From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
As a lifelong Kung Fu film fan and exploitation cinema lover, when I had the chance to review the new Blu Ray Release of the 1978 Brucesploitation classic Dynamo I went for it. Recently I've been noticing that this long overlooked genre has been getting some much needed renewed interest. For those of us that watch these films regularly, it's just part of our cinematic viewing landscape. Personally, I've always felt that Brucesploitation films are some of the most pure forms of exploitation cinema there is. By that I mean they contain all the staples and best aspects of those movies. 1) They're exploiting something to attract viewers, in this case Bruce Lee’s film persona 2) they're low budget/shot quickly 3) they have a lot of quirky, offbeat style and are generally very entertaining because of these things. What separates Brucesploitation from other genres is the fact they were created to fill a void left in cinema after Bruce Lee's death. The mere fact Bruce had an entire group of lookalike actors or “clones” to take his place, just shows how enormously popular he was. Brucesploitation is one of a kind in that regard. From the mid 70s to early 80s, hundreds of these movies were produced, and while all of them certainly weren’t top notch efforts, a good amount were genuinely well made action films. Which brings us to the first Brucesploitation film I’ve seen on BluRay DYNAMO starring the King of that genre "Bruce Li".
DYNAMO, like many films in the Brucesploitation genre, begins with a direct reference to the death of Bruce Lee. At the time this film was released in 1978, Lee had been gone for several years, so instead of focusing on his legacy like many of the early Brucesploiters did, it moves on pretty quickly to the story at hand.
When a Hong Kong ad agency begins to show signs of business trouble due to a rival, "The Cosmo Company" taking over, a young hotshot named Ms. Mary (Mary Hon) is sent in as a troubleshooter. A public relations agent, Mr. Leung, who picks her up at the airport, is quickly hired as her assistant. Miss Mary may look like an innocent Asian flower, but is actually more like a venus flytrap constantly scheming her way to the top. Meanwhile, Lee Ting-Yi (Bruce Li) a young cab driver, who clearly resembles the late Bruce Lee, is training in martial arts in the city unaware of what awaits him. It's only a matter of time before Miss Mary spots Lee Ting Yi and recognizes his potential as a star (although it's never directly expressed she's searching for a "Bruce Lee lookalike"). Soon she sends Leung to bring Lee to their office where they offer him a major contract to be a spokesperson/model for the ad company. Using Lee to win back the companies status as #1 in Hong Kong is her goal. With nothing to lose, Lee Ting Yi accepts this chance at living large and signs his name on the dotted line. Mr. Leung then hires a veteran Kung Fu teacher (Ku Feng) to make Lee Ting Yi an unbeatable martial arts champion. While Lee has some good moves and is pretty quick, his new trainer shows him he's not as good as he thinks and proceeds to kick his ass. This is the classic Kung Fu student/mentor relationship that moves from discord at the outset to a common respect later on.
For longtime fans of Bruce Lee, one of the highlights of the film is seeing Bruce Li wearing the iconic yellow and black track suit (from Game of Death and later Kill Bill) as his teacher sets up a match between a gang of fighters to see how well his skills have progressed. Lee Ting Yi becomes a true dynamo (hey!) and holds his own against each of them which of courses pleases Mr. Leung and Miss Mary. Lee's only real frustration at his new life comes from all the newspaper gossip stories and the loss of his innocent loving relationship with a nice young local girl he left behind.
While having a drink at a bar, Lee is challenged to a fight by a tough guy and their subsequent battle at a martial arts school is another awesomely cool action sequence that's shows off Bruce Li's own explosive fight techniques. It reminded me of Bruce's fight at the Japanese school in Fist of Fury. Lee later travels to several countries where he's attacked by various fighters hired by the dastardly Cosmo company, including some skiers at a mountain in Japan, a room service waiter and pom pom hat wearing thug in Chicago. Enter The Dragon fans need to look closely or you might miss that this guy is one of Jim Kelly's Kung Fu dojo classmates in that film!! The action sequences are really the most memorable parts of Dynamo. The big climax where Lee fights his opponent in front of the crowd is clearly inspired by Rocky which was, of course, huge in pop culture at the time.
In classic old school grindhouse Kung Fu fashion, Dynamo also makes nice use of some stolen scores and pop music that I enjoyed including "Nobody Does It Better" from the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, "For A Little While" the end ballad from the 1976 Burt Reynolds hixploitation classic Gator, as well as the disco hit "The Devil's Gun" by CJ & Co.
My favorite parts of this movie besides the action was the entertaining relationship between Bruce Li and Ku Feng as well as the classic tale we've seen many times in film of the innocent young person being manipulated by producers to be a big star only to learn that kind of life isn't for them. The director Hwa Yi Hung also made such classics as Soul Brothers of Kung Fu (a Tarantino favorite) Jade Claw and Kung Fu Zombie.
Blu Ray Review
VIDEO: Presented in (2:39:1) Anamorphic Widescreen. The 2K restoration image transfer is good but not one of the best as far as hi-def BluRays go. Although if we're comparing it to older home video and TV versions of Dynamo, it would be considered a solid upgrade in visual quality.
AUDIO: 2.0 Mono.
16 mm Alternate Cut of DYNAMO: A truncated version of the film is presented. Several scenes are switched and/or cut.
Audio Commentary with Michael Worth and Iain Lee: Michael Worth, a Kung Fu film expert and author, explains the history of Bruceploitation and his own love of the genre. Iain Lee, a British Radio personality, grew up watching Kung Fu movies and excitedly recollects his youth collecting and watching them. A very enjoyable commentary track that conveys the appreciation the two have for these cult classic movies.
Kung Fu Reborn: Film restoration producer Jeremy Brunner and Kung Fu Film Aficionado and Archivist Dan Halsted express their passion for keeping classic Kung Fu films alive and well in a brief but informative featurette.
Drawing Dynamo: Illustrator Ian McEwan who designed the amazingly cool artwork for the DYNAMO BluRay release describes how he became a professional artist and how martial arts cinema and graphic novels influenced his style of drawing.
Theatrical Trailer for DYNAMO
FINAL WORD: This debut BluRay from the Pearl River Collection is a gem and I'm really looking forward to all their future releases. DYNAMO remains a Brucesploitation classic and a film that old school Kung Fu fans will want to add to their collection.
Peter Roberts is the co-founder/editor-in-chief of the Grindhouse Cinema Database (GCDb) and contributor to the GCDb's sister site Furious Cinema. A Massachusetts native, he is an avid film fan that has been immersed in the world of entertainment and pop culture his entire life. He is currently majoring in Communications and Interactive Media Design.