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The Many Ways Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon Changed Martial Arts Movies Forever

One of the most exploitive examples of Brucesploitation is Dragon Lives Again (1977) starring Bruce Leung. Also known as Deadly Hands of Kung Fu or Bruce Lee Goes to Hell, Lee encounters James Bond, Dracula, the Exorcist, Emmanuelle, Kwai Chang Caine, Popeye, and more. And if that seems unexpected, check out Crazy Safari (1991), which mashes up Hong Kong’s Mr. Vampire franchise with South Africa’s The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980) franchise. Crazy Safari stars N!xau, the original Bushman from The Gods Must Be Crazy, who gets possessed by the spirit of Bruce Lee to deliver an astonishingly good impression. Even Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen stepped into Lee’s Kung Fu slippers with sequels of Fist of Fury; Chan in New Fist of Fury (1976), and Yen in Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010).

Blaxploitation precedes Enter the Dragon but not by much. Shaft, a pioneering film of that genre, was released only a year earlier in 1971. However, with Jim Kelly as Williams, Enter the Dragon became one of the earliest inclusive films, propelling Blaxploitation forward and cementing Kelly as a bona fide action star. He went on to leading roles in Blaxploitation films like Black Belt Jones (1974), Three the Hard Way (1974), Golden Needles (1974), and Black Samurai (1977), among others. 

There are echoes of Bruce Lee within anime too. Like Liu Kang and Marshall Law, Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star appears dressed like Lee in Enter the Dragon. Dragon Ball also repeats the martial tournament platitude and what’s more, Krillin fights a Bruce Lee impersonator” in episode 20, again bare chested in black Kung Fu pants and slippers like in Enter the Dragon.

Naruto also centers on tournaments and its character Rock Lee is often compared to Lee. Although Rock forgoes the Kung Fu pants ensemble, he adopts the same rice bowl haircut as Lee. Cowboy Bebop’s Spike Spiegel often quips strategies that sound a lot like Lee, and there are numerous Bruce Lee Easter eggs throughout the series. Even Sailor Moon has a nod with Sailor Jupiter’s fighting postures, which are clearly lifted straight from Bruce Lee poses. 

However, the most outrageous Bruce Lee animation isn’t Japanese. In 1975, the Chinese-made film Chinese Gods features a cartoon Bruce Lee, resurrected from the dead with his third-eye open. Lee appears toward the end, so it’s a lot of crude animation to sit through before seeing him. Most of the movie is based on Chinese mythology, and Lee’s appearance is shocking, but, spoiler alert, most anyone watching it now watches it for Lee so the surprise is ruined. Chinese Gods is Bruceploitation at its animated worst.

Many of those anime were based on manga, so Enter the Dragon has a presence there too. Lee has also infiltrated American-made comics. Marvel’s Shang-Chi was originally modeled after Lee, and a character named Lee Jun-fan appeared in Marvel’s Earth-616 (Lee Jun-fan is Bruce Lee’s birth name). As for DC, Lee played Kato in The Green Hornet, a spin-off of the 1960s Batman television series. And of course, there have been numerous Bruce Lee comics from several independent publishers, as well as a comic strip from the Los Angeles Times. These were all fictionalized accounts of Bruce Lee’s life. 

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