Bruceploitation (a portmanteau of Bruce Lee and exploitation) refers to the practice on the part of filmmakers in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan of hiring Bruce Lee look-alike actors ("Lee-alikes") to star in many imitation martial arts films in order to cash in on Lee's success after his death. Bruceploitation is an exploitation film subgenre mostly seen in the 1970s after Lee's death in 1973.
When Bruce Lee died on July 20, 1973, he was Hong Kong's most famous martial arts actor. When Enter the Dragon became a box office success worldwide, many Hong Kong studios feared that a movie without their most famous star in it would not be financially successful. So some studios decided to play on Lee's sudden international fame by making movies that vaguely sounded like Bruce Lee starring vehicles, with actors who looked like Lee—changing their screen names to sound similar to “Bruce Lee,” such as Bruce Li and Bruce Le.
In a tactic similar to deceptive marketing, some of these films were advertised as genuine Bruce Lee movies when in fact they were not. This tactic was very successful in the mid-1970s when many of Bruce Lee's earlier films such as Fist of Fury and The Big Boss were being released in “Chinese” theaters in America after Bruce's death, often with alternative and confusing names.
After his death, many actors assumed Lee-like stage names. Bruce Li (黎(Lí)小龍 from his real name Ho Chung Tao (何宗道)), Bronson Lee (from his real name Tadashi Yamashita), Bruce Chen, Bruce Lai (real name Chang Yi-Tao), Bruce Le (呂(Lǔ)小龍 from his real name Wong Kin Lung), (黃建龍)), Bruce Lei, Bruce Lie, Bruce Liang (also known as Bruce Leung), Saro Lee, Bruce Ly (real name Binhslee), Bruce Thai, Bruce K.L. Lea, Brute Lee, Myron Bruce Lee, Lee Bruce, and Dragon Lee (real name Moon Kyoung-seok) were hired by studios to play Lee-styled roles.
Jackie Chan, who started his movie career as an extra and stunt artist in some of Bruce Lee's movies, was also given roles where he was promoted as the next Bruce Lee, such as New Fist of Fury (1976). It was only when he made some comedically-themed movies for another studio that he was able to gain box-office success.
Some of the movies, such as Re-Enter the Dragon, Enter Three Dragons, Return of Bruce, Enter Another Dragon, Return of the Fists of Fury or Enter the Game of Death, were rehashes of Bruce Lee's classics. Others told Lee's life story and explored his mysteries, such as Bruce Lee’s Secret (a farcical rehash starring Bruce-clone Bruce Li in San Francisco defending Chinese immigrants from thugs), Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger (where Bruce Li is asked by Bruce Lee to replace him after his death), and Bruce’s Fist of Vengeance.
Others films such as The Clones of Bruce Lee (where clones of Bruce Lee portrayed by some of the above actors are created by scientists) or The Dragon Lives Again (where Bruce Lee fights a plethora of fictional characters in Hell such as James Bond and Dracula and finds allies amongst others such as Popeye and Kwai Chang Caine). Others, such as Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave, featured Lee imitators but with a plot having nothing to do with Bruce Lee.
One of Lee's fight choreographers, actor-director Sammo Hung, famously satirized the phenomenon of Bruceploitation in his 1978 film, Enter the Fat Dragon. Elliott Hong's They Call Me Bruce? satirized the tendency for all male Asian actors (and by extension, male Asians in general) to have to sell themselves as Bruce Lee-types to succeed.
The comic book medium also gave birth to several characters inspired by Bruce Lee, most notably, in Japanese comics, or manga. In Tetsuo Hara and Buronson’s influential manga Hokuto no Ken, known to Western audiences as Fist of the North Star, the main character, Kenshiro, was deliberately created by them drawing inspiration from Bruce Lee and Max Rockatansky, from the Mad Max film. Kenshiro’s appearance initially resembled more that of Lee in the first chapters of the manga, blending it with Mel Gibson's likeness. Later on in the work, he still retained mannerisms inspired by Lee, such as his fighting style and battle cries. Additionally, in Hokuto no Ken’s prequel Souten no Ken, the main character is Kenshiro’s uncle, named Kenshiro Kasumi, who is also modeled after Lee’s physique and mannerisms in the same way as his nephew.
