Clones of Bruce Lee, The (1980) Review

"The Clones of Bruce Lee" Theatrical Poster

"The Clones of Bruce Lee" Theatrical Poster

AKA: Death Penalty on Three Robots
Director: Joseph Kong
Producer: Dick Randall, Chang Tsung Lung
Cast: Dragon Lee, Bruce Le, Bruce Lai, Bruce Thai, Jon Benn, Bolo Yeung, Alexander Grand, Kong Do, Cheng Kei-Ying, San Kuai, Steve Mak Fei-Hung, Tam Bo
Running Time: 90 min.

By Paul Bramhall

I have a confession, and I’ll admit that it’s one that won’t be popular. Not only am I a Bruceploitaiton fan, but I usually find the Bruce Lee clone movies to be more entertaining than the Little Dragon’s own output. While I respect the man and his martial arts, who doesn’t, if you were to make me choose, then I’d say give me Dragon Lee vs. Casanova Wong in Enter the Invincible Hero, give me Bruce Le vs Hwang Jang Lee in Bruce Strikes Back, or give me Bruce Li vs Philip Ko Fei in The Gold Connection. For me all these movies serve up more entertainment and repeated viewing value than Bruce Lee’s tragically short filmography, but who knows, there could be some Bruce fans out there who disagree.

It’s fair to say that the number of ‘Bruceploitation’ movies, as the genre fondly came to be referred as, could well reach into triple figures, as almost every country in Asia spawned its very own Bruce Lee-alike. From Hong Kong, to Korea, to Thailand, to the Philippines… in the late 70’s and early 80’s productions trying to cash in on Bruce Lee’s popularity, with actors that vaguely resembled him, were everywhere. In that respect, it’s really a numbers game, if you have 100 movies but only 10% of them are worth a watch, that’s still double the amount of productions Bruce Lee starred in, so it’s important to keep things in perspective.

Despite my fondness for the genre, one of its most infamous entries had eluded my viewing for many years, the notoriously titled The Clones of Bruce Lee. I’m not sure why it managed to escape me for so long, considering that for a fan of Brueploitation, it has a dream cast. Instead of only getting one Bruce Lee-alike, you get three in the starring roles, with Koreans Dragon Lee and Bruce Lai, and Hong Kong star Bruce Le. It’s a movie which is so overloaded with Bruceploitation, that it even has Thai Bruce Lee-alike, the imaginatively titled Bruce Thai, playing a non-clone role (he plays the local contact once the action moves to Bangkok), not to mention the instantly recognizable Bolo Yeung from Enter the Dragon.

The plot for The Clones of Bruce Lee is well known, but to cover it very briefly, when Bruce Lee dies in hospital, the British Secret Service enlist a scientist, played by John Benn (the mafia boss from Way of the Dragon), to use his body and attempt to clone the departed star. Many of these productions paid little attention to being respectful or tasteful, and The Clones of Bruce Lee is no different, so we have real footage of Bruce Lee’s funeral, and shots of Bruce in the casket, mixed into the plot. Benn succeeds, and doesn’t produce just one clone, but three! In one of many bizarre moments, he ritualistically names them Bruce Lee 1 (Dragon Lee), Bruce Lee 2 (Bruce Lai), and Bruce Lee 3 (Bruce Le). The British Secret Service use them to complete missions around the world to assassinate corrupt movie directors and scientists, until Benn himself goes mad, and attempts to use the clones for his own evil means.

Such a synopsis sounds like exploitation gold, and with a three-for-the-price-of-one triple threat of Bruce Lee-alikes tearing up the screen, what could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, almost everything does. Despite its outlandish premise The Clones of Bruce Lee somehow manages to succeed in being an incredibly dull affair, thanks to a severely disjointed plot (yes, I’m criticising a Bruceploitation movie for having a disjointed plot), and even more so, incredibly repetitive fight action.

