Bruceploitation (a portmanteau of Bruce Lee and Exploitation) refers to the practice on the part of filmmakers in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan of hiring Bruce Lee look-alike actors ("Lee-alikes") to star in many imitation martial arts films in order to cash in on Lee's success after his death. Bruceploitation is an exploitation film subgenre mostly seen in the 1970s after Lee's death in 1973.
When Bruce Lee died on July 20, 1973, he was Hong Kong’s most famous martial arts actor. When Enter the Dragon became a box office success worldwide, many Hong Kong studios feared that a movie without their most famous star in it would not be financially successful. So some studios decided to play on Lee’s sudden international fame by making movies that vaguely sounded like Bruce Lee starring vehicles, with actors who looked like Lee--changing their screen names to sound similar to “Bruce Lee,” such as Bruce Li and Bruce Le.
In a tactic similar to deceptive marketing, some of these films were advertised as genuine Bruce Lee movies when in fact they were not. This tactic was very successful in the mid-1970s when many of Bruce Lee’s earlier films such as Fist of Fury and The Big Boss were being released in “Chinese” theaters in America after Bruce’s death, often with alternate and confusing names.
After his death, many actors assumed Lee-like stage names. Bruce Li (黎(Lí)小龍 from his real name Ho Chung Tao (何宗道)), Bronson Lee (from his real name Tadashi Yamashita), Bruce Chen, Bruce Lai, Bruce Le (呂(Lǔ)小龍 from his real name Wong Kin Lung), (黃建龍)), Bruce Lei, Bruce Lie, Bruce Liang (also known as Bruce Leung), Bruce Ly (real name Binhslee), Bruce Thai, Bruce K.L. Lea, Brute Lee, Myron Bruce Lee, Lee Bruce, and Dragon Lee were hired by studios to play Lee-styled roles.
Jackie Chan, who started his movie career as an extra and stunt artist in some of Bruce Lee’s movies, was also given roles where he was promoted as the next Bruce Lee, such as New Fist of Fury (1976). It was only when he made some comedically-themed movies for another studio that he was able to gain box-office success.
Movies and television
Some of the movies, such as Re-Enter the Dragon, Enter Three Dragons, Return of Bruce, Enter Another Dragon, Return of the Fists of Fury or Enter the Game of Death, were rehashes of Bruce Lee’s classics. Others told Lee's life story and explored his mysteries, such as Bruce Lee’s Secret (a farcical rehash starring Bruce-clone Bruce Li in San Francisco defending Chinese immigrants from thugs), Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger (where Bruce Li is asked by Bruce Lee to replace him after his death), and Bruce’s Fist of Vengeance.
Others films such as The Clones of Bruce Lee (where clones of Bruce Lee portrayed by some of the above actors are created by scientists) or The Dragon Lives Again (where Bruce Lee fights a plethora of fictional characters in Hell such as James Bond and Dracula and finds allies amongst others such as Popeye and Chang Kwai Caine). Others, such as Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave, featured Lee imitators but with a plot having nothing to do with Bruce Lee.
One of Lee’s fight choreographers, actor-director Sammo Hung, famously satirized the phenomenon of Bruceploitation in his 1978 film, Enter the Fat Dragon. Elliott Hong's They Call Me Bruce? satirized the tendency for all male Asian actors (and by extension, male Asians in general) to have to sell themselves as Bruce Lee-types to succeed.
In 2010, a biographical martial arts drama film Bruce Lee, My Brother storied, produced and narrated by Bruce Lee's real life brother Robert Lee, is based on the life of Bruce Lee in his teenage years.
The comic book medium also gave birth to several characters inspired by Bruce Lee, most notably, in Japanese comics, or manga. In Tetsuo Hara and Buronson’s influential manga Hokuto no Ken, known to western audiences as Fist of the North Star, the main character, Kenshiro, was deliberately created by them drawing inspiration from Bruce Lee and Max Rockatansky, from the Mad Max film franchise. Although Kenshiro’s appearance initially resembled more that of Lee in the first chapters of the manga, blending it with Mel Gibson’s likeness, he became more similar to Gibson in physique in the rest of the work, but retaining all mannerisms inspired by Lee, such as his fighting style and battle cries. Additionally, in Hokuto no Ken’s prequel Souten no Ken, the main character is Kenshiro’s uncle, named Kenshiro Kasumi, who is also modeled after Lee’s physique and mannerisms in the same way as his nephew.
Datasoft Inc released the game Bruce Lee in 1984. EA Sports UFC includes Bruce Lee as an unlockable character. Many other video games have characters based on Bruce Lee, although he is rarely credited. Video game characters synonymous with Bruce Lee are usually spotted by fighting techniques and signature “jumping stance,” physical appearances, clothing, and iconic battle cries and yells similar to those of Bruce Lee.
- Maxi— Soulcalibur series
- Fei Long—Street Fighter series
- Kim Dragon—World Heroes series
- Jann Lee—Dead or Alive series
- Marshall Law—Tekken series
- Liu Kang—Mortal Kombat series
- Kenshiro—Fist of the North Star series
- Rock Lee—Naruto series
- Kamen Rider Meteor—Kamen Rider Series
- Lee Sin- League of Legends
- Hitmonlee- Pokemon
End of a trend
Bruceploitation ended when Jackie Chan made a name for himself with the success of the kung fu comedies Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master. These films established him as the "new king" of Hong Kong martial arts cinema. Another factor in the end of Bruceploitation was the beginning of the Shaw Brothers film era in the late ’70s, which started with movies such as Five Deadly Venoms. Since the end of the trend, Bruce Lee’s influence on Hong Kong action cinema remained strong, but the actors began establishing their own personalities, and the films began to take a more comedic approach.
Bruceploitation continued in the United States in a muted form since the 1970s. Films such as Force-Five, No Retreat, No Surrender, and The Last Dragon used Bruce Lee as a marketing hook, and the genre continues to be a source of exploration for fans of the late Little Dragon and his doppelgangers. Fist of Fear, Touch of Death told a fictional life story of the star.
In May 2010, Carl Jones published Here Come the Kung Fu Clones. It focuses on a particular Lee-a-like, Ho Chung Tao, but it also explores the best and worst actors and movies the genre has to offer.
More recently, Bruce Lee’s teacher, Yip Man has suddenly surged in popularity. Due to constant production of various movies and TV shows, this could be looked at as Yiploitation.
- "True Game of Death". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2010-12-17.
- "Bruce Lee Lives On". Wired News. 2007-03-23. Retrieved 2010-12-17.
- "Lee remembered for more than movies". Business World Online. Retrieved 2010-12-17.
- Report: Chan Kwok-Kwan to Play Bruce Lee. The Washington Post. December 2, 2006.
- Archived August 14, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Here Come The Kung Fu Clones by Carl Jones (Woowums Books) « Mister Trippy". Stewarthomesociety.org. 2012-03-03. Retrieved 2013-02-25.
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- Bruceploitation by Keith Dixon
- Brucesploitation @ The Deuce: Grindhouse Cinema Database
- Clones of Bruce Lee
- Here Come the Kung fu Clones by Carl Jones