Datasoft Inc released the game Bruce Lee in 1984. EA Sports UFC includes Bruce Lee as an unlockable character, though it came with the approval of his daughter Shannon. For video game franchises, Super Street Fighter II character Fei Long was designed as a homage to Bruce Lee as well. The character Liu Kang in the Mortal Kombat franchise was also modelled after Bruce Lee. The Tekken franchise followed suit with Marshall Law and just once had him substituted by introducing his son Forest Law.
Many other video games have characters based on Lee, although he is rarely credited. Video game characters synonymous with Lee are usually spotted by fighting techniques and signature “jumping stance,” physical appearances, clothing, and iconic battle cries and yells similar to those of Lee. Examples include fighting game characters such as Maxi in the Soulcalibur series and Jann Lee in the Dead or Alive series.
Bruceploitation ended when Jackie Chan made a name for himself with the success of the kung fu comedies Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master. These films established him as the "new king" of Hong Kong martial arts cinema. Another factor in the end of Bruceploitation was the beginning of the Shaw Brothers film era in the late 1970s, which started with movies such as Five Deadly Venoms. Since the end of the trend, Bruce Lee's influence on Hong Kong action cinema remained strong, but the actors began establishing their own personalities, and the films began to take a more comedic approach.
Bruceploitation continued in the United States in a muted form since the 1970s. Films such as Force-Five, No Retreat, No Surrender, and The Last Dragon used Bruce Lee as a marketing hook, and the genre continues to be a source of exploration for fans of the late Little Dragon and his doppelgangers. Fist of Fear, Touch of Death told a fictional life story of the star.
Michael Worth in 2017 began an effort to shine more light on the subject beginning with helping to produce the first official documentary on the subject with Severin Films His decade long writing is set to be the first book on the subject set for release in 2018 featuring interviews with many key players. A series of new scanned film prints are also in the works for 2018 and 2019.
In May 2010, Carl Jones published Here Come the Kung Fu Clones. It focuses on a particular Lee-a-like, Ho Chung Tao, but it also explores the best and worst actors and movies the genre has to offer.
The first Spanish book, Bruceploitation. Los clones de Bruce Lee, by Ivan E. Fernandez Fojón, will be published by Applehead Team Creaciones in November, 2017.
Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave, released originally as Visitor of America (Hangul: 아메리카 방문객; Hanja: 아메리카 訪問客; RR: Amelika bangmungaeg), is a 1976 Bruceploitation supernatural martial arts movie starring tae kwon do instructor Jun Chong (credited as 케리・郑 Ke-li Chong in the original Korean version and as Bruce K.L. Lea in the English-dubbed and altered U.S. edit). The film was directed by Lee Doo-yong, though persistent misinformation claims that the movie was directed by Italian horror director Umberto Lenzi. The poster's artwork was very common among exploitation films at the time.Bruce Lee and I
Bruce Lee and I (Chinese: 李小龍與我, released in the United States as Bruce Lee: His Last Days, His Last Nights) is a 1976 Hong Kong biographical action film directed by Lo Mar, and starring Betty Ting Pei and Danny Lee. The film was released in the Hong Kong on 9 January 1976. The film is based on Bruce Lee's last days leading up to his death in Pei's apartment at Hong Kong on 20 July 1973.Bruce Li
Bruce Li (Chinese: 何宗道; pinyin: Hé Zōngdào) (born Ho Chung-tao June 5, 1950) is a Taiwanese actor, martial artist and Bruce Lee imitator who starred in martial arts films from the Bruceploitation movement.Li is perhaps best known for his role as Bruce Lee in the 1976 film Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth.Enter Three Dragons
Enter Three Dragons is 1978 Hong Kong martial art Bruceploitation movie, directed by Joseph Kong and starring Bruce Lai (Chang Yi Tao), Nick Cheung Lik and Philip Ko. This also happens to be Dragon Lee`s Hong Kong film debut.Enter the Game of Death
