They Call Me Bruce? holds a special place in my heart, a place just next to where I keep my love for Super Fuzz, another goofy early ‘80s movie. Just like the low-budget cop flick parody, Bruce was one of the first films I ever got from a video rental store. A bit later, it was shown on television, and was the talk of all the boys on the playground the next day at school, because, to our 9-year-old minds, some of the moments were rather risqué. It was nostalgic, to say the least, to see this again after more than 20 years, but it was also a pleasant surprise to find that some of the corny jokes are still funny.
Johnny Yune, a Korean-American standup comedian, plays Joon, a Chinese cook to a man he does not realize is a mafia boss. His boss, and just everyone else, calls him Bruce Lee, much to his consternation. But he secretly worships the martial arts master and his apartment is filled with posters of Lee. When is ineptitude with nunchucks is mistaken for mastery, his boss promotes him and gives him the mission of delivering special pasta flour, which is actually cocaine, all around the country. At this point the film turns into a road movie, which Joon and the boss’s chauffer finding themselves in scrapes all around the country, while Margaux Hemingway, playing some sort of secret agent, trails them. Along the way, the film parodies The Godfather, Rocky, Saturday Night Fever and other icons of ‘70s-‘80s culture.
Unsurprisingly, some of the humor is based on Asian stereotypes. When Joon’s boss tells him not to gamble in Las Vegas, he replies “I can’t even say Bwakjack.” At the same time Bruce parodies the phony Asian mysticism of shows like “Kung Fu,” in flashbacks showing young Joon kneeling over his dying grandfather (also played by Yune), who tells him to go to America. “My grandfather had I dying wish,” Joon tells a friend he meets on the road, “to keep on living.” Many of the jokes are funny just because they are so outdated, even by ‘80s standards. “I met a woman who made her husband a millionaire by gambling,” Joon says at a casino. “Before that he was a billionaire.” When asked by a pretty blonde if he has a girlfriend: “Women treat me like a sex object. Every time I ask them for sex, they object.” When asked why he was fired from his first job in America at a massage parlor: “for rubbing people the wrong way.”
I always dislike it when people say “they don’t make movies like that anymore,” mainly because it usually isn’t true. Sometimes, though, that is the case. They Call Me Bruce? is a loose collection corny gags, parodies and racial stereotypes, much just as a more recent films such as Scary Movie or Disaster Movie are. The difference is They Call Me Bruce? is actually funny.