Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger [天皇巨星] (1976)
AKA Bruce Lee – The Star of All Stars, Find Bruce Lee!
Starring Bruce Li, Chang Yi, Ma Chi Chiang, Lu Chi, Tsao Shao Jung, Kang Kam
Directed By Lee Tso-Nam
Of all the Bruceploitation films, I don’t think any makes a more audacious attempt to validate itself than Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger. The film opens up with Tiger (Bruce Li) visiting Bruce Lee on the set of his latest film. Lee seems very troubled by strange phone calls he has been receiving recently and names Tiger his successor in case anything is to happen to him. So there you have it, Bruce Li hand picked by the little dragon himself. It’s a pretty shameless act of self-promotion, but it’s fun as hell to watch Bruce Li and Bruce Lee (also played by Li… confused yet?) having a conversation across the screen from each other.
In any case, Bruce Lee dies the next day and we are treated to stock footage of his funeral. Tiger meanwhile is back in his homeland of Singapore honoring the life of his idol when he suddenly has an epiphany and quickly dismisses anything as boring as a cerebral edema as being the cause of his hero’s death. He takes it upon himself to investigate further and is swept into a ridiculously sensationalized conspiracy involving triads and drugs.
Tiger first attempts to meet up with Suzie Yung, who I should mention is a thinly veiled attempt to depict Taiwanese actress Betty Ting Pei, Bruce Lee’s supposed mistress and the woman whose house Bruce was found dead in. I don’t pretend to know anything factual surrounding the Death of Bruce Lee that anybody out there doesn’t already know. But the film draws some pretty crazy-ass, half-baked conclusions and is borderline slanderous in its portrayal of Betty Ting Pei, who is pretty much labeled a slut and implicated in some pretty heavy triad activity throughout the film. I’m not a lawyer, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Hong Kong has some loose laws regarding defamation of character since this film and all of its wild assumptions ended up seeing the light of day.
There is also a notable scene, typical of the genre, which blurs the line between loving homage and blatant pilfering. Tiger attempts to infiltrate the triad headquarters and after staking out the premises, finds it is too heavily guarded for the straightforward approach. Hmm… what to do? Tiger throws on a pair of dorky glasses, poses as a telephone repairman, and snips the phone line. Sound vaguely familiar? Yeah. What follows is virtually a shot-for-shot remake of the same sequence in The Chinese Connection.
But all blatant tackiness aside, in pure terms of action and fun, this movie truly sets the golden standard for Bruce Lee exploitation. As Tiger delves further and further into the triad conspiracy we are treated to a candy store of fantastic kung fu set pieces. There are fights in abandoned warehouses, on top of logs at a lumber mill, on a rooftop garden, at a night club, and in a gymnasium. The movie is also chock-full of fun villains as Tiger comes across sadistic triads, a gigantic Chinese guy (which echoes the Bruce Lee / Kareem Abdul-Jabbar fight in Game of Death), and an angry female gymnast. My personal favorite is saved for the end of the film though, where Tiger meets up with the triad leader. He is a fantastic final villain who sports a derby, carries a cane that can transform into a sword, and swaggers around in a white Wong Fei-Hung outfit. There is almost a campy, James Bond villain-esque feeling to this guy and his kung fu is outstanding. The two battle it out in front of a rocky beachfront amid roaring surf. There is something truly epic to the battle as wind and the raging ocean mist whips these guys all over the place. Say what you want about Bruce Lee imitators, but Bruce Li was really a talented martial artist and his fights in this film are among the best I have ever seen.
If you are able to put the tasteless plot and its crackpot theories behind you, then get out there and go see this movie now… and get ready for next week because we have two real doozies in store as we continue our look at the clones of Bruce Lee.