Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bruce Lee, Philippine Version

As the whole world on Friday, November 27, 2015, honours the 75th birthday of the “original” Bruce Lee, let me remind you of his Philippine version: Ramon Zamora. During my days as a child, I was exposed to the so-called Bruceploitation films specifically from Hong Kong, China and Taiwan mostly shown at Golden Gate Theatre along Gen. Dunckel St. in my hometown San Jose, Mindoro. The term Bruceploitation refers to run-through of putting Bruce Lee look-alike actors or martial artists to play in many low-budgeted flicks to bank on Lee’s feat after his death in July 20, 1973. Asian film producers paraded with actors who looked like Bruce altering their screen names to sound similar or analogous to “Bruce Lee” such as Bruce Li (real name: Ho Chung Tao), and Bruce Le (A.K.A Wong Kin Lung) to mention just two. Bruce Lee bio-flicks free-flows like the Tubaon Creek of my childhood years.

Any avid follower of this genre knows that Jackie Chan twitched his career in the silver screen as an extra and stuntman in some of Lee’s movies, was projected as the successor of Bruce Lee through “New Fist of Fury” shown in 1976 and directed by Lo Wei, the same director who lensed Lee’s earlier film “Fist of Fury”. It was only when Chan made comically-themed movies for another film company he became a box-office material in Asia until he reached Hollywood via “Battle Creek Brawl”. Bruce Lee, in case you Gen-Xers do not know, is the most famous martial artist of all time and founder of Jet Kune Do and to whom the dawning of MMA is attributed to.

Ramon Zamora was once Bruce Lee of the Philippines and thanks to YouTube and Freemake Video Downloader, after 40 years or so, I was able to watch again the best Ramon Zamora flick belonging to this subgenre I want to share with you today. There are arrays of Ramon Zamora’s Bruceploitation films like “They Call Me ChopSuey” but my favourite is Celso Ad Castillo’s “Return of the Dragon (1977)”. For me, it’s the all-time best full-Pinoy martial art film.

The movie, like many of Bruce Lee’s early flicks under Golden Harvest, is about revenge. Failon (Ramon Zamora) execrates vengeance for the death of his wife Amihan (Lotis Key) who was gang-raped and her whole tribe massacred by a band of armed thugs and Failon wiped them out all in the end. Critic Noel Vera did aworth-reading review of the film which appeared at Business World in November 27, 2014, coincidentally fell on Bruce Lee’s 74th birthday.

Ramon Zamora and Bruce Lee were both dancers before they appeared in martial art movies. Ramon Zamora is not only action star but once a comedian though Bruce Lee also has terrific sense of humor as I have discovered from reading John Little’s “Bruce Lee: Letters of the Dragon: Correspondence, 1958-1973”. Ramon Zamora, who died in August 26, 2007, is best remembered in a satiric TV comedy show called “Super Laff-In” which ran from 1969 to 1972 when Bruce Lee is still unknown in the Philippines. While Bruce Lee died at the prime of his age and career at 32, Ramon Zamora died while his career already faded and he was 72 years of age thus making the latter lived exactly 40 years longer than the former.

By the way, a director named George Nolfi is now filming "The Birth of the Dragon" and it is expected to be released next year. Bruce Lee, the immortal pop icon, really transcends from one continent to another, from one generation to another... 

(Photo: 8list.ph)

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