We don't expect much from our martial arts movies. A shallow plot (you killed my father/master/mother/wife/dog/cat, so now I'm going to kill you/your father/master/mother/wife/dog/cat) is acceptable so long as there are some serious ass kickings along the way.
You'd think it'd be a hard formula to screw up. You'd be so wrong.
5The Dragon Lives Again
The movies following Bruce Lee's death filled a void for fans robbed too soon of their hero, even if they were uniformly awful. So maybe some of them can be forgiven for the incredibly classy move of cashing in on his death by trotting out imitators such as Bruce Li, Bruce Le and Dragon Lee. But not all of them; not The Dragon Lives Again. Here's the first reason why: This movie isn't about an actor playing a "Bruce Lee" like role. This movie is about Bruce Lee--the actual guy, not a character he played--dying and going to hell.
It begins with his corpse (played by Bruce Leung) getting a boner.
Sure, it turns out that it's really just his nunchucks (happens to us all the time) and the intention is to make us laugh, but when you consider that the actual Bruce Lee only died a few years prior to The Dragon Lives Again, you've got to wonder if the most respectful way to honor his legacy is casket-boner jokes. Actually, you don't have to wonder about that at all.
It quickly gets much, much worse. After showing up in Hell he goes to a bar and meets Popeye (you heard us), Clint Eastwood, James Bond and Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine from Kung Fu--so now there's twice the sacrilege!).
It's an all-star cast! Of blasphemy!
In the next scene, Bruce utters an apology to his wife Linda (Bruce Lee's real wife) for "play[ing] around just too much." A female character next to him excuses his behavior, saying "When a man's endowed like Bruce, the girls are bound to want him. He's got to have his fun, eh Bruce-e?"
Yup, that's an adultery joke at the expense of the recently deceased. We'd say that's a dick move, but maybe Linda Lee got some much needed closure from that onscreen apology for her dead husband's never confirmed, rumored adultery, from a guy who sort of looks like Bruce in a movie made by people exploiting his name for money. We think that's the fourth step in grieving, right?
Step five is naked tea parties.
The rest of this atrocity focuses on Bruce's time in the underworld, in which he outlaws gambling for some reason, and starts training everybody in the martial arts... including Popeye. Then he almost gets a blowjob from Emmanuelle, a softcore porn character from the 70s (sorry, Linda, looks like his previous apology wasn't even sincere!) For his last trick, Bruce beats up Dracula, James Bond, Clint Eastwood, the Exorcist and the Godfather. One threat to the King of the Underworld later and Bruce Lee's sent back to Earth. The Dragon lives again. Get it? The end.
Somehow Chinese Popeye makes the most sense in all of this.
4The Story of Ricky
Based on a manga (which, for those of you who don't know, is basically a comic book after it's been raped by severed limbs), The Story of Ricky follows Ricky Ho (also spelled Ricki Oh in some versions) as he's sent to prison for killing the man who drove his girlfriend to tragically commit suicide. The rest of the movie follows Ricky struggling against the corrupt wardens and gangs running the prison. Well, hell, it's just like The Shawshank Redemption! Nothing baffling about that.
Well, then stuff like this happens:
That's a dude getting his skull clapped off. The movie is a mind-boggling gorefest; the whole setup is really just a thin excuse for an endless array of gruesome horrors. Ordinary prisoners face ridiculous punishments for the smallest of infractions, such as a wood planer up the face and a cane in the eye.
What keeps this from straying into Saw territory is the fact that either the souls of the victims are being transferred to mannequins at the last moment due to some ancient curse, or they're just really bad at editing around their prop dummies. For instance, we see this guy falling face-first into a board of sharp nails...
Holy shit! This is going to be horrible!
Ah, never mind. It's a CPR dummy.
Meanwhile, the main character Ricky is more or less immune to pain, superhumanly strong and, for all intents and purposes, immortal. Using his super powers Ricky attempts to protect the innocent prisoners (what?) from the gangs, and there are feel-good moments when he goes out of his way to comfort them. You get the sense that if he could, he'd free them all. If he only had super strength, the kind you could use to break "through" things...
OK, steel doors and bars are one thing, but surely the prison walls are nigh impreg-
And it's not like he didn't know he could break through stone either. There's a whole training sequence flashback where he's smashing through dozens of tombstones with his uncle, in happier days. But the alternative script for a logical Story of Ricky was two pages long, one of which consisted of the words "Ricky goes to prison, then decides to leave." The other was just a graphically detailed crayon drawing of a smashed brain.