Bruce’s Deadly Fingers (1976) Blu-ray Review: How Low Can You Go?

Though contributions to what has since become known as the “Bruceploitation era” were numerous, those who dare consider themselves loyal to the less-than-esteemed subgenre of ripoff filmmaking generally tend to hold three particular titles high above all others. Amazingly managing to reach a zenith within a cataclysmic cinematic nadir such as this, Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave, The Clones of Bruce Lee, and Bruce’s Deadly Fingers have become as holy to bad kung fu movie lovers as has Clint Eastwood’s The Man with No Name Trilogy has with Spaghetti Western enthusiasts.

Apart from the occasional music cue shamelessly lifted and reused ‒ always without acknowledgement or approval, mind you ‒ any and all similarities come to a thankfully abrupt end right there.

Following the unexpected and untimely demise of Bruce Lee, an alarming number of Asian exploitation filmmakers took full advantage of his passing to bring disbelieving audiences a variety of shockingly inept productions solely to cash-in on his fame. They even scoured the countrysides in search of prime Bruce Lee imitators to star in these amazingly bad movies, many of whom probably could have enjoyed actual careers as performers in “real” martial arts movies had it not been for any passing similarities (genuine or implied) to the real deal. Among the most famous Clones of Bruce Lee were such greats as Bruce Le, Bruce Li, and Dragon Lee.

With plots presumably concocted over a drunken, cocaine-fueled evening spent at a seedy disco lounge the night before shooting started, Bruceploitation films are perhaps best compared to what one might experience after eating a pot brownie laced with Sudafed and LSD before washing it down with a glass of absinthe and a chaser of NyQuil. Indeed, 1976’s Lung men bei chi is no exception to such a truly surreally hallucinogenic experience. One of several dozen pictures produced by Bruceploitation “pioneer” Joseph Kong (who also produced The Clones of Bruce Lee, go figure), the film is best-known to English-speaking audiences under the ridiculous title of Bruce’s Deadly Fingers.

But the title isn’t as preposterous as the dubbed dialogue in the cut domestic US version, wherein the film’s characters are on the hunt for Bruce Lee’s “Kung Fu Finger Book” (also see: The Black Dragon’s Revenge) ‒ a phrase the cast of usual (bad) voice actors say as frequently (and as seriously) as possible, guaranteeing a fistful of snickers each and every time. Leading the parade of unintentional comedy here is one of the most “famous” clones: Bruce Le, who stars here as a ‒ surprise! ‒ Bruce Lee wannabe named Bruce. When his previously-unseen character pops up out of nowhere in a pink getup just so a poorly choreographed fight sequence between he and four guys in bell-bottoms can begin, you know you’re in for a treat.

Even then, you may not be prepared for the assault to the senses ‒ and to good taste ‒ which follows.

Off-screen vaginal “snake” torture via a tiny baby lizard. A carelessly staged outdoors “gang rape” scene in a ring of fire during a particularly windy evening, leading to one of the film’s many incredible continuity and editing errors, the likes of which would give Ed Wood or Tommy Wiseau an instant aneurysm. A disco-laden training montage sequence with uncredited blowup doll cameos. A deadly moment of “Chinese Billiards” defying all known laws of gravity, sense, or logic. That hilariously abrupt ending, occuring as our hero kills the bad guy, cut because the US editor had no clue the Chinese credits they trimmed out included the film’s actual finale! Talk about commitment to one’s craft!

Those are just some of the highlights you’ll find here, mind you: the list continues to grow as this nearly infinite 90-minute atrocity plays out before your tired, weary, and ‒ frankly ‒ violated orbs. Your ears will receive an equally unjust assault, too, between the bad sound effects, terrible voice acting, and numerous compositions included on the soundtrack, ranging from Spaghetti Western music to an instantly-recognizable lick from Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon!

Co-starring an assortment of performers who either knew better or just needed the money, Bruce’s Deadly Fingers also features Lieh Lo (as the sleazy villain), Nora Miao (who actually appeared in several of the real Bruce Lee’s movies), Michael Wai-Man Chan, and an assortment of familiar faces from the industry, including an uncredited Bolo Yeung. Naturally, no Bruceploitation flick would be complete without the occasional reference or image of the late Mr. Lee himself, and Bruce’s Deadly Fingers does not disappoint there, even after most of the extraneous Lee-related material from the original Chinese-language version was removed for the US release.

But the numerous references to the film’s unintentional benefactor weren’t the only thing snipped out by American distributors. Were one to carefully scrutinize the international lobby cards included as extras for this Blu-ray/DVD combo from VCI Entertainment, you’d note there was an apparent sex scene between a relatively minor, weird character and his (supposed) girlfriend. In the US version, this odd duck is seen only a few brief times; his purpose for being there and knowing what little he knows remains a mystery. In the original Chinese-language version, we discover he’s a regular at the neighborhood opium den. In the West German release, however, he’s suddenly as gay as blazes.

These bizarre alterations are things you will discover for yourself when you pick up this VCI Blu-ray presentation, which has more than likely been culled from the 2016 German Blu-ray release, Bruce Lee ‒ Die Pranke des Leoparden (roughly translated, Bruce Lee: The Leopard’s Paw), and includes some of the same features. Unfortunately, it does not feature the 5.1 and 2.0 English and German audio tracks or the longer 98-minute German cut of the film. It does, however, present some cut footage from the German edit as deleted scenes, which have been snipped out here so as not to further confuse viewers by having the dialogue switch over to another language altogether.

VCI’s release of Bruce’s Deadly Fingers is presented in an MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode which is a venerable mixed bag. It looks great for what the film itself is ‒ utter shite ‒ but I am, naturally, skeptical about VCI’s purported new scan of the original 35mm camera negative like they advertise, as their other recent Blu-ray releases have made similar claims and have usually turned out to be false. During the first third of the film or so, the image looks like the contrast has been tampered with significantly, and the transfer definitely could have used some better color/hue timing. Either way, I suspect VCI’s HD transfer may be little more than a straight-up “clone” (ha-ha-ha!) of the US cut taken from the German BD release.

The DTS-HD Mono soundtrack brings out the best in the awful dubbing and sound effects, and an English (SDH) subtitle track helps you keep score of how many times they say “Kung Fu Finger Book”. An added audio commentary by filmmaker/historian Michael Worth ‒ one of the few indigenous extras for this release ‒ is provided, and should help to answer a few questions puzzled viewers may have. The deleted scenes ‒ which go from being in Chinese to German to having no sound whatsoever ‒ are up next. English subtitles are provided for the scenes with dialogue, which is not only helpful, but surprising, given VCI’s tendency in the past to issue discs with foreign-language extras sans subs.

When initially announced by VCI in late 2017, we were promised “Video interviews with some of the players” as one of the extras. Alas, no such things made it to the finalized release disc, but we get just about everything else contained in the original announcement, from grammatical errors to a Bruceploitation preview gallery which consists mostly of real Bruce Lee movies, composited from low-res and High-Def sources (also featuring a Dragon Lee trailer co-starring a bonus Jackie Chan knock-off!) and a theatrical trailer for the feature film are also included, as is the amazing artwork gallery. Lastly here is a useless Bad Kung Fu Dubs featurette from the German disc.

A reversible sleeve wraps up this Blu-ray/DVD Combo from VCI, which comes Recommended to bad movie lovers everywhere. Enjoy. (If you can.)

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Luigi Bastardo

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