out, and no one watches them for that now. Having said that, I'll sort of do it anyway.

The plot is bad and not even so much full of holes as just largely incomprehensible or seeming as though whole scenes were either made up or torn out. The acting looks pretty bad, but I'll give them a couple of grains of salt as the dubbing is even worse. That also makes it hard to flat out call the dialogue bad (although no English speaking person on Earth speaks this way...I hope), but I think it's safe to assume that even in it's native tongue it's still pretty bad. The sets are bad (just in case you were hoping for some cool hyper-stylized view of the afterlife that some Asian movies have), and consist primarily of the Kung Fu Movie Anytown and the Rock Quarry that everyone always seem to get to whenever it's time to fight. The costumes are...well...we'll get to them in a second.

So, is this thing watchable? Except for being a bad pan & scan copy from VHS...ABSOLUTELY!

As the film opens, we've already got a nunchucks as boner jokes as Bruce wakes up in the underworld, but if you look in the background there's a guard with a strange, huge horsehead helmet on. I was already sold. Bruce, here played by Siu-Lung Leung (The Beast from Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle), does not look like Bruce Lee because, as the ladies of the Lord of the Underworld's harem explain, people's faces change when they die. Fair enough. Leung does a decent job of mugging BL-style, although he over does it with the thumb-to-the-nose bit.

Bruce leaves the Lord of the Underworld's lair to go to...uh...the Underworld city. At a restaurant, after meeting Popeye and Caine from Kung Fu (both played by Chinese guys), he gets into a fight with Zatoichi (who probably does the best at mimicking the original character...sort of). This leads to the arrival of the Man with No Name (the Clint Eastwood character), played by a Chinse guy with fake stubble and a sort of black face make-up, and James Bond, played by a white guy who looks none of the gents to have ever played 007. Oh yes, and they have a bunch of guys in leotards with skeletons painted on them who manage to kick Bruce's @$$ somehow in a psychedelic display that's not explained...

To be honest, I'm not even sure how much more I should explain. This thing really has to be seen. I haven't even gotten to the fight with Dracula or contemplating why "The Excorcist" (who I assume is supposed to be Von Sydow's Father Merrin) has a French accent and is getting cozy with Emmanuelle (yup, that one).

So in keeping with this movie's random hodgepodge of elements, I will say that I kept thinking randomly of the pseudepigrapha book, The Gospel of Nicodemus (or the Acts of Pilate), wherein Jesus, during the three days of his death, descends into Hell to kick some @$$ and free some souls. Well, that's not exactly what he does, but remember what I was watching while thinking this.

Moving on, this film also features an excess of gratuitous nudity that was as largely as inexplicable as most of the rest of the proceedings...except perhaps when Emmanuelle tries to kill the Lord Underworld with some sort of orgasmic vibrations. (In case your wondering, she's foiled when Bruce shows up, for no apparent reason, in his Kato costume from the Green Hornet.)

Also, two times, a facsimile of Jimmy Wang Yu's One Armed Swordsman shows up. One of those times, it's to fight mummies.

I've said to much already, and without mentioning the strange subtitles during the fight scenes...which, I think were meant to be funny...and kind of...uh...well, weren't.

All in all, for this blend of comedic randomness squashed between overlong fight scenes, I'd rater watch Sonny Chiba in The Executioner, but that movie doesn't even hold a candle to this movie's sheer inanity.

Watch it, if for nothing more, than the ten minute long credit sequence of bizarre costume changes and choreography...

I don't know how to end I'll end it...Oh, there was a sort of plot, Bruce wants to come back to Earth...or something like that.