Whenever I want to watch a Kung-Fu film, the first thing that I need to decide is exactly what flavor I'm in the mood for. Wushu epic or inventive Jackie Chan fun fest? Golden Harvest classic or something more modern staring Jet Li. I suppose I could always watch The One? No? Well how about something from the brucesploitation subgenre? I can hear most of you Maniacs thinking "what the hell is Brucesploitation?" and at the same time you're thinking that, a small cadre of your fellows felt you thinking that and cried out in terror before being suddenly silenced (by the notion that someone doesn't know about this slim slice of cinema).
Brucesploitation has it's own Wikipedia entry, which doesn't really mean much because so does butt chugging (please don't look it up; you'll be sorry for humanity). It (brucesploitation, not butt chugging) is a phenomenon which appeared in the wake of Bruce Lee's death. Studios where afraid that the recent explosion of Kung Fu cinema in the west (thanks in large part to Lee's Enter the Dragon) wouldn't keep its hold without the man what helped broach it. And so they set about making faux Bruce Lee films with similar sounding titles like Exit the Dragon or Re-Enter the Dragon (which sounds more like an X rated parody). In these films they cast actors who kind of resembled Lee to varying degrees, sometimes also having them change their names to sound similar, as in the cases of Bruce Le and Bruce Li. Some films even used stock footage of Bruce Lee, shot before his death and mixed with new footage to tell marginally coherent stories. Such is the case with the abomination Game of Death. If you really want to see what it was Bruce was trying to do with this film, just fast forward to the last fifteen minutes of it.
I settled on The Godfather Squad, a raucous mix of martial arts, mafiosos, movie stars, and murder (said in the style of Leslie Nielson's delicious line from Forbidden Planet). The story concerns Bruce Leung (Siu-Lung Leung), a martial arts movie star who saves an Interpol detective by karate kicking away a dynamite filled attack dog (I kid you not). So enraged at his inference are the mafia that they use a shell company to hire Bruce for a film shoot as a ploy to bring him to Rome. If this sounds at all familiar, you've probably seen Return of the Dragon, where the real Bruce Lee visits Rome to help his uncle's restaurant fight off the mafia.
Bruce Leung is not alone in his plight as he has the aid of his brother, a young teenage boy who you'll swear is being dubbed by a woman. Also fighting by his side is Heidi (Shirley Corrigan), an insurance agent assigned by the studio to keep Bruce out of trouble who just so happens to know Kung Fu. You'll marvel has she disappears and reappears from the plot at astounding times, but she's marvelous to look at and so I'll forgive the strange continuity decision.
And speaking of continuity, the extended fight sequence of The Godfather Squad is a running Kung Fu battle which ranges through several landmarks in Rome (they do use the classic city's vistas to great effect, despite the low rent nature of the film). As Bruce battles the mafia's top martial arts man, my eye was drawn to all of the random passers by in the background. It seems they didn't close off the sets, so we've got people going about their business in the shots. Of course they jump around in place from cut to cut. Then Bruce and his nemesis are running at high speed, close up on their feet, quick dissolve; now they're running on sand? No, that's snow. They recommence combat in shin deep snow among rolling, tree topped hills. After minutes of protracted combat, these two brutalized gents ran miles outside of Rome, all in the name of holding the spectacular end to their showdown in a picturesque locale. It's headshakingly broken, but fits the film like a glove.
The requisite poor dubbing, with awkward gaps between words while mouths continue moving is that added extra garnish that completes the meal. We're fed a diet of kicks and punches which connect (most of the time) to a satisfying foley effect. Gore fans should note a number of grisly deaths throughout and crime fans won't want to miss all the gunplay and car action included for the price of admission.
This has been released a few times to the home market. I recommend you snag the Code Red DVD version, which comes as a double feature with another brucesploitation flick, Bruce's Last Battle, and a number of cheesy trailers. Be aware though that both films contain all of the lines and scratches you would expect if you went to see this at a repertoire house. For me that's a huge part of the charm in seeing a film such as this, but it isn't everyone's bag of Funyuns. I highly recommend you pick this up and treat your friends to it. This is yet another movie experience which you'll enjoy further with friends. Go get your Bruce on.
Here's the climactic fight sequence, though it isn't the end of the film. Pay attention to the pedestrians during the bridge fight, around the 2:00 mark.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.