Bruce Lee's Deadly Kung Fu
"Alright...I..I'll tell you. One of your men has beaten up some of my pupils...and I'm here lookin' for him!"
click for .wav
-- Sensei X
The Only Known Web Page Dedicated to the Classic Film,
(aka Story of the Dragon)
Sometime around 1987, I was fortunate enough to record a little-known kung fu film off of a local station as part of their now discontinued "Martial Arts Doubleheader". Little did I know that I had captured a truly entertaining and unintentionally hilarious work that deals with serious topics such as the oppression of Chinese residing in America, the importance of standing up for one's rights, the drastic effects of the sun's rays on skin tone, and "this whole wharf control business" in the lovely and quite small city of San Francisco. Because of the rarity of the film, I will now attempt to summarize some of the main ideas of this one-of-a-kind achievement, but know you me, this can by no means substitute for the experience of seeing and hearing the loud slapping noise made when Bob's roundhouse strikes The Human Punching Bag.
You can use these to jump around the pages or just read straight through for the powerful cumulative effect:
There are basically two kinds of characters in Bruce Lee's Deadly Kung Fu (BLDKF): good and bad. Emerging from this backdrop of complex personages are the physical and moral confrontations of the story, enlivened by the various nuances that each actor brings to his roles. I say "roles" because some of the players are so adept as to take on multiple parts, needing only subtle costume changes (such as enormous wigs that look like they were taken from a cheap costume shop) to transform themselves. Of course, the English-language version reflects not only the skill of the actors involved, but also the talents of the voice dubbers who bring vivacity to their thespian counterparts. But enough! Here are a few of them:
- Bob (Bruce) Lee
Bob is the main character of the film whose deadly kung fu is referred to in the title. It should be noted that the role is played by Bruce Li, who bears a slight resemblance to the Bruce Lee mentioned in the title. The famous Lee ironically has nothing to do with the film at all; perhaps the filmmakers thought only the most discerning viewers would pick up on this fact. With that aside, it should be noted there is much controversy on the real name of Bob. For the entire movie he is often referred to as just "Bob", however in one scene, he is called "Bruce", while enemies often refer to him as "Mr. Lee". This can be quite confusing to the viewer, but alas, great art is often misunderstood. Regardless, Bob is a heroic individual who can not only clown fools with his kung fu but is a moral and ethical person as well. Comparable to other great leaders such as Malcolm X, he feels that Chinese are too submissive to the cruel American thugs and believes in fighting back, blow for blow. Additionally, he downplays the importance of education when speaking on the need for pride and physical retaliation--now that's a leader! Bob is also a spiritual individual. When faced with perpetual unemployment, he mentions the word "Heaven" as a helpful force in he and his friend's lives. Among other things, Bob is kind, optimistic, persistent, a great teacher, and a handy waiter.
Bob's Famous Quotes:
- "This is pepper chicken. Good for gut's sake."
- "I don't care if he's Charlie or Lassie...just get him outta here!"
- "Your school? That's so important?!"
- "I mean, we'll know, heaven..."
- "They say we're chicken...yeah, chicken!"
- [Last line of film]: "Still, from now on...you better not bother me again!"
- Chang Ming
Chang Ming (sp?) is the loyal and incredibly pitiful best friend of Bob. He has few strengths (skilled waiter, snappy dresser, funny--in that people laugh at him) and many weaknesses (too awkward to be a good fighter, poor decision-maker, smokes, can't swim, ineffective liar, cares about school, can't run, points to his nose too much, etc). Chang Ming is essentially a foil for Bob, and the viewer is invited to compare and contrast the two as they search for respect, inner peace, and employment in the threadbare and shaky confines of the narrative. Chang Ming also shows an uncanny ability for throwing his voice and impersonating Bob (furthering their connectedness) as illustrated in the famous and bewildering "restaurant" sequence. Chang Ming covers for Bob's truancy by stating he is "in the toilet". Then, with the boss (The Old Cow) staring right at him, Chang Ming imitates Bob's voice to support his claim. Incredibly, the boss seems to buy this whole charade, proving the filmmakers' notion that logic would only get in the way of telling the story.
Chang Ming's Famous Quotes:
- "Stop that tapping!"
- "Hurry up, or we'll both be getting the push! [Points to his nose]
- "...how am I going to pay my school fees?"
- "It's nothing, I just knocked myself."
- "Give me a hand, huh!"
- "I'm his friend, and I may be biased...but his kungfu is terrific!"
- Chin Chu Leo
Chin Chu Leo (Americanized spelling) is a martial arts expert who initially resists Bob's inclination to "teach the foreigners Chinese Kung Fu". However, after challenging Bob to a minor duel and receiving about three hits, he changes his position and becomes his right-hand man. Chin Chu Leo's entrance is one of the more exhilarating in the film as he shows up at just the right time, taunts the enemy with some choice phrases, and proceeds to lay the smash down on Sensei X and his buddies. His fighting technique can be considered a "flowing style" with its smooth, circular motions that segue beautifully into each other. Matched by only Sensei X for sheer vocal-dubbing brilliance, Leo's voice has just the right timbre to convey both strength and inadvertent humor. When Leo wants to communicate a particular emotion (regardless of which one) he merely has to give a wide-eyed look, and we understand.
