AKA: Eye of the Dragon, Bruce Le Fights Back
Director: Joseph Kong, Bruce Le, Jean-Marie Pallardy
Producer: André Koob, Dick Randall
Cast: Bruce Le (aka Huang Kin Long, Wong Kin Lung), Hwang Jang Lee, Casanova Wong, Harold Sakata, Bolo Yeung, Chick Norris, Fabienne Beze, Andre Koob, Monica Lam, Jean-Marie Pallardy, Dick Randall
By Paul Bramhall
American producer Dick Randall’s name is synonymous with the exploitation genre, having a career which spanned 3 decades, from the early 60’s to the early 90’s he made a slew of entertainingly low budget B-movies. Be it giallo thrillers, slasher flicks, soft-core sleaze, or mondo-documentaries, whatever was popular at the time, Randall got in on. The kung fu genre was no different, and in 1980 he somehow created the unlikely pairing of Bruce Lee imitator, Bruce Le, and Godfrey Ho’s favorite white guy ninja, Richard Harrison. The movie was Challenge of the Tiger, and in a plot to foil a terrorist group who’ve stolen a formula with the power to kill sperm (yes you read correctly), Le and Harrison head to Spain and battle through crazed bulls, Hwang Jang Lee, and other assorted bad guys.
A couple of years on, Randall and Le unite once more for Bruce Strikes Back. Several faces also return from their previous collaboration, including Hwang Jang Lee and Bolo. Notably Le seems to have dug up his wardrobe from Challenge of the Tiger, strutting around in the same white blazer jacket and oversized shades as he did a couple of years prior, but he wears them well so it’s forgivable. Bruce Strikes Back is also much bigger in scope, with Le globetrotting around Italy, France, Hong Kong, and Macau. While he’s lost his partner Harrison, who was probably off fighting the Ninja Empire at this time, Le does get temporarily paired up with a French cop, played by André Koob, and his partner, played by Randall’s wife Corliss Randall (hilariously credited as Chick Norris).
Much like Challenge of the Tiger, Bruce Le is again listed as the fight choreographer and co-director, this time paired with frequent collaborator Joseph Velasco. Velasco (usually credited as Joseph Kong) and Le worked on countless Bruceploitation pictures together, from My Name Called Bruce in 1978 through to Bruce’s Secret Kung Fu in 1988. True to form, in Bruce Strikes Back Le also gets to play a character imaginatively called, wait for it, Bruce. The plot is standard stuff – Le and Hwang Jang Lee play best of friends working for the Chinese mafia in Rome, however when an exchange goes wrong, Hwang gets away and Le is left to take the rap. After serving his jail time, Le’s seen the error of his ways and decides to go straight, however the mafia won’t have any of it. Soon he’s being pursued by Hwang Jang Lee and mob boss Sakata, who is played by Harold Sakata, better known as Odd Job from the 007 franchise !
Sakata even gets to wear the famous steel rimmed hat as he did in Goldfinger 18 years prior, and for good measure has a bronze hand cast that fits on his hand. The cast is the most ridiculous weapon I’ve ever seen, it’s literally just a cast, immobile in every way, like an overly heavy fly swatter. However it seems to do the job of striking fear into any one who questions his authority, as witnessed when he brings it out in front of Bolo, and with a quivery voice the muscle man is reduced to begging, “Please, put that away!” The pairing of Sakata and Bolo as the bad guys also matches with the whole Enter the Dragon meets ‘007’ theme that the movie appears to be stretching for. Musical cues from both movies are used throughout, and you’re never quite sure if the next scene is going to be influenced by Bruce Lee or James Bond.
Thankfully Bruce Strikes Back happily goes off in its own crazy direction more than enough during its compact 80 minute run time. Female nudity is prevalent throughout, and within the first 4 minutes we’ve already been introduced to the bad guy’s mansion, mainly through images of topless women frolicking around the pool. Not to mention the tigers. For the duration of the movie any scene taking place in the mansion comes with a gratuitous topless shot of some well endowed female. By far the most out there scene though comes during a chase sequence through Paris, of which it turns out the destination is an apartment in which a lesbian porno movie is being filmed, in 3D! At least that’s what the director shouts that he wants. The sequence spends more time on the two women, awkwardly fumbling about naked on top of each other, than it does the pursuit itself. When Le eventually gets there, it turns out it’s the wrong apartment! You have to love the exploitation genre.
Speaking of exploitation, the bad guy’s mansion also contains a Bob Wall imitator within its grounds, which possibly make this the first movie to feature a case of Bob Wallspolitation? The scene also deserves a special mention which has the French cop attempting to interrogate a subject by drowning him in a urinal. Somehow everyone working on the production failed to point out that, whose ever idea it was to modify the ‘head in the toilet bowl’ concept to a ‘head in a urinal’ one, the physics of it simply don’t work. But kudos to the actor suffering the interrogation, he does a great job of looking terrified as his face is pressed to the ceramic surface of the urinal, a small trickle of water streaming down his cheek every time the French cop hits the little flush button.
Eventually plot points transpire to propel the movie forward. The daughter of the US ambassador in Italy, played by Randall himself, has been kidnapped, and Le suspects it’s his old cohorts who are behind it. After running into a dead end in Paris, he follows a lead to Hong Kong, only to find his sister there has also been kidnapped. Le’s been spending most of the movie up until this point convincing his Italian girlfriend to come with him to Hong Kong, mostly set to panpipe versions of such classics as ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘Morning Has Broken,’ however it would be a spoiler to say if she joins him or not. In an unexpected turn of events though, when he meets his sister’s boyfriend, the character is played by Casanova Wong.
This leads to an unexpectedly enjoyable scene of Le and Wong teaming up to take on a pair of ninjas in a cemetery, and it’s also worth mentioning an especially well put together scene of when Le goes solo against a disappearing ninja. The sequence has been cut in such a way that it looks like Le is seamlessly performing his choreography, and that whenever the ninja teleports to a different spot around him, his blows land on him perfectly. It would be easy to do with today effects (see Rain vs. Sho Kosugi in the finale of Ninja Assassin), but to see it in 1982, in what’s essentially an old school kung fu flick, it was entertaining to watch just how well it was executed.
As Le gets closer to the truth, events transpire to see him back where it all started, in Rome, Italy. He gets to square off against Sakata, which includes the use of the deadly hat that will be forever associated with Odd Job (and the brass hand cast gets some action as well), however a Bruceploitation flick with a finale set in Rome was only ever going to go one way, and Bruce Strikes Back doesn’t disappoint. Decked out all in black, Hwang Jang Lee awaits Le in the coliseum, and just like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris had their epic showdown 10 years earlier, the Korean super kicker and former Shaw Brothers actor go toe to toe in the legendary arena. Apart from the obligatory fists and kicks, the fight also comes with a healthy dose of eagle and tiger sound effects, x-ray vision bone breakages, and for anyone who ever wanted to see an animated version of Hwang Jang Lee’s heart, this movie has it.
Bruce Strikes Back may be Bruceploitation, and there’s little doubt that anyone would class it as anything other than a B-movie. But to see Bruce Le punching and kicking his way through Italy, France, and Hong Kong, with a cast that includes names like Hwang Jang Lee, Casanova Wong, and Bolo, for any discerning kung fu fan the movie should provide a good time. For everyone else, there’s gratuitous nudity and Odd Job, not necessarily in that order.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10