Fantastic Fest 2023: Enter the Clones of Bruce and When Evil Lurks

Fantastic Fest 2023: Enter the Clones of Bruce and When Evil Lurks

Enter the Clones of Bruce – dir. David Gregory

The mythical status of Bruce Lee looms so large that we often forget how short-lived his American celebrity was. Sure, his face is synonymous with martial arts cinema now, but when he died at the tragically young age of 32, his breakout film, Enter the Dragon, hadn’t even been released. It would be another month before Lee fever kicked off in the US, but without Bruce Lee himself to cash-in on the Kung Fu craze, what’s a money-hungry film studio to do?

To put it simply: they can make their own Bruce Lee. 

This didn’t come in the form of elevating a new talent to Lee’s status, but rather in finding martial artists who, at least in the eyes of non-discerning Americans (there’s another term for that, I’m sure), looked enough like Bruce Lee to fill his shoes on the silver screen. Legally speaking, you couldn’t really call his replacements “Bruce Lee,” but you could certainly get away with “Bruce Li,” “Dragon Lee,” or the very dated… “Bruce Rhee.”

Enter the Clones of Bruce tells the story of this black market commodification of Bruce Lee’s image, and what it meant for the studios and performers involved, as well as for the audiences who were only just becoming acquainted with martial arts cinema. And seeing as how the documentary is produced by Severin Films, one of the great boutique blu-ray labels, it naturally gets into the weeds regarding the effects that the existence of myriad Bruce Lee knock-offs had on film archiving and preservation.

The most remarkable aspect of this breezy and entertaining documentary is the variety of talking heads that the filmmakers were able to gather under one roof. Multiple Bobo Bruces appear, as well as plenty of performers who worked with them (some of whom also worked with the actual Bruce to boot). It’s interesting to see what their present-day lives are like in the shadow of their careers (which all existed in the shadow of Lee’s career). Some of them are family men now, others milked their short-lived celebrity for all it was worth. One seems to be selling his own wine — he makes sure a bottle of it is in frame at all times (label facing camera, of course). The most impressive get is Angela Mao, of Enter the Dragon fame, who left the film industry decades ago. Since then she has tended to shy away from interviews in order to preserve her family life, but here she gives some of the most heartwarming and fascinating material that the doc has to offer.

Equally fascinating are the discussions with producers of the time. Needless to say, the film industry both in Hong Kong and on the national stage has changed in many ways since the dawn of the Kung Fu picture, and these larger-than-life characters are happy to lament what they can no longer get away with when releasing a film. Gleeful hucksters, the lot of them, and their love for the cinema that they worked to distribute to the masses is felt in every moment. Sure, the Lee estate was understandably unhappy with the way the departed star’s image was repurposed by the industry players, but one could argue that without this secondary Bruce market, the actual Lee films might not have taken such a firm cultural foothold.

If this sweet and entertaining documentary has one weakness, it’s that despite its impressive thoroughness, it still feels like there’s so much more to learn. But being a Severin Films production, we can assume that there’s a wealth of special features just waiting to be seen once their disc is released.

When Evil Lurks – dir. Demián Rugna

Demián Rugna is not fucking around. Not even a little bit. And unlesss you prepare yourself for the aggressive horror on display in his latest, and by my estimation, best film, you’re gonna have a bad time (this is good). And if you do prepare yourself for this bad time…you’re gonna have a bad time (this is also good). When Evil Lurks is a film wholly disinterested in catering to anyone’s sensibilities, nor is it interested in wasting any time with exposition. It’s a fresh take on the possession film, and it uses the audience’s familiarity with certain tropes only as a jumping off point. Otherwise, it’s a brand new idea with brand new rules, all of which the viewer must absorb in real time.

Why? Because When Evil Lurks is paced like a motherfucker. It opens at a clip and never stops, following a divorcee, his neighbors, his brother, and eventually extended family, as they try to contain a rapidly developing demonic possession. It starts with reports of a neighbor who is “rotten,” but it soon becomes clear that this evil entity can jump from body to body with relative ease. Animal, human, doesn’t matter, but whatever you do, don’t shoot it with a gun (it’s one of the rules established in real-time).

Much like Rugna’s previous film Terrified, his latest mines a lot of its scares from well-designed, powerfully repulsive imagery. But where it differs is in its overall rhythm. When Evil Lurks spends very little time lingering on its horrors, instead giving the many deeply upsetting sequences a sense of aggression that feels like the filmmaker really stretching his legs. This isn’t to say the film is in a rush, however, just that there’s very little time to exhale after each big scare moment. And since the more sudden moments of terror are rarely telegraphed, the feeling of watching the film is one of general unease. Nothing is sacred and anything can happen at any moment. This dark energy puts the viewer into a state not dissimilar from that of the protagonists, and the film is all that much stronger for it.

It’s a feel bad movie to be sure, and the bleak color palette suits the material in that sense, but I do wish that some of the visuals had a little more pop. Granted, Rugna is seeking visuals that evoke the beige clamminess of vomit, but it does leave the gorier moments feeling comparatively flat. Terrified had such a commanding use of reds, and it would’ve worked wonders here as well. Even so, an impressive amount of what is shown has been burned into my brain whether I like it or not (I like it).

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