The market for a Bruceploitation encyclopedia is probably the size of a pinhole, but the films which make up the subgenre are such a huge component of the real Bruce Lee’s legacy that it would be a terrible thing if it never happened. Most of the imitators that popped up in the wake of Bruce’s death were poor substitutes, sure, but the cascade of productions that were churned out to sate the leftover demand kept Bruce’s likeness in the public’s awareness for a generous period after his final film was released. After the real Bruce died in the Summer of 73, a slew of Asian studios spent the next decade churning out loving tributes and bio pics which used strained variations of his name and likeness. Most of these films were unwittingly in poor taste, though a small handful deliberately took a seedier rout by expanding on gossip. Some speculate the genre that came to be known as Bruceploitation may even predate Lee’s actual death, with several fake Bruce films said to have been produced in Taiwan in 71 or 72. Really, though, no matter what you think of the slew of Bruce imitators or their films, there is no denying that they have some historical value in the context of martial arts cinema and also with respect to embellishing Lee’s legacy. Despite all this, there really isn’t any one great source of information when it comes to these films. Instead, you’re lucky to find a vague thread or review here or there that is usually woefully inaccurate or may not even have anything to do with the film you’re researching in the first place. Such was the case when I sought out more information on the Unicorn Video title “Golden Sun.” I found a lot of disparaging reviews, but none of them really matched the description of the film I saw. IMDb even lists Bruce Le as the star of this particular film, and adding to the confusion connects Ho Chung-Tao to Le’s page. That’s gotta suck slightly since they are not the same actor, and Le was actually convicted of fraud in China at some point. What I can be certain of is this: “Golden Sun” is not an alternate title for this movie.
Nor is it a Bruce Lee biopic either. Instead, it’s in the same vein as another Li film, “Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger.”
In “Golden Sun,” Li plays a martial arts enthusiast who takes the news of Lee’s passing pretty hard and hits the bars to drink his sorrows away. During the ensuing blackout, a vision of Bruce Lee appears before him. Somehow this rings ominously, and Li decides he has to get to the bottom of his idol’s true cause of death. I don’t really know why or how he comes to the conclusion that something rogueish went down, because Bruce’s “ghost” doesn’t say a damn thing. So, Li makes way to a Buddhist temple, where he is put to the test by the monks to determine if he is ready to avenge Bruce’s death. He passes with flying colors, and has another vision of Bruce, and this time he sees his hero getting his ass whipped by some dude. Shortly after, Betty Ting is introduced as a character, and it’s not long before a shady bunch of hooligans start to get nervous about Li’s inquiries into his hero's death. The whole thing gets muddy from here on out, with a lot of running back and forth and a handful of ploddingly paced, lackluster fight scenes.
Eventually Li discovers that Bruce was bumped off by a bunch of East Asian gangsters who were trying to convince the film star to join their fight promotion. And of course, when Lee declined, they had their goons fatally kick his ass, which makes no fucking sense at all. If you have a guy on your pay roll that can kick the shit out of Bruce Lee, why don’t you just get THAT guy to fight for your promotion?
However, there is one scene that justifies the film’s abundance of mind numbing fight scenes and mangled logic, and that is the re-enactment of Bruce Lee’s actual death. One thing I liked about this is that they actually just let Ho play Bruce Lee instead of getting some other guy for the part. This makes sense mainly because virtually every character in the movie shouts, “Hey, you look just like the real Bruce” whenever they see Li. Even if they just did this to save a couple bucks, it’s ultimately rational from a creative point of view. Anyway, the death scene features Ho as Bruce retreating back to Betty Ting’s apartment after receiving a death blow from one of the heavies, where he proceeds to writhe around like Dick Van Dyke on poppers, doing back flops on the bed, jumping up and down on the mattress, and spitting up alcohol before eventually dying. It is hilarious in its white hot intensity.
Despite the gonzo nature of the film, it still manages to have some fairly dull stretches throughout. Still, it ought to be judged on its own merits instead of being confused for a number of other similar films. Hopefully, someday a tome dedicated to this wild subgenre breaks the surface and clears up a lot of misconceptions and offers a more objective appraisal of a lot of these films. Not to mention, there have got to be some really amazing stories regarding how these films got made. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from an interview with Ho Chung-Tao, a.k.a. Bruce Li. There are three other parts available on YouTube, and I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone check them out.