Vintage Cable Box: “They Call Me Bruce?”, 1982

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“Let me tell you, grandson. Money is not the most important thing in life. The most important thing is… broads. Broads!”

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“They Call Me Bruce?”, 1982 (Johnny Yune),  Goldpine Productions

This movie is a freaking mess!  If this was an example of “drug humor” (a la “Jekyll & Hyde – Together Again”), it failed in a very modest sense, because watching the film, one gets the sense the filmmakers were stoned off their asses while shooting it.  Johnny Yune, a marginally successful Los Angeles comedian is the subject of some serious Asian stereotyping.  You see, the standing gag is that our hero, Bruce (Yune, who does double duty as co-writer) resembles the famous Bruce Lee.  He doesn’t look remotely like Lee, nor is he even Chinese.  He reminds me of Jack Soo.  The stereotyping and culture-clash jokes don’t offend me in that they are slanderous or politically incorrect, but that the jokes are so tame and lifeless.

Now we come to the point in the review where I have to (somehow) explain the story, and that’s the problem. Even after watching the movie, I still had no idea what I had seen. At least, “Jekyll & Hyde” had some kind of a story. “Lil Pete” (Bill Capizzi) is the Don of a major west coast mafia family. He convinces his hotel’s cook, Bruce, to deliver what he calls “chinese flour” (otherwise known as cocaine) to buyers across the country. Bruce, being an idiot, accepts the job. Meanwhile the Feds are hot on his tail, and a rival gangster’s moll (Margaux Hemingway), herself a skilled assassin, tries to thwart him at every turn. Luckily his clumsiness and incompetence keep him safe.

In a movie replete with hackneyed, formulaic representations, Yune’s Bruce is the most interesting character, with unusual idiosyncrasies. He is not particularly smart, attractive, or threatening in any way. He does not speak with the typical broken English once made famous by Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”, nor does he wear big gapped teeth and thick-framed glasses. He walks through the movie like a confused pedestrian at the center of a car accident. I don’t even know that this movie could be safely called a “spoof”; more like a kind of Jerry Lewis analog wherein he bumbles along somehow controlling the narrative while being blissfully ignorant of the proceedings.

Watching the movie again, I was reminded of better attempts at this unusual sub-genre.  “Kentucky Fried Movie’s” episode, A Fistful Of Yen, performed as a serious action movie yet shot as a goofy, “Airplane!”-styled comedy featuring the very talented Evan Kim succeeds where “They Call Me Bruce?” fails.  “Charlie Chan and the Curse Of The Dragon Queen”, while not a parody of martial arts movies, has much better production values (though the Asian characters were played by white actors).  Steve Oedekerk’s “Kung Pow: Enter The Fist” explores the same territory as A Fistful Of Yen but substitutes deliberately shoddy dubbing and a quaint Technicolor-like photographic process.

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This is another one of those movies I remember enjoying immensely (like “The Rosebud Beach Hotel” and, of course, “Jekyll & Hyde”)  in constant rotation on cable television as youngster, but now that I look at it, the film is terrible.  Everything about it is a freaking mess.  Poor Margaux Hemingway is in this film for about five minutes.  She doesn’t seem to know what she is doing in this movie.  Margaux appeared in a movie that was a personal favorite of mine for a long time – Menahem Golan’s 1984 comedy, “Over The Brooklyn Bridge” with Elliott Gould.  Her once-promising career was cut tragically short when her badly decomposed body was discovered in her Santa Monica apartment on July 1, 1996.  She had died of a phenobarbital overdose.  Johnny Yune would co-write and co-direct a sequel (!) to this movie titled, “They Still Call Me Bruce?” in 1987.

Happy Fourth of July!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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