Enter the Game of Death (Hanja: 十字手拳, Chinese: 死亡魔塔), originally released as Cross Hands Martial Arts and released in North America as The King of Kung Fu, is a Bruceploitation martial arts film. This film was directed by Lee Tso-nam, who helmed previous Bruceploitation films Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger and Fist of Fury II, and features an early appearance by Steve James who would later go on to star in the American Ninja film series.Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger
Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger (Chinese title: 天皇巨星; Cantonese: Tian huang ju xing), also released as Bruce Lee: The Star of Stars, is a 1976 Bruceploitation film starring Bruce Li. The title is a play on the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon and is one of the most well-known films in the Bruceploitation genre.Fei Long
Fei Long (飛龍（フェイロン）, Fei Ron, pinyin: Fēi Lóng meaning "Flying Dragon") is a fictional character in the Street Fighter series. He made his first appearance in the Super Street Fighter II in 1993 as one of the four new characters introduced in the game. In the series, he is a martial artist and action movie star. Fei Long was patterned after real-life martial arts movie star Bruce Lee and the character's design and moves make reference to Lee, his fighting style often described as a homage to the actor. Fei Long has been well received. He has appeared in other Street Fighter media, including the animated films and series, comics as well as subsequent games such as Street Fighter Alpha 3 and the home versions of Street Fighter IV.Fist of Fear, Touch of Death
Fist of Fear, Touch of Death, also known as The Dragon and the Cobra, is a 1980 martial arts film set at the "1979 World Karate Championships" at Madison Square Garden that will supposedly determine the "successor" to Bruce Lee. The film is hosted by Adolph Caesar. Bruce Lee was deceased before the film went into production, and any footage featuring Lee was taken from earlier films or television appearances. It is considered to be an exploitation film, exploiting Bruce Lee's popularity, and the mystique surrounding his death.Fist of Fury II
Fist of Fury II (Chinese: 精武門續集, a.k.a. Chinese Connection 2 and Fist of Fury Part II), is a 1977 Hong Kong kung fu film directed by Iksan Lahardi and Tso-nam Lee, and starring Bruce Li and Lo Lieh. It is the sequel to Bruce Lee’s 1972's Fist of Fury.
The lead role of Chen Shan, played by Bruce Li, who goes to Shanghai to mourn his brother's death who was killed at the hands of the Japanese. Chen Shan then avenges his brother by killing the Japanese.
The final fight between Chen Shan and Miyamoto, played by Lo Lieh, is generally thought of as disappointing compared to other fights in the film as it is slow and long. This film is generally regarded as one of Bruce Li's other better films. It was not as well received as its predecessor but was thought to be much better than Jackie Chan’s New Fist of Fury. Another sequel was released in 1979, titled Fist of Fury III (a.k.a. Chinese Connection III).Fist of Fury III
Fist of Fury III (Chinese: 截拳鷹爪功) is a martial arts Bruceploitation sequel. It was originally released in Hong Kong as Jie quan yingzhua gong (literal: Jeet Kune the Claws and the Supreme Kung Fu), and has been informally called Chinese Connection III. It continues the story of Chen Shen (Bruce Li) from Fist of Fury II, the brother of the Bruce Lee character in Fist of Fury.Kenshiro
Kenshiro (Japanese: ケンシロウ, Hepburn: Kenshirō) is a fictional character and the protagonist of the Fist of the North Star manga series created by Tetsuo Hara and Buronson. According to Buronson, Kenshiro's character design was inspired by the martial artist Bruce Lee and the character Max Rockatansky from the Mad Max film series.
In the story, Kenshiro is the rightful successor of an ancient art of assassination called Hokuto Shinken, which allows Kenshiro to defeat his adversaries through use of hidden meridian points. Through the course of the original manga, Kenshiro fights against various ruffians who threaten the lives of the post-apocalyptic survivors, as well as numerous rival martial artists, including his three honorary brothers trained in the art of Hokuto Shinken.
