‘You can’t escape!’
Dynamo is a 1978 Hong Kong martial-arts action-thriller feature film about a cab driver who is groomed as a possible successor to Bruce Lee.
Directed by Hwa I-Hung (Hua Shan), starring Bruce Li (Magnum Fist; Image of Bruce Lee, Clones of Bruce Lee; Enter the Panther), Feng Ku (Black Magic), Mary Hon and Dan Lau. Original title: Bu ze shou duan
Following the death of Bruce Lee in 1973, Cantonese chopsocky producers in Hong Kong brought out a veritable cortege of what have been called “Brucesploitation” kung-fu cheapies that traded on the tragic Lee name with soundalike, lookalike actors (Bruce Le, Bruce Lo, Bruce Li, etc.) and plotlines that referenced Lee in one way or another. Longer-term, you could even classify the later Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, from Universal Pictures, or the Donnie Yen Ip Man cycle as more upscale Brucesploitation.
Director Hua Shan’s Dynamo, premiering in disco-era 1978, was a latecomer, and it is considered rather better than all those avenging-bruce-Lee’s-murder or kung-fu-with-the-help-of-Bruce Lee’-ghost. Yes, better than most – so how bad were the rest?
Still, on the raggedy and episodic side, the picture starts with a dragon-lady executrix (Mary Han) flying into Hong Kong to reverse the failing fortune of the Pacific Ad Agency, losing much ground to their competitor Cosmos. Upon arrival, she glimpses (via mismatched stock footage) the public funeral for Bruce Lee (ubiquitous open-casket news film that was re-purposed time and time again in Bruceploitation dramas and documentaries).
Amazingly, she doesn’t seem to know anything about Bruce Lee, but she does get the brainstorm that if Pacific can find an unknown lookalike and groom him as a Bruce Lee successor, the company will have the ultimate commercial pitchman. By chance, she glimpses happy-go-lucky cab driver Lee Ting (Bruce Li), an upcoming martial-artist on the side, defending against some tough guys.
Thus he passes the audition, and Pacific offers Ting loads of money to join them as a Bruce Lee type and augment his kung-fu training under heavy drinking and smoking jaded older master (Feng Ku), who starts out as the younger man’s antagonist-tormentor, but ultimately develops a curmudgeonly friendship, as Lee Ting starts going about in the trademark Bruce Lee sunglasses and yellow Game of Death iconic tracksuit.
Strangely, for all his stardom we never do see Lee Ting substantially on movie sets or doing actorly things. It’s mostly fighting (of course), as Cosmos is trying to thwart Pacific by sending hiring bad guys after the new idol during international personal appearances, and the hero, not particularly concerned, takes on impromptu challenges in locations meant to be Japan, South Korea (a skiing environment), Chicago and even New York.
Cosmos finally finds Lee Ting’s weakness when they kidnap his meek dance-teacher girlfriend – though in an earlier aside, Lee Ting didn’t seem to give her a thought when he fell into bed with a Euro-starlet, in some kind of quickie love affair stage-managed by the Pacific Agency for headlines. That bit at least provided an excuse for abundant nudity – that and a naked disco dancer with projected geometric designs over her anatomy in a pseudo-007 opening-credit sequence. There’s a further nod to Bond with snatches of ‘Nobody Does It Better’ from The Spy Who Loved Me.
A clichéd fixed boxing match rounds out the story – but to give Dynamo some credit, there really is a story, and it’s a little offbeat to see competing ad agencies here instead of rival dojos or opium warlords. The point is also made that the Mary Han character, despite her chic wardrobe, is sexually frigid and hence a rotten egg herself (obviously, this was way before the “MeToo” era!), and her Pacific Agency is really no better than Cosmos – and the message for Lee Ting is that he should be his own man and belong to no one, not even the great Bruce Lee.
There’s also a curious bit of throwaway business – metaphorical or not – involving acupuncture used on thoroughbreds to trick the gamblers at shady horse races, noteworthy because apparently that really does happen. So there, Dynamo, one of the better entries in the wave of Bruceploitation features, though mainly in context against the rest.
Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA
In 2020, VCI/Pearl River released a Blu-ray + DVD combo.
Region free Blu-ray + DVD combo
Newly scanned and restored in from its 16mm camera negative
Both the 81 minute TV edit and the original 97-minute theatrical version
Audio commentary with radio personality Iain Lee and martial-arts film scholar Michael Worth
Kung Fu Reborn – featurette on recovery and restoration of discarded/forgotten martial-arts films
Drawing Dynamo – featurette on cover artist Ian McEwan
Enclosed booklet by Michael Worth
Optional Spanish language dubbed track
“The true to life nature of our hero being pushed as the next Bruce Lee provided realism to the story. The warring ad agencies was an interesting element and in a way put big business ethics on blast. (Take that Madison Avenue fat cats!) This is Bruce Li at his best. To put it simply, Dynamo is dynamite!” Bulletproof Action
“It’s misshapen, it’s sloppy, it’s ludicrous. Yet Dynamo isn’t a total throwaway. Li’s athleticism can’t be questioned. Were not for his unfortunate, typecast mirror-image face, or if Bruce Lee didn’t exist, maybe he had a shot. Dynamo stages fun fights too, including one at a ski resort with combatants in full winter gear…” DoBlu.com
“With a Rocky-lite finale and a quickie ending, Dynamo might as well have been the Bruceploitation masterpiece of the era, showcasing the nimble Li as a worthy successor with an actual personality to match.” Flick Attack
“While it ranks among the better Bruce Li/Le/Dragon Lee features, Dynamo still has little besides solid fights and that reflexive premise (a Bruce Lee imitator starring in a story about the travails of a Bruce Lee imitator!) to recommend it.” Hong Kong Digital
“Not only does Li kick a lot of ass, he wears Bruce Lee’s yellow jumpsuit from Game of Death throughout much of the movie (which also adds to the crass cash-in factor). He also gets what is probably the longest and most gratuitous sex scene of his career. That doesn’t quite put it over the top, but it adds to the film’s overall WTF quality.” The Video Vacuum
Bruce Li … Lee Tien-yee (as Ho Chung Tao)
Feng Ku … Teacher Cheung
Mary Hon … (as Ma Li Han)
Dan Lau … (as Tan Liu)
Tien Lung Chen