The Clones of Bruce Lee: The Political Economy of ‘Brucesploitation’

This paper presents a political economic analysis of exploitation martial arts cinema through a study of ‘Brucesploitation’ – a sub-genre of martial arts films made primarily in the 1970s featuring look-alikes of the late martial artist and actor Bruce Lee. With reference to the production, distribution and licensing of key films in this genre, we examine the relationship between exploitation cinema, home video in the 1980s, and western appetites for martial arts culture. This industry, which featured ‘kung fu clones’ like Bruce Li and Bruce Le, revealed a large (or perhaps undiscerning) international market for action films of this kind and consolidated a genre of films exploiting individual stardom, specifically Bruce Lee as a global icon. In this paper, we explore the political, economic and cultural implications of satisfying such a demand and the ways in which the legacy of the ‘kung fu clones’ has continued to permeate movies and television shows around the world.

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