When Bruce Lee died in 1973, the search for his successor began almost immediately. However, for some enterprising kung fu movie producers, Lee’s name (or, a close facsimile) would continue to have value for years to come. The Bruceploitation genre of films was soon born, starring Bruce clones like Bruce Li, Bruce Le and Dragon Lee; many of whom were talented in their own right but lacked the charisma or ability of the man they were imitating. These films duped many a unsuspecting kung-fu fan, particularly as the films often referenced Bruce Lee’s more famous work (The Dragon Lives, The Chinese Connection 2), or pretended to be biography (The Bruce Lee Story, The Secret Of Bruce Lee). Some of these films are entertaining and many have their own exploitive charm.
I mention the Bruceploitation genre because Spirits Of Bruce Lee is the worst sort of Bruceploitation film: one that neither has a Bruce Lee imitator, nor attempts to recreate a Bruce Lee classic or document his life story. The only mention of Bruce Lee you will find here is in the title, as the lead has no particular resemblence and makes no attempt to ape his fighting style (a.k.a. he doesn’t howl with every punch). I’m guessing the title was just a cash-in attempt following Lee’s death.
The movie itself is a slow moving affair, with infrequent bursts of badly choreographed kung-fu before going back to a murky revenge story. We get the requisite love interest, an abbreviated training scene, and a fat guy doing some bizarre comic relief. There’s also a short (ha!) appearance by a midget that brightened my spirits briefly, but sadly he soon vanished and I had to pay attention to the plot again.
The Thai location could actually be an interesting setting for a kung-fu film, but this is a long way from Ong Bak. There are a few flashes of interesting Thai fighting styles from the Thai stuntmen, but they move so slowly compared to the Chinese actors that it’s jarring to see them. The late appearance by two Japanese fighters is bizarre, but actually offered a bit of color to what was generally a very bland film.
The photography is awfully dark, and night scenes become very difficult to follow (particularly the opening scene). The dubbing is absolutely atrocious, and there are a few scenes where characters fall into awkward silence as the dubbing actor runs out of dialogue. The full frame presentation is ugly, but mostly watchable.