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  Bruce Lee Against Supermen Even the king of kung fu can't pull off red spandexBuy this film here.
Year: 1975
Director: Wu Chia-Chun
Stars: Bruce Li, Lung Fei, Au-Yeung Chung, Cho Boot-Lam, Yeung Yee-Muk, Lam Fung-Sing, Shan Mao, Cheung Yee-Kwai, Ko Pao, Man Man, Hei Ying, Chow Jun, Yip Hoi Ching
Genre: Sex, Martial Arts, Trash, Science Fiction, Weirdo
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Bruceploitation movies – the collective term for the Hong Kong craze for films built around Bruce Lee impersonators in the 1970s – started out with relatively sober biopics like Dragon Story (1974) or Bruce Lee: The Man, the Myth (1977) then rapidly grew into such wild fantasies as Bruce Lee in New Guinea (1978), The Clones of Bruce Lee (1978) and The Dragon Lives Again (1976). To say nothing of the elusive Bruce Lee vs. Gay Power (1975)! Despite sporting a title few die-hard trash film fanatics could resist, Bruce Lee Against Supermen ranks among the worst albeit amusingly inept examples of its admittedly slapdash sub-genre. True to the grab-'em-any-way-you-can spirit of Seventies exploitation the film is something of a dual cash-in. It riffs on the 1966 superhero TV show The Green Hornet that gave the real Bruce Lee his breakout role as the Hornet's formidable sidekick Kato (and spawned the 2011 Michel Gondry movie with Seth Rogen and Jay Chou), but also the then-recent Hong Kong-Italian co-production Supermen Against the Orient (1974). Around the same time Bruce Lee Against Supermen hit unsuspecting theatres Shaw Brothers released their second co-production with Italy: Amazons and Supermen.

Here both Bruce Li, stage name for Ho Tsung-Tao (the most notable Bruce Lee impersonator), and his uncredited Caucasian co-star (who with his scraggly beard bears no resemblance whatsoever to original Hornet: Van Williams) sport the same silly red superhero outfits with black capes worn by the Three Fantastic Supermen (1967) throughout the surprisingly enduring Italian franchise. Only their's bear a little hornet emblem, that also features in the opening credits, stolen directly from the TV show. As if embarrassed to showcase an Asian action icon in such silly attire the film relegates Bruce Li's scarlet superhero garb solely to top and tail-end scenes otherwise costuming him in funky attire akin to the real Bruce's fashion sense, including a blue variation on his iconic tracksuit from Game of Death (1978). Weirdly the Green Hornet himself switches from a sober mask and suit ensemble reminiscent of his TV garb and the ridiculous crimson costume. As things turn out inconsistent costuming proves but the first among many areas where the filmmakers plainly could not give a crap.

The film opens as a young, presumably American couple find a bag full of stolen money flung out of a getaway car. Whereupon Kato ([Bruce Li) appears from nowhere to sternly tell them the money does not belong to them, then drives them to the police. I say Kato but for some reason throughout various characters also address him as Carter or Adam, so let's just call him Bruce. After the rip-off credit sequence the film jumps into an action scene where Bruce kicks the crap out of two goons in loud Seventies shirts, then to a cigar-chomping American crime boss ranting at his Chinese minions, then to a meeting in the Middle East between Dr. Ting (Cho Boot-Lam), his winsome daughter Alice and wealthy Arabic investors played by obviously Chinese actors. As the film continues skipping from scene to scene almost at random most sane viewers will start wondering whether the editor will stop snorting coke off his work-bench long enough to assemble something resembling a coherent narrative. No such luck.

In a nutshell genius scientist Dr. Ting invents a secret formula that will help solve the world's food crisis (er, somehow) but refuses all offers to sell it. When Ting is targeted by a sinister organization, Alice turns to her boyfriend Bruce/Kato/Carter who brings along his grimacing, bare-chested pal Hon Yu (Au-Yeung Chung). God knows why. Hon Yu loses every fight he has. Maybe Bruce wants to look cool by comparison. Anyway, despite a tedious Cantopop scored romantic montage where Bruce and his gal see the sights around Hong Kong, marvel at a huge stone Buddha, frolic in a field and laugh like idiots in love, it seems Alice misjudged how serious their relationship is. Mere moments later Bruce gets led astray by a flirty stranger seemingly working with the bad guys. While they are in the midst of a steamy soft porn scene, the villains kidnap Dr. T. Alice stumbles in on Bruce and his lover mid-coitus whereupon the girls break into a cat-fight. Alice tries to drown her rival in the bathtub (er, Alice, your dad was just kidnapped - remember?) while Bruce just lays back and watches two women fight over him. Dick. One abrupt jump-cut later and Alice sits nursing a swollen face. Thereafter Bruce sets off to rescue Dr. Ting, bringing Hon Yu along (presumably because he needs a good laugh) whereupon director Wu Chia-Chun (hiding behind the pseudonym: C.C. Wu) finally remembers the name of his movie and has the villains hire a mustache-twirling, black costumed and silver-caped martial arts master called Superman (Lung Fei). Yes, really. He brings along a gang of giggling circus clowns in skeleton costumes to give Bruce/Kato/Carter a hard time.

That is the plot though the film plays more like a frenzied fever dream of chopsocky action, really, really drawn out chase sequences bereft of suspense, rehashed B-movie clichés dating back to the Forties, scenes lifted from real Bruce Lee movies, comic book super-science and tried and tested exploitation tropes like gratuitous sex and nudity. Set to a mix-and-match soundtrack that includes prog rock, easy listening covers and ambient electronica. For much of its running time Bruce Lee Against Supermen plays as a straight kidnap thriller with chopsocky inserts, only book-ended by brief bits of superhero lunacy making it strangely akin to Ray Dennis Steckler's similarly batty Rat Fink a Boo Boo (1966). Even then when the bright costumed Green Hornet (remember him?) pops out of nowhere near the climax (spoiler warning!) he arrives to late to do anything as the bad guys are undone by Bruce's one night stand who turns out to be an undercover special agent. Er, Alice, remember when you tried to drown her?

Most sane viewers will probably come away from this feeling like the filmmakers shot a random bunch of action scenes then stitched them together with a half-baked concept. It makes sense Bruce Lee Against Supermen was scripted by Yiu Hing-Hong, a prolific writer with forty-six films to his credit including gems like Hello Dracula (1985), sequels Hello Dracula 4: King of the Children (1988) and Hello Dracula 5: The 3D Army (1989), Child of Peach (1987) and Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins (1991). All vastly superior to this film though not exactly models of tonal consistency. Yiu also penned New Pilgrims to the West (1982) and the Jimmy Wang Yu vehicle One Armed Against Nine Killers (1976). Wu Chia-Chun went on to direct another Bruceploitation film with a dual gimmick: Jackie and Bruce to the Rescue (1982) along with the Category III softcore ghost story Spiritual Love (1992). He is also credited as production manager and 'planning' on the Category III genre mash-up cult favourite The Beauty's Evil Roses (1992). Bruce Lee Against Superman has some of the ramshackle charm of guerrilla exploitation filmmaking of the sort that will likely only appeal to die-hard trash film fanatics.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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