Gonna break from my usual format of short and pithy reviews here. I just saw something so weird, I cannot possibly sum up my thoughts in a mere 500 characters. Apologies in advance for the wall of text below. It's full of spoilers but I can pretty much guarantee no one is ever going to watch this movie.Kung Fu Contra as Bonecas
- The literal translation of this title from Portuguese is "Kung Fu vs the Dolls", but the copy I saw was actually titled Bruce Lee vs Gay Power
. That's right kids, it's a Brazilian Brucesploitation movie from the mid 70s, and I saw it with no subtitles....but allow me to take a crack at summarizing the plot.
The movie sets up more like a dusty Western, although the presence of Volkswagen beetles and microbuses indicate it is set in the modern era. There's a gang of ruthless (and flamboyantly gay) banditos traveling around murdering what appear to be Chinese farmers. Bruce Lee wanders out of the desert and happens across them right after they shoot an old man and are terrorizing his daughter. Bruce and the daughter team up and beat up the bandits...Bruce punches one guy in the crotch so hard, his balls literally fly out of his mouth and he dies. This sets up a series of escalating fights where Bruce nunchucks his way up the bandit ladder, culminating in a bloody showdown with the bandit leader.
As expected, the production values and kung fu on display are entirely laughable (the best 30 seconds of martial arts in the whole movie shows one of the random bandits practicing Capoeira in the background). There's a bunch of terrible throwaway comedy. What makes this film so interesting is its sexual politics. I know what you're thinking...."this is a cheap chop socky comedy from 40 years ago and you didn't even understand any of the dialog...WTF are you talking about sexual politics?" Just hear me out.
As stated, the bandits are clearly supposed to be gay. They wear brightly colored outfits and scarves, they mince around effeminately and dance together, paint their faces and do each others hair. This is all very stereotypical and silly, and indeed, the bandits are mostly played as buffoons. However, the bandits also rape their female victims, and have a big party with a bunch of half naked women. Their leader even has a harem of girls, and there are several scenes of them cavorting around in bed together. This is confusing to say the least. Are they gay or not?
Then our Bruce Lee lookalike (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense) appears on the scene. He's keen to fight the bad guys, but because they're killers...their sexuality is kind of a non-factor despite being front and center. In fact, Bruce himself wears a cut off hot pink muscle shirt with the words KUNG FU in bright blue letters on it, and spends most of his time fussing over his hair-do. Doesn't exactly scream "machismo". Bruce eventually ends up in bed with the girl, but he's not interested in her, as he's too focused on playing his miniature saxophone (very subtle). The girl storms off in frustration. There's a crossdresser character who isn't part of the bandit gang, who shows up basically to act as a cheerleader for Bruce during a couple of the fights.
Throughout the movie there's a series of flashbacks to younger Bruce Lee listening to solemn lessons from what I assumed to be his kung fu master, an old black guy with a huge white fu manchu mustache. But in the final flashback, Bruce and the old guy are seen slow dancing together, a clear indication their relationship was something more. At the end of the film, the bandit leader kills the girl before Bruce stabs him in the neck....and then there's a very strange scene tacked on that has Bruce busting into the hotel room of a random hetero couple and threatening/berating them for some mysterious reason. Then Bruce and the crossdresser wander out into the desert, hand in hand as the credits roll.
It's the strangest thing. Why is it Bruce Lee vs Gay Power? Bruce Lee is clearly gay, and the bad guys are bisexual at most. Bruce is nearly as effeminate as the cartoonish villains are. If this was intended as some sort of gay empowerment, then why are the depictions of gay people so cliche and silly? If the sexuality of the bad guys doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, why spend so much time establishing it? Part of me desperately wants to find a copy of this movie with subtitles to get some answers...but I'm also a little scared that the answers might be trite and remove some of the wonder I experienced watching this blind.
Seriously, nothing about this movie is good. It's impossible to rate it objectively. This isn't really even a review, it's just me thinking out loud in order to make some sense of it. From the title I figured I was just going to see a goofy kung fu flick with some comically dated stereotypes, but there's so much more than that going on. This movie completely defied my expectations of what it would be, and made me think about it for a long time after it ended. I love when that happens.