Thursday, August 7, 2008

Spirits Of Bruce Lee (1973)


Chang Chen-Wai (Wai-Man Chan) travels to Thailand to find his brother, a jade dealer who vanished the year before. While searching for information on his brothers disappearance, Chang Chen-Wai befriends a Chinese family who own a restaurant, and who reveal that his brother was found murdered nearby. Filled with rage, he takes his revenge on local criminals while tracking down information on who was responsible for his brother's death. He also meets a police officer named Li Pai-Yu who is working undercover to take down the gangster Ming Pan-Tin. The whole thing culminates in a big ol' fight, where two Japanese guys (one with a WHIP!) show up for no good reason.


When Bruce Lee died in 1973, the search for his successor began almost immediately. However, for some enterprising kung fu movie producers, Lee's name (or, a close facsimile) would continue to have value for years to come. The Bruceploitation genre of films was soon born, starring Bruce clones like Bruce Li, Bruce Le and Dragon Lee; many of whom were talented in their own right but lacked the charisma or ability of the man they were imitating. These films duped many a unsuspecting kung-fu fan, particularly as the films often referenced Bruce Lee's more famous work (The Dragon Lives, The Chinese Connection 2), or pretended to be biography (The Bruce Lee Story, The Secret Of Bruce Lee). Some of these films are entertaining and many have their own exploitive charm.

I mention the Bruceploitation genre because Spirits Of Bruce Lee is the worst sort of Bruceploitation film: one that neither has a Bruce Lee imitator, nor attempts to recreate a Bruce Lee classic or document his life story. The only mention of Bruce Lee you will find here is in the title, as the lead has no particular resemblence and makes no attempt to ape his fighting style (a.k.a. he doesn't howl with every punch). I'm guessing the title was just a cash-in attempt following Lee's death.

The movie itself is a slow moving affair, with infrequent bursts of badly choreographed kung-fu before going back to a murky revenge story. We get the requisite love interest, an abbreviated training scene, and a fat guy doing some bizarre comic relief. There's also a short (ha!) appearance by a midget that brightened my spirits briefly, but sadly he soon vanished and I had to pay attention to the plot again.

Wai-Man Chan is reasonably charismatic in the lead, but the actor playing the Thai police officer seems to have stronger charisma and fighting skills. That being said, there are opportunities for both men to show off their abilities, particularly in an early fight scene where the two fight off some would-be rapists.

The Thai location could actually be an interesting setting for a kung-fu film, but this is a long way from Ong Bak. There are a few flashes of interesting Thai fighting styles from the Thai stuntmen, but they move so slowly compared to the Chinese actors that it's jarring to see them. The late appearance by two Japanese fighters is bizarre, but actually offered a bit of color to what was generally a very bland film.

The photography is awfully dark, and night scenes become very difficult to follow (particularly the opening scene). The dubbing is absolutely atrocious, and there are a few scenes where characters fall into awkward silence as the dubbing actor runs out of dialogue. The full frame presentation is ugly, but mostly watchable.

A confusing plot, combined with lackluster martial arts, means that Spirits Of Bruce Lee is best avoided. An interesting location, and some talented actors, can't make up for the bland stew of nothingness that ends up on screen.


Neil Koch said...

I haven't seen this but here's a couple of tidbits...

The real title of this movie is "Angry Tiger".

The lead actor Michael Chan is actually pretty good in the right role. He was a former Triad and kickboxer before he got into movies.

A couple of his good roles are "Five Element Ninjas" (aka "Chinese Super Ninjas") and "The Club", an early Kirk Wong movie that is recognized as one of the forefathers of Hong Kong's "heroic bloodshed" (aka stylish cops vs robbers) genre.

He is still acting in Hong Kong, usually nowadays playing a "dai lo" (old gang boss) like in the recent movie "Run Papa Run".

Doug Tilley said...

I thought Chan showed some good charisma in the film, but it was the Thai police-officer who really ended up making an impression. I, unfortunately, wasn't able to find out his name.

And I didn't recognize Michael Chan from Five Element Ninjas. That's probably my favorite balls-out Chang Cheh film.

I'm not surprised that the original title was something a little more.. pedestrian (and less exploitive), but the film still ends up strangely bland. I do wonder if there's *some* sort of exposition missing that would explain those out of place Japanese fighters in the final scene.