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Bruceploitation is a cultural phenomenon mostly seen in the 1970s after the 1973 death of martial artist and actor Bruce Lee. A portmanteau of the name "Bruce" and exploitation, it refers to the practice on the part of filmmakers in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan who hired Bruce Lee look-alike actors ("Lee-alikes") to star in many cheap knock-off martial arts movies to cash in on Lee's success after his death.
The Hong Kong action cinema scene was shocked when Bruce Lee died on July 20, 1973. At the time of Lee’s death, 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 stage 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 alternate 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, Bruce Chen, Bruce Lai, 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), Bruce Ly (real name Binhslee), Bruce Thai, Bruce K.L. Lea, Brute Lee, Myron Bruce Lee, Lee Bruce, and Dragon Lee 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 were simply rehashes of Bruce Lee’s classics, such as Re-Enter the Dragon, Enter Two Dragons, Return of Bruce, Enter Another Dragon, Return of the Fists of Fury or Enter the Game of Death. Others told the life story of Bruce Lee 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), They Call Me Bruce? and Bruce’s Fist of Vengeance.
Others told crazy stories 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 James Bond and Dracula in Hell). Others, such as Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave, featured Lee imitators but with a plot having nothing to do with Bruce Lee.
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 franchise. Although Kenshiro’s appearance initially resembled more that of Lee in the first chapters of the manga, blending it with Mel Gibson’s likeness, he became more similar to Gibson in physique in the rest of the work, but retaining all 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.
Many video games have characters based on Bruce Lee, although he is rarely credited. Video game characters synonymous with Bruce Lee are usually spotted by fighting techniques and signature “jumping stance,” physical appearances, clothing, and iconic battle cries and yells similar to those of Bruce Lee.
- Fei Long—Street Fighter series
- Kim Dragon—World Heroes series
- Jann Lee—Dead or Alive series
- Marshall Law—Tekken series
- Forrest Law—Tekken series
- Liu Kang—Mortal Kombat series
- Kenshiro—Fist of the North Star series
- Rock Lee—Naruto series
End of a trend
Bruceploitation ended in Chinese cinema after Jackie Chan broke out of the mould to make a name for himself after the success of the kung fu comedies Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, establishing him as the "new king" of Hong Kong martial arts cinema. Another factor was the beginning of the Shaw Brothers film era in the late ’70s, starting 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 generally began to take a more comedic approach.
However, Bruceploitation continued in the United States in a somewhat 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.
In May 2010, a Bruceploitation book was published by Carl Jones, entitled Here Come the Kung Fu Clones. It primarily focuses on a particular Lee-a-like, Ho Chung Tao, but also explores the actors and movies among the best and worst the genre has to offer.
In the recent years, the trend has seemingly returned due to the sudden surge of popularity of Bruce Lee’s teacher, Yip Man. Due to constant production of various movies and TV shows, this could be looked at as Yiploitation.
- "True Game of Death". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2010-12-17.
- "Bruce Lee Lives On". Wired News. 2007-03-23. Retrieved 2010-12-17.
- "Lee remembered for more than movies". Business World Online. Retrieved 2010-12-17.
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- "Here Come The Kung Fu Clones by Carl Jones (Woowums Books) « Mister Trippy". Stewarthomesociety.org. 2012-03-03. Retrieved 2013-02-25.
|Look up bruceploitation in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Bruceploitation by Keith Dixon
- Brucesploitation @ THE DEUCE: Grindhouse Cinema Database
- Clones of Bruce Lee
- The Bruceploitation Trilogy by Dean Meadows
- Here Come the Kung fu Clones by Carl Jones