"The reason why Bruce Li has it made is because everybody's expectations are low."
- American Ninja
Director: Yi Hwa Hsi, I-Jung Hua
Writer: Chin Wei Lin
Cast: Ho Chung Tao (aka Bruce Li), James Griffiths, Mary Ha, Feng Ku, Hoi San Lee, Steve Sanders, Joseph Soto, George Yirikian
Running Time: 90 min.
Plot: Bruce Li is hired by a talent agency to become the next big martial arts star, due to his resemblance to Bruce Lee. However, a rival agency becomes jealous of Bruce's success, and attempts to have him killed.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: It's safe to say that "Dynamo" can almost qualify as a semi-biographical tale of Ho Chung Tao's (aka Bruce Li) career. Just take a look at the plot: A man, who looks and fights like Bruce Lee, is hired by a female tycoon to to be the predecessor of the now deceased "Little Dragon". Going from shit-wage cab driver to rich martial-arts movie star, Ho Chung Tao is overwhelmed, both by the corporate control on his body & soul; as well as the many challenges he must face by syndicates who want to test his ability. Of course, in real life, Ho Chung Tao was never a star (well, not until 20 years later) -- but "Dynamo" serves as an exaggerated tale of how he really felt about playing or acting like Bruce Lee. Correct me if I'm wrong, but "Dynamo" may be one of the last times Ho Chung Tao is seen playing a Bruce Lee-type character, and it makes sense. Following this film, Ho Chung Tao would go on to make a few of his best films, "Iron Dragon Strikes Back", "Deadly Strike" and "Chinese Stuntman", which he also directed. Unfortunately, by this time, it was too late. The public no longer wanted to see a film starring "Bruce Li" - portraying Bruce Lee or not - and the fact that Jackie Chan was taking Hong Kong by storm with a new age of kung-fu/comedy films like "Snake in the Eagles Shadow" and "Drunken Master" didn't help the matter.
Highly agreeing with Joe909's review (below), "Dynamo" is definitely as good as Ho Chung Tao's masterpiece, "Chinese Stuntman", but only for the first half or so. What follows is an endless amount of kung-fu action, so much that you start taking the non-action scenes for granted. The crazy part is, the martial arts choreography are quite good and are rumored to be done by one of the Yuens (who also worked with Ho Chung Tao's in "The Man/The Myth"). But hell, too much of anything isn't good.
"Dynamo" does have some interesting things going for it, which doesn't exactly help it from being a good or bad film. For instance, I've never seen Ho Chung Tao in snow, so the skiing/fight scene was very interesting - it kind of reminded me of the chase scenes in James Bond films. The film also seemed to be working with a fair budget which is evident in location shooting (even though some locations may be wigged, see Joe909's review), use of extras and a decent of cast of familiar faces; and beautiful leading ladies of all races. I also have to say that Ho Chung Tao is physically at top form, especially when compared to his scrawny appearance in his earlier films.
One definite plus is the film's dubbing which is well-written and catchy. Most kung-fu flicks are dubbed in a generic and linear fashion. With "Dynamo", you can tell that the dubbers put extra effort into making sure they sounded like actual humans, than the usual one or two word exchanges to match the on-screen lips. Another plus is the film's music, which is the usual rehashed shit we hear in all these kung-fu flicks...we can never get enough of that funky stuff, can we? And uh, was that the "Spy Who Loved Me" theme I heard ?
Now for some nice oddities...
I'm not sure about earlier prints of "Dynamo" (such as it's theatrical or Embassy [VHS debut] releases), but the version I watched (Ground Zero Entertainment) had footage from that silly Danny Lee/Betty Ting Pei film, "Bruce Lee: His Final Days, Last Nights" spliced into it. It happens two times and it's very noticeable each time. One occurs while Ho Chung Tao is filming films within the film - after two made-for-Dynamo scenes, they try and blend in a Danny Lee scene where he's also shooting a film within a film. The other occurs while Ho Chung Tao is lying in bed, and another Danny Lee scene overlaps it as a dream-like sequence. These Danny Lee scenes only brought out how much more appeal and charismatic Ho Chung Tao was from the pre-stardomed Danny Lee (John Woo's "The Killer").
