Johnny Yune, star of the movie "They Call Me Bruce," which was reviewed in Thursday's Style section, was incorrectly identified. He is a Korean-American comedian.
As is so often the case, the print ad for "They Call Me Bruce" has nothing to do with the film; in fact, not one of the five scenes suggested takes place, though the antihero portrayed in the ads, an inept, bumbling Bruce Lee worshiper, is the main character. Which is a disservice to a film that is in fact quite funny in the scenes that it has. It's a kind of "Kung Fu Airplane" (Kung Flew?) loaded with so many one liners that even when half of them are predictable or miss, the rest provide the kind of laughs usually missing from more expensive, star-studded "comedies."
Johnny Yune, a Chinese-American comedian, is cast as a naive cook-waiter for the don of the most broadly caricatured Mafia family since "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight." Seems they've been having trouble with the kung foolishness of some federal agents who keep disrupting their cocaine deliveries (the feds dress up as Hare Krishnas at one point, kicking Mafia types and keeping the beat at the same time). A mob meeting doesn't settle anything but sets the mood and the general level of this good-natured parody. ("I've got an original idea . . . let's make them an offer they can't refuse!")
Meanwhile, Yune keeps serving up food and one-liners ("What's the difference between Chinese and Italian food? Five dollars per person . . . But seriously . . .") Yune, whom the mobsters call Bruce because "you all look alike," dreams of being a martial arts hero: His small apartment is crowded with Bruce Lee posters and he sometime slips into fantasies in which his skills are no longer imaginary.
But in the real world, faced with trouble, he tends to fall back on a fail-safe line: "Take a good look at my face; I'm an Oriental!" It's the kind of defensive mechanism instilled by a dying grandfather in China who leaves Yune two pearls of wisdom: "If you must fight, fight dirty," and "Money's not the most important thing in the world. The most important things is . . . broads!"
Somehow, Yune gets involved in a scheme to distribute cocaine, disguised as noodle flour, to Las Vegas ("I never gambled before; I can't even say brackjack"), Chicago and several other cities where his presence is not appreciated by the local hoods. They concoct various destructive schemes aimed at Yune. Meanwhile, a crew of feds (led by the stunning Pam Huntington) follows and tries to protect Yune, while the girlfriend of one of the hometown hoods, played a bit too languidly by the imposing Margaux Hemingway, is trying to intercept him and abscond with the goodies.
Everybody's a kung fu expert but Yune--and the convoluted plot sets up enough wacky encounters to satisfy fight fans wandering into a comedy as well as enough plot twists to entertain the standard film crowd. In a tradition that goes back to Charlie Chaplin, Yune manages to do more damage by accident than most people do on purpose. Asks one incredulous observer, "Where'd you get the black belt?" "In Orient," says a smiling Yune. "It's easy, only written test."
Like "Airplane," "Bruce" derives much of its humor from parodies of commercials, from "chopstick lickin' good chicken" to "Sake Lite" and a Chinese dragon bursting through the wall, to takeoffs on successful movies ("Rocky") and overused settings, including a kung fu school, a revivalist church and encounters with both ornery rednecks and a sassy street gang (yes, there's even a "Jive Talk" dictionary).
The film also provides a resting place for some of the most overused and abused jokes in the business (Sample: "My first job in America was in a massage parlor but I got fired." "How come?" "I was rubbing people the wrong way.") and for some sly sexual innuendo. There's also a handful of jokes built around mispronunciations ("If you knew Sushi . . ."). One has to groan and bear them, but it's a remarkably light load.
Overall, this is a B-picture with an A-heart, a modern cousin to Woody Allen's "What's Up Tiger Lily?" Yune is listed not only as the star, but as executive producer and cowriter of the script with David Randolph and Elliott Hong (the latter also produced and directed). It's the same kind of small family that made "Airplane" such a rousing success, and while "Bruce" relies on too many comedic chestnuts, it's good for a lot more than one laugh.