Saturday, October 1, 2011

No Lee, Just a Li: "Bruce Li in New Guinea" (1980)

Bruce Li is an anthropologist/martial arts expert who is led by a friend to an island near New Guinea. A cult on the island worships snakes (what else are you going to do on a land mass named Snake Worship Island?). A devil sect runs the island, and the island princess is powerless to stop them.

The duo is led by some comic relief guides, and meet another man who is looking for a "snake pearl," a giant jewel. He meets up with the Great Wizard and is fatally poisoned, but not before warning Li of the wizard's powers. Li fights the wizard, gets poisoned too, and disappears. Much later, Li turns up back in Hong Kong with a story: he was saved by the princess and fell in love with her, forced to leave by the wizard. Li and his friend decide to go back to Snake Worship Island, this time to rescue his love, and the child he did not know he had fathered.

I apologize for the lack of characters' names, but no one is identified during the credits. What is left is a howlingly bad martial arts film, with enough camp and action to keep it out of the one-star category. Bruce Li was one of many Bruce Lee look alikes who popped up after Lee's untimely death. He looks like Lee in some shots, but Li lacks the intensity that Lee conveyed in his film work.

The snake worship cult is hilarious. Their giant temple is the size of the living room I watched the video in. Their costuming is especially funny, multicolored short shorts and matching headbands. The dubbing, always bad in these things, is bad here, too. However, the martial arts action is pretty cool. The choreography is top notch, and the special effects are not too badly done (except for a terrible looking snake spell put on a baby). There is also a large amount of female nudity here, for those who need that to make this kind of film complete.

Weird pacing, snake worship, naked beach frolicking, a poisonous ring, one secondary villain who looks like Cat Stevens, what more could you want? "Bruce Li in New Guinea" is just dumb campy fun, and nothing the Foreign Language Film Academy Award Nominating Committee overlooked that year. (* *) out of five stars.