Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Fashions of Bolo Yeung: The Art of Manhood

He may look like the Lon Chaney Jr. of martial arts cinema, or the perfect Monster for a Chinastein movie that was never made, but that just means that Yang Sze, better known to history as Bolo Yeung, doesn't get enough credit for the pure manliness he has exuded consistently in his long pseudonymous career. In part that may be because he wasn't given enough opportunities to show his thespian range. At first glance, no doubt, directors and producers may have doubted his capacity for speech or reason. But every so often he was given a chance to shine, and he may never have glowed so brightly again as he did in the 1978 film Storming Attacks, released in the U.S. as Image of Bruce Lee. Of course, it was Bruce Li and not Bolo who was the titular image, though the fact is acknowledged only when his cop character, disguised as a cabbie, is told that he should go into the movies, since he is the .... and it is implied when, as a member of the police Special Squad, he must shimmy up the side of a building in a talismanic yellow tracksuit in a vain attempt to prevent a diamond merchant from committing suicide. So, no: Bolo is neither the image of Bruce Lee, nor a secondary hero, nor even the primary villain of the picture. Instead, we are to accept him as a Japanese gangster, Kimura, in league with a father-son team of counterfeiters. But this relatively small part gives him more character and dialogue than better known Bolo vehicles like Chinese Hercules. Here he appears as something for once closely resembling a human being, especially when it comes to clothes. Image is full of flamboyant fashion, its heroic cops being fond of big yellow scarves while, by comparison, the female lead often does without clothing entirely. But Bolo really stands out as the fashion plate of the picture, and an epitome of what it meant to be a man in Seventies exploitation cinema.

In cooler climates, or in front of pictures of them, Bolo prefers the dignified yet formidable look of leather.

In mixed company, portraying the smooth businessman, he has the best manners, perfected by years of rigorous training. He does not throw the woman over his shoulder and run off with her at the first meeting. All that comes in due time. Note his flexible ensemble, equally sporty with or without the jacket. Without, it is clear that the man was born to wear white, while turtlenecks become him equally well.

We're all used to Bolo the fighter, but Image of Bruce Lee gives us Bolo the lover as well, playful as well as suave, now in a blue jacket worthy of a yachtsman and glasses that express both sophistication and the vulnerability that chicks dig. He leaves a lasting impression on women. In this particular case the woman has a bruise on her breast where he slapped it.

But on a dime, Bolo can turn from lover back to fighter and master of suitcase fu.

Even on casual occasions, Bolo always has the winning look as he lives life to the fullest...

...and even if he loses a few, he's still a real swinger.

Image of Bruce Lee is actually a mildly entertaining film that comes off more like a crime film with incidental yet frequent kung fu fights. It has plenty of the garish sleaze that distinguishes kung fu films set in the modern day from period pieces, and Danna, the actress who plays the enigmatic "Agent Seven," remains a treat for the eyes even after her round of rassling with the ardent Bolo. But something is undeniably missing once the big guy quits the scene. Bruce Lee imitators pretty much grew on trees in those days, but there's still only one Bolo, a fact for which the world is eternally grateful.


Tenebrous Kate said...

This is truly a great moment in Brucesploitation review history, and a fitting tribute to that muscliest of kung fu heroes. Beautiful.

Tower Farm said...

Bolo Yeung! I can't believe anyone else remembers this guy. Definitely my favorite Van Damme villain.


Samuel Wilson said...

JM: How can anybody who saw Bolo forget him? He's just about my favorite (fill in the blank) villain, though Bloodsport and Double Impact are high points.

TK: I doubt whether anyone can do full justice to the might of Bolo, but I thought it needed mentioning that the man can style and profile with the best of them. Thanks for appreciating him.

Anonymous said...

I was just remembering him, I think I've only seen one or two movies of him. He like Bruce Lee left a lasting impression on me. Bolo Yeung FTW!