The Black Dragon’s Revenge (1975) Blu-ray Review: Bruce Lee Van Clief

A brief disclaimer beginning with “The names and characters in this film, based upon the Death of Bruce Lee, are fictitious…” cautiously alerts anyone with a lick of common sense or taste as to what sort of tripe awaits them. And yet, The Black Dragon’s Revenge still manages to hit way below one’s expectations of a cheapo martial arts flick produced in the wake (pun very much intended, since it’s more than obvious the producers of this particular atrocity showed no remorse or honor whatsoever) of Bruce Lee’s controversial death. Here, two equally tendentious subgenres of exploitation filmmaking ‒ that of Blaxploitation (films primarily manufactured for urban audiences) and Bruceploitation (movies made solely to cash-in on Lee’s legacy) ‒ are combined by nefarious Hong Kong producers, and it’s every bit as bad as you can imagine.

Also released under such illustrious titles such as The Death of Bruce Lee and The Black Dragon Revenges the Death of Bruce Lee, Brooklyn’s very own martial arts hero Ron Van Clief ‒ best known to those who have seen selections from his limited filmography as “The Black Dragon” or “The Poor Man’s Jim Kelly” ‒ stars here as an American agent who flies to Hong Kong in order to figure out who killed Bruce Lee. Or I should just say “Bruce,” since Lee’s last name was audibly omitted by the film’s producer(s) after production wrapped (unless the movie was simply abandoned, a claim nary a soul out there would step forward to defend) for fear of being sued ‒ despite the aforementioned on-screen disclaimer and multiple usages of Lee’s likeness, including newspaper photos of the late master’s lifeless corpse taken during his funeral procession. Talk about class!

Teaming up with another Z-grade martial arts film icon, Charles “La Pantera” Bonet (no relation to Lisa Bonet, and who is not to be confused as either an affiliate or founder of Panera Bread, but whom faithful RiffTrax fans will recognize as the guy from Death Promise), the unintentional comedy duo of Van Clief and Bonet (apparently, the budget of the movie was so low, they couldn’t even afford a bona fide Bruce Lee imitator such as Bruce Le, Bruce Li, or Dragon Lee) roam the same alleys and streets of Hong Kong in search of an actual plot. In-between the numerous fights they and other (local) truthseekers encounter with the plentiful emissaries of the film’s various villains, they talk about an alleged “finger fighting” manual Bruce ___ left behind, and speculate whether or not ___’s fall was from drug use. Like I said, there’s a lot of class in this flick!

Some of the film’s grislier moments include a poor dolt getting his eyes poked out and an evil lady who tosses venomous snakes on men after her gangster cronies knock them down (since, as you may have determined by now, this movie pulls no punches when it comes to taking cheap shots). Still, The Black Dragon’s Revenge is unlikely to top other outrageous anti-classics like Death of a Snowman or The Clones of Bruce Lee (and I’m being extremely generous comparing the film in question to those titles). That said, if you’re the sort of cinemasochist who might enjoy one of more delicate moments of The Black Dragon’s Revenge, like when Ron Van Clief flirts with an Asian woman in blackface, declaring his own skin as “…the real shit, baby!” when she asks if he’s wearing shoe polish, your slow-witted boat from China has just sailed in.

Presented via a surprisingly attractive 1080p transfer from niche label The Film Detective, this Manufactured-On-Demand release is probably the best The Black Dragon’s Revenge will ever look. And though I cannot say with any degree of certainty this will ultimately benefit mankind, being able to sit back and enjoy this hilariously bad guilty pleasure from the old school chop-socky factory, lovingly restored and presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with cleaned-up DTS-HD 2.0 Mono Stereo audio, is quite nice. Ron Van Clief fans near and far are sure to enjoy the fruits of The Film Detective’s labor. Extras for this “Special Edition” release included an original theatrical trailer and a compilation of the 15 (!) omissions of Bruce ___’s name definitely soften the many, many low blows The Black Dragon’s Revenge delivers.

Recommended to all of the right types of people who can appreciate this special sort of fine “art.”

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Luigi Bastardo

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