Director: Lo Ke
Stars: Bruce Leong, Shin Ii Lung, Tong Ching, Alexander Grand and Jenny
Index: Weird Wednesdays.
Having changed the face of action movies forever by introducing the western world to Hong Kong martial arts pictures, Bruce Lee died in 1973, at the height of his fame. Needless to say, the kung fu industry was rather distraught and promptly cast everyone and his dog as 'the new Bruce Lee'. Some of the actors who were tasked with this role, like Bruce Le and Bruce Li, did pretty well and became stars themselves. Some became famous once they stopped pretending to be Bruce Lee, like Jackie Chan, the embarrassing star of New Fists of Fury. Others just earned their wages in a neverending barrage of Brucesploitation movies, a few of which are fun, most of which are awful and some of which are outright bizarre. This is emphatically one of the latter, an apparent comedy from 1977 known both as The Dragon Lives Again (though it isn't a sequel to the previous year's The Dragon Lives) and Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. The principal reason that it's bizarre is that Lee is far from the only icon in the movie; in fact, it's packed full of them!
It's also bizarre because of how these icons are treated, starting with Bruce Lee himself. Even though it's been four years since his death, he shows up unconscious on a set of trestles with a sheet hiding what is apparently a giant boner, one that the King of the Underworld's two wives are rather keen on (spoiler: it's really his nunchucks). Yes, we're in the underworld, which looks so much like the regular world of kung fu movies that we might be excused if we think it's the same one. The impersonator this time out is Leung Siu-Lung, credited as Bruce Leong, a decent martial artist but one who looks a lot less like Bruce Lee than Shen Ie Lung, playing the Godfather without any of Marlon Brando's mumbling but with a physique that resembles Lee's, at least once he strips off his outfit for the boss battle in the inevitable rock quarry that, contrary to the laws of physics, apparently sits right in the middle of town so that folk can merely look sideways whenever they want a fight and let it take over their environment.
I don't remember Zatoichi ever being a bad guy, but here he's working for the Godfather, who apparently collects icons, because his other minions all fit in that category. There's the Man with No Name, complete with poncho, though the English dub refers to him as Clint Eastwood throughout; there's Exorcist (without a 'the') who is inexplicably French; and there's Dracula and his army of zombies, who look rather like men in black bodysuits with white skeletons painted on them; they don't even attempt to stay in front of black backgrounds which might have made them look cool. Two more are played by non-Chinese actors. James Bond appears in the form of 'Champion-boxer of Europe, Alexander Grand', who had kicked off his career with a couple of Bruce Lee titles, Fist of Fury and The Way of the Dragon. The other, the Godfather's sexy assassin, Emmanuelle, is played by Jenny, who has neither a last name nor another film credit. Now, who could stand against such a line up? No, don't answer that question. This is Brucesploitation, baby!
Clearly this isn't a movie for everyone, but it has so much happening that nobody watching is likely to be bored, even if they can't get into the weirdness of it. It also can't be accused of false advertising (except for that title) because it even showcases all those various icons during the action packed opening credits sequence; how can anyone fail to thrill to the sight of the Man with no Name shooting himself in the foot and setting his poncho on fire? It's a special kind of movie genius to be sure, but it's genius nonetheless. What's problematic is that there's so much going on here that it's hard to pick what stands out the most. Strangely, as perhaps befits this movie, it isn't the fight scenes, because they're mostly underwhelming until the boss battles at the end, which are much more like what we should have had all along. The Clint Eastwood and James Bond fights might prompt us to ask for our money back. They're more like what the wrestling industry call squash matches, there just to briefly showcase the hero.
Given that this movie was originally released in Cantonese and I watched an English dub, I can't trust all the dialogue to be even close to accurate; I learned that lesson watching midget superstar Weng Weng's For Y'ur Height Only. However, during the Bruce Lee vs Zatoichi fight, the fighters' astounding repertoire of moves is mirrored in subtitles as well, just in case we missed the dialogue. Lee's are all named for his films, but Zatoichi's are as imaginative as Blind Chicken Beaks, Blind Guy Kills Mosquito and, best of all, Blind Dog Pisses, which looks roughly like you might expect. This imagination extends to the astounding lack of continuity. Bruce Leong plays Bruce Lee throughout the film except for his battle with Dracula, as he inexplicably shows up as Kato instead. Similarly Dracula's zombies are silent throughout, except at a point where dialogue is needed and one demonstrates how fluent he is in English. The chamberlain's set of teleporting mummies merely mumble of course, because, you know, credulity.