Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Lee Times Three

What's so great about watching terrible movies, you may ask? Because you never know when something totally unbelievable, something completely unlike anything you've ever seen before is going to come down the pike. With typical contemporary Hollywood fare, even if it's something good, it's probably not going to be anything too far off the beaten path. Which is not something you can say about THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE. This ridiculous 1977 martial arts movie out of Hong Kong was produced by the legendary Dick Randall, an expatriate American who made a lot of movie assembling schlocky movies for international audiences.

I’m not certain whether fans of trashy movies have benefited more over the years from Bruce Lee’s untimely death than if he had lived a normal lifespan. Sure, we would have been treated to more of the wonderfully athletic and charismatic movie star, but we also would have missed out on all those dozens of ridiculous, cheap ripoffs that exploited Lee’s death. Would you rather have had more movies like ENTER THE DRAGON or giddy crapola like THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE?

In this film made just a couple of years after his real-life death, Bruce Lee (played by a double) suffers a heart attack and is rushed to a Thailand hospital, where he dies on the operating table. Immediately, a British secret agent and a professor take a syringeful of Lee’s blood and take it back to a laboratory where they create three Lee clones, which are imaginatively named Bruce Lee #1, Bruce Lee #2 and Bruce Lee #3. Bolo Yeung, who knew the real Lee and acted in ENTER THE DRAGON, plays the martial arts expert who must train the three new Lees how to fight (you would think a Bruce Lee clone would have Bruce Lee’s fighting skills, but oh well…). Needless to say, the three “clones” look nothing like each other, much less Bruce Lee.

I suspect THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE may actually be two different films spliced together, since the clones split up for separate missions. #1 goes undercover as a movie star (!) to investigate gold smuggling at a studio, while #2 and #3 battle a scientist with the ability to destroy plant life. The latter storyline is the most entertaining, as the Lees wander along a beach filled with full-frontal nude babes rubbing lotions on their breasts and then fight a bunch of human robots—actually Chinese stuntmen wearing only bronze paint and tighty whiteys—who can only be killed by eating grass!

Eventually, all three Lees get back together to fight their creator, the professor, who makes them fight each other to the death. As crazy as the storyline is, the fight scenes (and there are a lot of them) are not particularly original or exciting. Perhaps they would look better in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, as the current home video prints are tightly cropped and miss most of the action. CLONES is still a lively and often hilarious film, but not exactly top-flight “Brucesploitation”. That doesn’t mean you should steer clear of it, however.

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