Crash Cinema, no stranger to releasing mega-awesome DVDs, is set to release an uncut LBX version "Dynamo" featuring all the nudity and violence that was cut from later prints (which probably explains the inserts of the Danny Lee scenes).
Not too bad, not too good. But then again, I'm gonna make sure I get that new Crash Cinema release.
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S RATING: 5.5/10
JOE909'S REVIEW: For the first half of the film, Dynamo is one of the best Bruce Li movies out there, certainly as good as his best flick of all, "Chinese Stuntman." It has action, comedy, great kung-fu, and most importantly, solid pacing. Miles above the usual Bruce Li flick, which features pointless fight after pointless, numbing fight. But unfortunately, Dynamo just can't hold itself up, and by the 60-minute mark it collapses into "just another Bruce Li movie," complete with the aforementioned, pointless fight scenes.
Dynamo's plot is very similar to that of "Chinese Stuntman." In fact, in some ways it seems that Bruce Li (aka Ho Chun Tao) realized that Dynamo had some problems, and attempted to rectify them in "Chinese Stuntman," which he wrote and directed. It's a shame, because Dynamo could've been a great flick on its own. I laughed throughout the first half of the movie, and don't think I was laughing out of derision; it was out of pure enjoyment.
Like "Chinese Stuntman," the best thing about Dynamo is Bruce's interaction with his only friend in the flick, his grizzled, hard-drinking teacher. The teacher might be washed up, but his kung-fu skills are still excellent. "Attack me whenever you want," he instructs Bruce, "because I'll do the same." This leads to lots of surprise moments in the film, as Bruce will just be jogging around, or going about his business, but will suddenly launch an attack against the teacher, who is, of course, always prepared. The teacher pushes Bruce relentlessly, making him a better martial artist.
This wouldn't be a Bruce Li movie if there wasn't some weird stuff going on. Twice in the film, we get these extended fight scenes of some Bruce Lee-looking guy taking on opponents. First he fights some Japanese guys in a scene very much like that in "Fist of Fury," and then fighting some opponents in the desert. Only then do we realize that this guy is supposed to be the "real" Bruce Lee, and Bruce Li is just thinking about him! Yes, it's just as weird as it sounds.
Things go swimmingly until sixty minutes into the movie. Bruce goes across the world for various films, and is attacked everywhere. He goes skiing in Korea, gets attacked. He goes to America, gets attacked a bunch of times, even by a bellhop who pretends to be a fan. The scenes in "America" are really funny. This movie obviously didn't have the budget to fly to the US, so they had to do a little improvising. When Bruce fights a black opponent in an underground parking lot, you can see on the door behind them a sign that reads "exit." However, this sign is obviously handwritten, and taped to the door. Yep, just like in America.
Bruce's girlfriend gets abducted, and he must fight an overweight monster of an opponent in a tournament. This fight is underwhelming and possibly the least interesting in the flick, even though it's supposed to be the climactic, final battle. However, Bruce does wear a variation on the Game of Death tracksuit; it's orange and white. He also wears the Game of Death tracksuit itself, earlier in the film, except the black stripes seem to be blue on his version.
Bruce Li is the best thing about the movie, as usual. His moves are genuinely fast, and he's a capable martial artist through and through. I know I'm in the minority, but this is really how I feel: you can keep your Jackie Chan. I'd rather watch Bruce Li any day.
JOE909'S RATING: 6.5/10
AMERICAN NINJA'S REVIEW: When mobsters want Bruce Li to take a dive they kidnap his fiance and put her up for ransom. They're unaware that he's being helped out by "Dragon Lady" so naturally they get more than they bargained for. Bruce Li has always been in the shadow of Bruce Lee (and always will) and before he finally gave up he already made so many bad movies. This is one of the better Bruce Li flicks which is not saying much. The dubbing is truly something to behold and Dynamo rips off "Game of Death" to the point of a parody. Overall, not bad for a Bruce Li flick because anybody who rents a Bruce Li movie knows what they're getting themselves into. The reason why Bruce Li has it made is because everybody's expectations are low. I will bet my rent money that no "serious" critic has given a Bruce Li movie a three star rating out of four. That being said, this is no great shakes but old school fans can do a helluva lot worse than Dynamo.
AMERICAN NINJA'S RATING: 5/10