To elaborate a little more on the disjointed plot, the main reason for this is that apart from the opening and closing scenes, the clones as a trio don’t appear together at all. After being brought to life by Benn, Dragon Lee is sent on a mission to kill a movie director, who’s using his production company as a front for smuggling illegal gold. This essentially leads to a third of the movie becoming a Dragon Lee flick, as he battles the director’s lackeys and a pair of hitmen (amusingly played by two gweillos). Then once he’s done, Bruce Le and Bruce Lai are told to go to Thailand and find a mad scientist, who’s concocted a formula that turns human skin to steel (cue a bunch of Thai extras in their underwear, covered in cheap gold paint). Their mission in Thailand makes up another third of the movie, with the remaining third consisting of the opening and closing scenes.

Despite not being a cut-and-paste production, the style of editing that Godfrey Ho became notorious for, which consisted of editing scenes from two movies together, and then attempting to dub them into a coherent story, there are times in The Clones of Bruce Lee when you’d swear it was. Dragon Lee’s mission is particularly dull, and the choreography frustratingly leans towards him utilising the mantis fist, rather than unleashing with the kicks that he was known for. Bruce Le and Bruce Lai don’t fare much better, with a mission that consists of almost 90% fighting. The routine goes – get closer to the bad guys lair, group of lackeys come out of nowhere and surround them, fight and proceed a little closer, until another group of lackeys appear and surround them, repeat. This is fine, it’s a kung fu movie after all, but the fight action is ridiculously simple and repetitive, with Le constantly jumping into the air to deliver mini flying kicks that look like they wouldn’t hurt a leaf.

For what consolidation it is, for the fan of exploitation cinema there’s some gloriously random female nudity in the Thailand segment. In a scene which has Bruce Thai and Bruce Lai (wearing a pair of swimming briefs that practically redefine the word ‘brief’) taking a stroll to the beach, Lai spots a man ogling at a bevy of naked women frolicking in the sand. When Lai enquires as to what they’re doing (even though it’s quite apparent – they’re rubbing sun cream on themselves in slow motion), Thai tells him that they’re “just playing around”. Sure enough, the girls are giggling away and proclaiming that they have everything they need except a man. When they spot the admirer who’s been checking them out from afar, they chase after him on the beach, before all falling into the water together. Who is the man? Why are all the girls naked? What’s the connection of the scene to the rest of the plot? Nothing.

The finale eventually brings all three clones back onscreen together, as Benn decides that he’s going to use the strongest of them to help him rule the world, so orders them to fight each other to the death. This results in the exciting prospect of a clone vs clone match, as Dragon Lee and Bruce Le get to face off against each other, but it turns out to be as dull as the rest of the action. Indeed the most energy any of the performers seem to put into the fights, is in the shapes they pull before breaking into a pose. It’s a sad day when the best fight action in a kung fu movie involves only one character being onscreen. Dragon Lee also gets to face off against Bolo, which should have been another dream match-up, especially considering that Lee did most of his work in Korea, so the Bolo showdown was a rare opportunity. But once again it fizzles out quickly.

Low budget old school kung fu movies such as this tend to live and die on the quality of their fight scenes, so to see a cast, which includes the likes of Kong Do and Cheng Kei-Ying, being involved in such sloppily executed choreography is a shame. From seeing participants hesitate before throwing a punch or kick, to bizarre choices such as when Dragon Lee breaks out his famous 1-stick nunchuck, proceeds to whirl it around for a few seconds, then inexplicably throws it away and starts fighting. Director Joseph Velasco and producer Dick Randall would go on to churn out much more entertaining movies, with the likes of the previously mentioned Bruce Strikes Back, but here there’s very little to recommend both to lovers of the kung fu genre or to fans of so bad it’s good cinema.

