In an alternate universe where Bruce Lee survived and transformed himself into a less talented actor/martial artist and renamed himself Bruce Li, we find this team of adorable Chinese misfits trying to survive general hardship and the mysteries of romantic attachment to a singular cute woman they must share between them while vicious crime lords run the streets with their gangs of thugs. Got that? Good.

First of all, you will groan when you see the supersaturated transferal and the boxed edges that aren’t going to fit your television, but you’ll quickly forget about it, press on. Our boys rescue a third companion, a young black man who desperately wants to be trained in the ways of Kung-fu, and he’s lucked into a great teacher. Some of his inventive training for the fights, is a little on the wacky side, but it sure is creative. When you see him finger-stabbing swinging bottles through hoops of broken glass you’re thinking, “Ooh, he’s serious.” I think. I mean, it’s not what I was thinking, but but someone probably thinks like that.

I’m going to cut the story short as you know the general outline. First the film seems light-hearted and even cloying. The grown men can’t seem to even talk to their gorgeous lady-friend (who does the thing all lovely young women do in these films and tells the boys to grow up and stop fighting), and while a sad set of circumstances builds into an all out kung-fu war with dangerous gangs, someone deliberately runs our sweetheart down. Jeeze! The hearts of these movies are always sent to the heights and allowed to collapse to the lows, at her magnificent graveside (definitely not the grave of a pauper) our hero pledges his revenge. Revenge?! Twenty minutes before that we were watching a shy embarrassed companion afraid to be seen naked in their apartment, no matter, now it’s revenge!). Meanwhile the fighting team being built to take him on in the gang-run underground fights are brought into the game and one of the more magnificent ten minutes in kung-fu movies is born.

Honestly, who cares why we need the kung-fu, the kung-fu is why we are here (just as in most monster movies the “reason” behind the monster is the most ridiculous part of the film) and this film delivers. A few nights ago I watched Warhawk Tanzania fight his way through some gangs and kickbox with a demon, but my friends, Tanzania moves like a life-sized string puppet made of 2x4s compared to these agile Chinese acrobats (my apologies to Warhawk!). These fellows are the equivalent of Ray Bolger or Donald O’Conner for martial arts.

Will Bruce Li produce a set of nunchuks with the extra long chain like a certain other Bruce did in a certain other famous martial arts film? Yes he will. Will he make that arched-eyebrow, angry-face while shaking his head and looking both hyperbolically angry and miserable for having to take life? You bet! Will there be a yellow jump suit with racing stripes? Uh huh. The original Bruce had become such a marketable product by that time, and his 1973 death such a blow with the repercussions of a tsunami of love that has yet to abate ( so much so that in 2005, the only person Bosnians could agree to want to honor with a statue was Bruce Lee! Literally the first public statue of the star in the world! One in Hong Kong was unveiled the next day!) that the action cinema producers couldn’t bring themselves to let him go! You may say exploitation, but, then, Li got a career!

The beauty of this film is that they have superb performers, and a film editing crew who respected that. There are no speed-ups, no horrible patch-work edits, and no magical bullshit (no one can vanish, or leap 30′ in the air).

This film is about 80 some odd minutes and well worth speeding through over a take-out meal. Free on Prime!

4 thoughts on “Soul Brothers of Kung-fu (1977)

  1. Li Van Cleef and Li Marvin star in a Spike Li production of the remake of Paint Your Wagon using Bella from Twilight as Jean Seberg! Nailed it! :p


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