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Enter the Clones of Bruce (2023) Review – Fantastic Fest

We’ve had documentaries on Ozploitation, Blaxploitation, and even Sharksploitation. Now we can add Bruceploitation to the list, as Severin brings us Enter the Clones of Bruce, a look at the films that sprang up in the wake of Bruce Lee’s death. The title itself is a bit of ‘sploitation itself, riffing off of one of the better known films of the genre, The Clones of Bruce Lee.

The film opens with a brief look back at Lee himself and how he ended up working for Golden Harvest rather than the major player in not just martial arts, but Hong Kong films in general at the time, Shaw Brothers. There are several behind the scenes stories, some of which might even be true, about his physical condition and fighting skills. There’s even mention of his use of what sounds like an early EMS machine.

Thankfully, Enter the Clones of Bruce avoids all the conspiracy theories about his death, concentrating on the void it left in the martial arts movie genre. And that sets up the next section of the film, a look at the various actors hired to try and replace him.

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Ho Chung-tao, better known as Bruce Li is the first to be introduced. A Taiwanese martial artist who had appeared in some of Joseph Ku’s films, he was hired to star in Bruce Lee: Superdragon one of many highly fictionalized biographies to come out at the time. He actually starred in several of them before moving into films like Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger, Fists of Fury III, and Bruce Li in New Guinea. He comes off as a very down to earth man who was uncomfortable about assuming Lee’s identity, but grateful for the money it brought in to let him support his family.

The next stop for Enter the Clones of Bruce is South Korea, home to Moon Kyung-seok aka Dragon Lee. Looking like a bigger, more muscular version of Lee, he got his start starring in The Last Fist of Fury, which was edited down and then had footage of Bruce Lee as a child added in and renamed The Real Bruce Lee for its US release.

He was actually in The Clones of Bruce Lee, as well as Golden Dragon, Silver Snake for director Godfrey Ho, who is also interviewed in the film and really deserves a film of his own. Moon Kyung-seok is still involved in film, heading up the Korean version of the Screen Actor’s Guild.

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Bruce Le was born Huang Kin-lung in what was then known as Burma, and fled to Macau with his family during a purge of ethnic Chinese. He was a martial arts instructor before finding his way into film via small roles in the likes of the cult favourite Inframan before starring in The Big Boss Part 2, taking over the role the real Lee played in the original. Another actor who appeared in The Clones of Bruce Lee, he may well be best known for his smallest and strangest role, the martial arts guy who appears out of nowhere in the exploitation classic Pieces.

There’s also street fighter turned actor Siu-Lung Leung, known as both Bruce Leung and Bruce Liang already had a career as an actor when he was cast as Bruce in The Dragon Lives Again, Lee Lives Within and Lee Kicks Back. He dropped out of the film business for years before returning in 2004 for Kung Fu Hustle.

While these men are quite different, they do share some things. Memories of long hours, doing their own stunts, and working while injured. And of pay, that meant someone was getting rich off of these movies, but it wasn’t them. Later on, Enter the Clones of Bruce covers the ones who were getting rich, the producers and distributors.

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Enter the Clones of Bruce doesn’t limit itself to the actors who made a career out of imitating Bruce Lee. There are interviews with performers whose careers got a boost from appearing with him, such as Angela Mao, who played his sister in Enter the Dragon. Then there are others such as Sammo Hung who while hardly a Bruce Lee imitator got his start starring in the Brucesploitaion film Enter the Fat Dragon.

There’s also a section on the marketing of these films. Enter the Clones of Bruce gives special attention to some of the more outrageous marketing ploys and legal cases in France and Germany, as well as the US. Given we’re talking about things like splicing in footage of stars talking to the film’s Bruce lookalike at a party, this is another topic that could easily be a film in and of itself.

And that may be the biggest problem with Enter the Clones of Bruce, it tries to cover too much in too little time. What we get is interesting and a lot of fun. But at an hour and forty minutes, it doesn’t have time to dig very deep, and I was left wanting to know more. For once, letting the film run longer might have been the smarter move.

Enter the Clones of Bruce, played as part of this year’s Fantastic Fest. No word on distribution, but I’m willing to bet Severin has a Bruceploitation box set in the works that this will be part of.

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