THE LATE Bruce Lee appeared in only four martial-arts movies before his death eight years ago at the age of 32. But his name lives on, and on, and on. . . .
Since the release of the actor's last feature film, "The Game of Death," the name Bruce Lee has turned up, in one form or another, in at least 40 kung-fu motion pictures, most of them shot in Hong Kong or Taiwan. Many of the pictures have used the Lee name in their titles -- such films as "Young Bruce Lee," "Bruce Lee Returns From the Grave" and "The Turn of Bruce." A dozen other kung-fu epics, known in the trade as "chop socky pix," have starred actors with such names as Bruce Lai, Bruce Li, Lee Bruce, Dragon Lee and Myron Bruce Lee
The latest example is "The Clones of Bruce Lee," which stars Bruce Lai, Bruce Thai, and Dragon Lee. According to Spectacular Film Productions of Hong Kong, the picture -- shot for next to nothing in Taiwan -- has already grossed more than $350,000 in just two weeks at 17 theaters in the New York City area.
Harry Hope, a Spectacular Film Productions executive, says he expects the film to gross at least $14 million by the time it has played through "the action track": between 800 and 1,000 theaters in the United States and Canada that specialize in action pictures.
While such actors as Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris have done well in kung-fu pictures, no one has ever surpassed the box-office draw of Bruce Lee, who was born in San Francisco of Chinese parents. "Enter the Dragon," released by the Warner Bros, unit of Warner Communications, still is the most successful martial-arts movie ever.
Since its release in 1973 -- at the time of Bruce Lee's death in Hong Kong -- "Enter the Dragon" has grossed $22 million in the United States and Canada alone.
Good reviews contributed to its huge success. The New Yorker magazine, for example, described it as "a kung-fu movie that's a good-natured example of the pleasures of schlock art. . . . But it's not all schlock; the slender, swift Bruce Lee was the Fred Astaire of martial arts, and many of the fights that could be merely brutal come across as lightning-fast choreography."
There's no end in sight to the Lee boom. In fact, Spectacular Film's Hope will produce and direct a kung-fu movie this summer to be called "Enter Another Dragon." Playing the Lee role is a Burmese actor (and look-alike) named Wong Jen Lung. But naturally, he will appear in the movie using his screen name: Bruce Le.