Chin Chu Leo's Famous Quotes:
- "You gutter rat! How dare you bust in?! Well, I'll teach you!" [Fighting ensues.]
- "They just pose as gungfu students. But they're thugs."
The City by the Bay?
The film takes place in San Francisco, revealed to the viewer through badly matched stock footage that seems to indicate the film was shot nowhere near the suggested locale. This concept is further illustrated in the fact that San Francisco resembles a small suburban town with very few automobiles; it almost seems like a huge neighborhood park. Fight scenes often occur amongst tranquil housing editions that are apparently uninhabited since no one ever emerges to ask why those strangely dressed men are fighting in their front lawns.
"Mommy, who are those men outside? Are they clowns from the circus?"
It's also worth noting how much clout kung fu schools had in 1970s San Francisco. These institutions could not only teach discipline and how to break a board, they were the loci of the city's power and possessed a ruthless organizational acumen that would put any mafia or yakuza to shame. The entire metropolis, trolleys and all, would be divvied up between rivaling factions such as, say, Mr Grace's "Special Champion Boxing Trainers" and Bob's "Chinese: Roughly the Number One in San Francisco" gym.
And if you believe all that, I have a golden-gated bridge in Guangdong Province I'd like to sell you....
Wait, there's more!
In what is being hailed as no less than a revolution in Bruce Lee's Deadly Kung Fu-watching, this unique motion picture is now available to the public-at-large thanks to YouTube. While this wide distribution may hamper the blockbuster re-release upon which Hollywood insiders have been speculating, it does allow viewers to experience the picture's craftsmanship at a level it deserves: as a small, grainy square on a computer screen. And yet, having skimmed through a few of the other comparable martial arts films, it is readily apparent that BLDKF is the Citizen Kane of its genre. That would be the genre of cheap, badly-dubbed, faux-Bruce Lee flicks that take place on American soil and that feature a character named The San Francisco Iron Fist Man or any such permutation of this name.
In honor of this monumental find I have decided to further promote the film by adding a detailed viewing guide. This thorough and heavily researched document lists observations made by myself or comrades of mine and should be an incalculable aid in starting down the lightly-traveled road that leads to full appreciation of the movie--a road lined with rich rewards, a road curiously devoid of traffic. The potholes are the plot holes, and the comedy shows up unexpectedly like a cop who's been waiting in a dark lot with his lights off. The journey begins....
How to obtain your recommended daily allowance of Deadly Kung Fu:
- Click on the ticket below (opens a new window/tab).
- Enjoy. You might want to return to this page with your browser to peruse or print out the viewing guide compiled for the film. (Recommended)
- When film is over, pencil in its name on your list of favorite films. Fill all pauses in conversation with the word "right" for at least a week. (Highly recommended)
ADMIT ONE to Chinatown, San Francisco
Hiding under a new moniker, Story of the Dragon, I have reviewed two versions of BLDKF available on DVD. They share many similarities, and as you might imagine, they're both spectacularly bad. Other versions are also available on DVD.
||Click on either picture for larger images of the front and back covers.
- Artistically illustrated cover
- Menu with chapter selection
- Enjoyably inane preview for a Jackie Chan movie that includes some grammatically-flawed subtitles
- Original credits sequence and opening travelogue shots of San Francisco have gone missing--film begins abruptly in restaurant.
- Sells for approximately $15-$20
- Blatantly incorrect cover that tries to pass the film off as a Bruce Lee picture (no surprise there) AND lies about being a widescreen edition. It's not.
- No menu but chapter skipping is possible.
- Sells for approximately $7; could be somewhat hard to find
Both DVD's are presented in the King's English and both seemingly sport the same abysmal print of the movie, evidenced by some common flaws. For instance, in both versions a huge split in the film slides down Bob's face when he first appears in the restaurant kitchen. But, for me, it isn't the terrible source copy that really sinks these DVD's. No, I could live with the fact that my 15-year old VHS copy, which was recorded on EP/SLP mode and has been run about 20 times, returns a better picture. The real problem is that certain scenes, such as the first day of class at Bob's new school, have been altered and significantly worsened; that this is even possible is another consequence of presenting the film in an incorrect aspect ratio (click here for a related monograph).
Without going into detail (at least not here--but it's in the viewing notes at the 34-minute mark), suffice it to say that when an extra steals a scene by acting like a complete idiot, he should be shown and revered rather than cut out of the frame. Nevertheless, if you'd like to own a mangled thing of greatness you can probably get either of these DVD's at Amazon.com.
Please send any comments about these pages, or your own personal BLDKF observations, or any additional info about the film to this address.
Or, go right back to the homepage.