Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave | aka The Stranger (1976) Review

"Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave" Korean Theatrical Poster

AKA: Visitor in America
Director: Lee Doo-Yong
Writer: Chee Do Hong
Producer: Chong Huang Kuok
Cast: Jun Chong (aka Bruce K. L. Lea), Deborah Chaplin, Anthony Bronson, Steve Mak, Jack Houston, Charlie Chow, Philip Kennedy, Jimmy Sato, Sho Kosugi
Running Time: 85 min.

By Mighty Peking Man

Next to Fist of Fear, Touch of Death and Clones of Bruce Lee, this film is right up there as one of the biggest oddballs of the Bruceploitation genre. The funny thing is, it was never really intended to have anything to do with Bruce Lee to begin with. There have been numerous bits of trivia and accusations behind the making and direction of this film and trying to find the hard facts is like trying to solve a mystery.

First of all, this film was originally titled Visitor in America. Like many exploitation movies sold to shady distributors in the 1970’s, it was later re-titled to Bruce Lee Fights Back From the Grave to falsely advertise it as a “Bruce Lee” product. To further catch the attention of Bruce Lee fanatics, new footage was filmed for both the prologue and theatrical trailer of the movie. The new footage filmed consisted of “Bruce” popping out of his gravesite. Oddly enough, if you watch this scene closely, you’ll see that the man playing Bruce Lee is an over-buffed, caucasian guy who’s wearing blue jeans.

The trailer for Bruce Lee Fights Back From the Grave is so funny that it’s an instant classic. The makers of the trailer either: 1) Never watched the film, 2) Never watched the film but said “Screw it, let’s make sh*t up!” or 3) DID watch the film but said “Screw it, let’s make sh*t up!” – I’ll go with 3.

According to the trailer, Bruce Lee pops out of the ground to settle a deal he made before his death… a deal with the Dark Angel of Death! The best part of the trailer comes when the voice-over specifies: “Due to the graphic and excessive martial-arts violence, the producers ask that you be accompanied by an adult….” or something like that. As you can see, the trailer is an entertainment piece all in itself and worth seeking out.

The film’s real plot is about a martial-arts pro named Wong Han (Jun Chong, aka Bruce K. L. Lea) who flies from Korea to Los Angeles to visit an old friend named Go Hok Hung. Upon his arrival, he discovers that Go Hok Hung has committed suicide. After a little investigating, Wong Han speculates if his friend’s death may have actually been murder-related. With the help of a sexy babe named Susan (Deborah Chaplin), Wong Han sets himself on a mission to find the truth behind his friend’s passing, and is down for some serious revenge, if applicable. Since this is a kung-fu flick, it certainly is.

The film is extremely silly, hilariously dubbed and the action scenes are lame. The good thing is that it actually keeps your interest and is paced pretty damn good. The story, although it’s surrounded by extreme cheesiness (all of the villains resemble members of Joe909’s favorite band, “The Village People”), is actually well-done and it’s conclusion definitely caught me off guard. It’s by no means an overall good movie (which explains my low rating), but for what it is, it’s a riot to watch.

There have been numerous reports that Italian cult-filmmaker Umberto Lenzi, best known for his campy actions films and shocker-thrillers, actually directed Bruce Lee Fights Back From the Grave. Legend has it that Umberto Lenzi loved kung fu films and wanted to try the genre. Also, to give the film a more Asian-feel, some of the names of the Italian production crew were changed to made-up Chinese names to make it sound like an authentic martial arts film. It’s said that Umberto Lenzi even uses “Doo Yong Lee” as an alias under the “director” of the film for possibly the same reason. However, many Umberto Lenzi enthusiasts deny that the Italian cult-filmmaker would make or do such garbage.

This is what Scott Hamilton & Chris Holland of www.stomptokyo.com have to say:

“We have our doubts that Lenzi would have directed a film with such a generic style, but there are even posters for this film that credit “Bert Lenzi” as the director! Perhaps Lenzi was involved in the making of the brief prologue (which shows “Bruce” bursting out of grave), but the main feature is unmistakably an Asian film. It just goes to show that movie rumors die hard.”

As for me, I’m sort of mixed. According to imdb.com, Umberto Lenzi’s alias of “Doo Yong Lee” is an actual Korean director with a few films under his belt like Silent Assassins (a 1988 martial arts b-movie starring Linda Blair and Phillip Rhee). But then again, imdb.com isn’t the world’s most accurate film database when it comes to obscure titles. Hell, they still have Chuck Norris listed in their cast for Enter the Dragon. So, who knows… whoever submitted that information may have mistakened Doo Yong Lee for another director that sounded the same. You know how similar those Korean names are. You be the judge.

Before ending this review, I have to give a special shout-out to Scott Hamilton & Chris Holland for their discovery of Sho Kosugi’s real-life business card in the film. However, I made an even better discovery: Sho Kosugi himself is in the film as well. There’s a samurai guy towards the end of the film that attacks Wong Han, and anyone who knows Sho Kosugi’s face knows that the samurai guy highly resembles a young Sho Kosugi. His cameo makes perfect since and explains why his real-life business card is in the movie to begin with. If you’re not familiar with Sho Kosugi, he’s a famous Japanese martial-artist who made a name for himself in the 1980’s for starring in a string of successful ninja films like Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination. He also had a brief TV career by playing the bad ninja opposite Lee Van Cleef in the short lived series The Master. Sho Kosugi may be the man responsible for sparking off America’s “Ninja Craze” in the 1980’s. And of course, there’s his son, Kane Kosugi who’s currently making a name for himself in Asian cinema… but that’s another story.

As for Bruce Lee Fights Back From the Grave, grab a few friends and I guarantee you’ll have a hell of a time. Mind alterations won’t hurt either.

Mighty Peking Man’s Rating: 4/10

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3 Responses to Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave | aka The Stranger (1976) Review

  1. T. J. Gushiniere says:

    Man, this was a lame film! However, along with the trailer, it almost qualifies in the so bad it’s good category. Your review has me looking for this one in my storage space! I thought I would never watch this one again, but Never Say Never!

  2. Albert says:

    I can confirm a few things about this film. The film originally a Korean-U.S. co-production and the name Lee Doo-Yong is not Umberto Lenzi, but an actual Korean director. And the man who is Bruce K.L. Lea is real-life Tae Kwon Do grandmaster Jun Chong, who in the 1980’s created a small production company, Action Brothers Productions. He starred in L.A. STREETFIGHTERS (which featured Bill Wallace, Phillip Rhee, James Lew, and a small appearance from Loren Avedon before No Retreat No Surrender 2), the movie you mentioned SILENT ASSASSINS, and one of my favorites, STREET SOLDIERS (where he got to take on Hwang Jang-Lee in a short but sweet fight scene).

    I agree, the movie is not great and I was really disappointed with the finale itself. I did like the Chong/Lea vs. Kosugi fight scene though.

  3. Great info Albert. Most of it, new to me. I’ll have to update my review. Also, honor to have you in here. =D

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