ENTER THE CLONES OF BRUCE **** USA 2023 Dir: David Gregory. 100 mins
United with experienced collaborators like cameraman Jim Kunz and editor Douglas Buck, Severin’s David Gregory has delivered a funny, insightful feature-length retrospective on the jaw-dropping Brucesploitation cycle that swiftly unleashed itself on the world in the wake of Bruce Lee’s untimely death.
It opens with a whistlestop tour of the real Bruce’s short but remarkable life and career: actor David Chiang and expert Mike Leeder are among the talking heads reflecting on the Run Run Shaw factory and Lee’s international fame, with the kind of anecdotes that feature memories like “his skin just popped off like a piece of bark”. Lee’s demise led to huge hunger for a replacement to keep the assembly line running: the worldwide market demanded the “next” Bruce Lee, but they really just wanted Bruce back. The search for lookalikes and physically suitable substitutes resulted in a chain of often bonkers films – some of which hinged on the mystery surrounding his death and even incorporated images of his corpse and funeral! – alongside endlessly regurgitated excerpts from films he never completed.
While footage of Bruce Lee as a child actor was utilised for THE REAL BRUCE LEE, often low-paid actors and martial artists like Bruce Le, Bruce Li, Bruce Thai, Bruce Lei and Dragon Lee (alongside prominent exploitation producers like Dick Randall) participated in swiftly conceived / shot epics like BIG BOSS II and ENTER THREE DRAGONS. The documentary’s many highlights include some hilarious / startling filming recollections: no money, actors going for a whole week without sleeping, getting stabbed with forks, etc.
Parallel to the wild on-set yarns is a fascinating series of reflections on the limitations for Chinese actors in Hollywood, the impact on the real Bruce’s family and the evolution of the legend. Lee became a synonym for great marital arts fighting and, thus, audiences tended to accept the cheap knock-offs. There’s a great story about how Jack Klugman and Jane Seymour unwittingly became the “stars” of one such opportunistic effort – and, at last, an onscreen explanation as to why that kung-fu professor so randomly shows up in slasher classic PIECES.
Review by Steven West