Kenshiro is also known as the "Man With Seven Scars" (七つの傷の男, Nanatsu no Kizu no Otoko), due to the seven scars engraved on his chest patterned after the shape of the Big Dipper (the symbol of the Hokuto school), as well as the "Savior of the Century's End" (世紀末救世主, Seikimatsu Kyūseishu). Kenshiro's famous catchphrase just prior to an enemy's death is "You are already dead." (お前はもう死んでいる, Omae wa mō shindeiru).Marshall Law (Tekken)
Marshall Law (Japanese: マーシャル・ロウ, Hepburn: Māsharu Rou), or just Law, is a player character from the Tekken fighting game franchise by Bandai Namco Entertainment. He makes his series debut in the original Tekken, in which he is a Chinese-American restaurateur who wants to open a martial arts school that he hopes to fund with the prize money from the Tekken series' King of Iron Fist fighting tournaments. He has a son named Forest Law who becomes playable later in the series, and is close friends with fellow contestant Paul Phoenix. Law has made limited appearances in alternate Tekken media such as the 2009 feature film, and is often described as a tribute to martial artist Bruce Lee, with whom Law shares many characteristics and for which he has received mixed critical and public reception.New Fist of Fury
New Fist of Fury is a 1976 Hong Kong martial arts film directed by Lo Wei and starring Jackie Chan. It is the first of several films that Lo directed Chan in, and the first using Chan's stage name Sing Lung (literally meaning "becoming a dragon", by which Chan is still known today in Asia).
The film gave Chan his first starring role in a widely released film (his first starring role was in the Little Tiger of Canton which only had a limited release in 1973). The film was a sequel to Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury, one of Lo Wei's biggest successes. Chan had previously appeared in the original Fist of Fury as a stuntman. New Fist of Fury was part of Lo's attempt to market Jackie Chan as the new Bruce Lee, and did not contain any of the comedy elements that were to be Chan's career trademark later on.Rock Lee
Rock Lee (Japanese: ロック・リー, Hepburn: Rokku Rī) is a fictional character in the anime and manga series Naruto created by Masashi Kishimoto. Kishimoto considers Lee his favorite character to draw, and at first designed Lee to symbolize human weakness. In the anime and manga, Lee is a ninja affiliated with the village of Konohagakure, and is a member of Team Guy, which consists of himself, Neji Hyuga, Tenten, and Might Guy—the team's leader. Unable to use most ninja techniques, Lee dedicates himself to using solely taijutsu, ninja techniques similar to martial arts. Lee dreams of becoming a "splendid ninja" despite his inabilities. Lee has appeared in several pieces of Naruto media, including the third and fourth featured films in the series, the third original video animation, and multiple video games.
Numerous anime and manga publications have commented on Lee's character. IGN compared Lee to Bruce Lee and Noel Gallagher, and Anime News Network called Lee the "goofiest looking character" in the series. Among the Naruto reader base, Lee has been popular, placing high in several popularity polls. Numerous pieces of merchandise have been released in Lee's likeness, including figurines and plush dolls.The Chinese Stuntman
The Chinese Stuntman (also known as Counter Attack or The Chieh Boxing Master) is a 1982 martial arts Bruceploitation film starring Bruce Li.The Clones of Bruce Lee
The Clones of Bruce Lee (Korean: 蛇形三傑 Death Penalty on Three Robots, Taiwan: 複製人李小龍：三龍怒火, Hong Kong: 神威三猛龍) is a 1980 Brucesploitation film capitalizing on the death of actor and martial arts star Bruce Lee in 1973.
The film gathers together several of the many Lee imitators who sprang up after the icon's death (including Bruce Le and Dragon Lee), alongside performers from the real Lee's films and other veterans of the Hong Kong movie industry. It has been called "The Mount Rushmore of Bruceploitation films".Way of the Dragon 2
Way of the Dragon 2, also known as Bruce Le's Greatest Revenge, is a 1978 martial arts sequel to Way of the Dragon starring Bruce Le. The film is also considered to be a Bruceploitation film. Despite the title the film has more in common with the 1972 film Fist of Fury. The film has received mixed to negative reviews.
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