Jackie Chan tried to replace Bruce Lee after he died, and so did Bruce Li – screen name of a Taiwanese actor behind slew of Lee rip-offs
There was only one Bruce Lee, but when he died Hong Kong’s film industry sought a replacement. Jackie Chan didn’t work out, but Ho Chung-tao, who looked the part and acted as ‘Bruce Li’, made several rip-off films
In a special series commemorating the 45th anniversary of Bruce Lee’s death on July 20, 1973, we aim to set the facts straight – as well as exploring some little known trivia – about the life of the martial arts legend.
Bruce Lee was inimitable – but that didn’t stop would-be martial arts stars trying to ride to fame on the coattails of his success. The death of the kung fu superstar in 1973 saw a slew of actors trying to copy Lee’s looks, his martial arts style, and even his name.
Lee was not only a star in Hong Kong, but an international success who had increased the appeal of martial arts films to cinema-goers abroad. The Hong Kong film industry needed a replacement for Lee, and Lo Wei, who had directed Lee in The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, tried to groom Jackie Chan in Lee’s image. But Chan’s personality and martial arts style were different to Lee’s, and Chan found success by following his own path.
Smaller film companies simply thought they could make a fast buck by trading on Lee’s popularity. Actors with vague similarities to Lee were employed, with some going under names like “Bruce Li” and “Bruce Le”.
Taiwan’s Ho Chung-tao, who had learned gymnastics at physical education college, and had also studied acting, was perhaps the most successful of the Lee imitators.
Ho looked a bit like Lee – on his right-hand side, the actor himself has noted – and a report from the time in the Post publication Memoirs of an Asian Moviegoer says “his physique is trim and muscular. He also has some charisma of his own and can execute balletic martial arts movements often highlighted by distinctive animal-like cries and wails.”
In a video interview, Ho says he had studied judo, karate, kung fu, boxing and taekwondo at high school.
Ho used not one, but three names to cash in on the popularity of Bruce Lee. He was mainly billed as Bruce Li, but he also performed under his own name, and as Li Shiao Lung, a Taiwanese transliteration of Bruce Lee’s screen name Siu Lung or Little Dragon.
Ho starred in the first “Bruceploitation” movie, Bruce Lee A Dragon Story (1974), a shoddy Lee biopic, and in other Lee rip-offs, including Fist of Fury 2 (1977), Bruce Lee against Superman (1975) – in which he plays Kato, the character Lee made famous in The Green Hornet television series – Bruce Lee’s Secret (1976), a biopic about a martial artist in San Francisco called “Bob Lee”, and many others.
Film company Golden Harvest was impressed enough to ask Ho to act as Bruce Lee in The Game of Death, which was completed after Lee’s death. But Ho refused because the film was also to feature two other actors (Yuen Biao and Kim Tai-jong) as Bruce Lee’s character Billy Lo.
“I said, ‘If you want me to act in this film I will do it by myself, and I will stop all my work … as I want to do my best for Bruce Lee’,” Ho said. Golden Harvest refused Ho’s offer.
“Ho is apparently willing to accept that his resemblance to the late star is no more than a gift from the celluloid gods that must inevitably lose its lustre,” the Post report says, and notes that Ho had equipped his home in Taipei with training equipment to achieve a higher level in martial arts, and was considering a move into directing when his career as a Bruce Lee impersonator subsided.
Ho’s acting career continued into the 1980s and he did indeed direct Fist of Bruce Lee in 1978, and The Chinese Stuntman in 1982.
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