Having now watched The Clones of Bruce Lee from start to finish, it’s easy to understand why many consider it to be a more entertaining movie to read about than it is to actually watch. There’re many unanswered questions about the production, not least the year of release. Hkcinemagic lists 1977, while the Hong Kong Movie Database lists 1980, with the Korean Movie Database pinning it down to 1981, that’s 3 potential release date in 5 years! (Note for this review we’ll go with the Hong Kong Movie Database) Release dates aside, the disappointment of having such an amazing cast of Bruceploitation talent, and managing to make an under 90 minute runtime seem like such an endurance test, are perhaps indicative that in this case, as the expression goes – too many clones spoil the broth.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 4/10

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9 Responses to Clones of Bruce Lee, The (1980) Review

  1. I feel EXACTLY the same about this film.

    I haven’t seen it in a long time, but I do remember – despite its wacky premise (it’s called the “Clones of Bruce Lee” FFS!) – being very disappointed with it. You said it perfectly…. it’s dull. There’s just not enough “unintentional” entertainment to make it the ultimate Bruceploitation flick, which it’s often referred to (probably because its everywhere… online, in every DVD budget pack, etc).

    You say it’s not a “cut ‘n paste” Godfrey Ho job. Is this for sure? And what makes you think that? Because I remember thinking exactly that for the reason you mention: all the clones not being on the screen at one given time.

    P.S. Did you know that Kong Do is sometimes referred to as a human testicle?

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      “You say it’s not a “cut ‘n paste” Godfrey Ho job. Is this for sure? And what makes you think that?” – I know Godfrey Ho definitely wasn’t involved, I think more than likely Dragon Lee had his solo segment filmed separately from the rest of the production, possibly by directed by Nam Gi-nam (who’s listed as the director on the Korean Movie Database entry – It also wouldn’t surprise me if Le and Lai’s mission in Thailand was also directed by a separate unit, but they were always intended for the same movie.

      “Did you know that Kong Do is sometimes referred to as a human testicle?” – I wasn’t aware of this, and am not even sure that I want to ask you to elaborate. 😛

  2. Scott Blasingame says:

    Great review, Paul. I, too, have suffered though the coma-inducing film. I wish I had known about when my girls were little. It would have put them right to sleep.

  3. Kung Fu Bob says:

    I sure wish I had read your review before I purchased the Limited Edition Blu-ray of it. Sigh… So my “Nah, I’ll watch something else” instinct that I had for all these years, every time I almost watched this, was right on the money?

    Of course, considering how unmemorable you make it sound, it is possible that I watched it long ago during a “there’s got to be some good ones” Bruceploitation phase I went through. And like the mind sometimes does for our own protection, it simply pushed any recollection of this dud into the darkest recesses of my mind.

    Anyway, good review, and thanks for the warning.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      If it’s any consolation, the reason why I finally got around to watching it was because I also purchased the same Limited Edition Blu-ray!

  4. mike leeder says:

    i’ve heard Chiang Dao called many things but never the human testicle!

  5. snervt says:

    i’m not saying it is a cut and paste job but i’m also not 100% sure that it’s not.. let’s say some sort of patchwork product.
    apart from the things that can be observed while watching the movie, which have already been said on this page, there are other hints that could possibly point in that direction:

    (a) apparently, godfrey ho actually was involved, hkmdb lists him as “assistant director” for this movie. sure, tons of movies supposedly had some kind of work done by godfrey ho and this is surely not true in all cases but i guess hkmdb passes as a relatively reliable source.

    (b) the movie is (co-)produced by filmark international. ifd is the name that comes to mind whenever this topic comes up but filmark definetly did some cut and paste movies as well. again, hkmdb is the source for the information that filmark was involved.

    (c) joseph kong did at least one cut and paste job. it was a bruceploitation flick with bruce le, can’t recall the title right now.. but i read a review a couple of months ago which was quite comprehensive, the author named the movie(s) from which the recycled footage was taken. as far as i remember there was more than one source movie and one of them was “my name called bruce”. i’m sure i can find the review in my bookmarks if someone wants to read it.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      Good info snervt…stuff like this really proves the point that the movie is more interesting to read & speculate about than to actually watch!

      If you can find the review you mentioned, I’d definitely be interested to check it out.

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