As a tastemaking 1-900-HOTDOG reader, you already know most of our articles are about artifacts covered in the spectacular wrongness of some dark otherworld. Today is different. This Punching Day I’m talking about a single fight from the sequel to a knockoff movie that achieves spectacle through mediocrity alone. It’s a collection of uninspired cliches and lifeless performances as if all anyone cared about was smearing vaguely kung fu-like shapes on some film for the Yugoslavian VHS market. I’m, of course, talking about the finale of 1996’s Shootfighter II: THE ULTIMATE FIGHT TO THE DEATH: KILL OR BE KILLED.
Before we look at the stunning ordinariness of Shootfighter II‘s climax, we need to talk about how we got here. It took decades of training to create something this hauntingly generic. So let’s look at the long, weird, and almost exclusively mediocre journey of the film’s star, Bolo Yeung.
In 1973, Bolo Yeung was named Yang Sze and he starred in a movie called “Chinese Hercules.” I dare you to come up with a title more efficient at explaining the content of a movie. The films We Bought a Zoo and I Have Sex With Latina Babysitter (Facesitting Fetish) owe the elegance of their naming style to the legacy of Chinese Hercules. The only question you could possibly have when you hear “Chinese Hercules” is “Can he pick you up by your dick in the middle of a fight?”
The answer is yes! And there were no wire tricks or reasonable ways to safely perform it! That stuntman’s genitals were squashed into a wet rubber glove all for Chinese Hercules, a movie not worth such a sacrifice. This stuntman’s first four children were declared “bologna with fingernails” by the state. And even after doctors fused them together to form most of a boy, that boy received an unprecedented rating of “Get this thing the fuck out of my office,” in the April, 1977 issue of Hong Kong Son Review. All because the man who would one day be called Bolo Yeung couldn’t stop pumping weights even during handjobs.
To give you an idea of how good Chinese Hercules was, here’s a shot from the trailer. Which means this footage of him just missing the shit out of these guys was where they thought he looked the coolest. The trailer also prominently featured Bruce Lee who is not in the movie and a narrator screamed: “BONE CRACKER! HEAD CRUSHER! BACK SNAPPER! BODY BREAKER! MEN. WOMEN! OLD. YOUNG. HUNDREDS. OR ONE ALONE. EACH CHALLENGES, AND EACH BECOMES THE PULVERIZED PREY OF CHINESE HERCULES. THE FIRST AND ONLY MUSCLE MAD MONSTER OF THE MARTIAL ARTS. CHINESE HERCULES! HE’LL GET A CRUSH OUT OF YOU!!!“
Chinese Hercules was the 18th film by Yang Sze, who was also credited as Yang Szu, Szu Yang, Shih Yang, Yang Tze, Sy Young, Young Zee, Sze Yang, and Yeung See. One of the reasons he was so muscular was so bank tellers would be scared enough to cash checks made out to 70 different names. The point is, whatever the hell he was called, our English letters didn’t know how to recreate it. It’s sort of like how my name in hanzi can be the character for “explosion” in a cowboy hat or a drawing of Pac Man eating the letter 母乳. None of it mattered, though, because later the same year, the actor known as Something-like-Soo Something-like-Young would star in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon and everyone in the world would know him as “Bolo.” Or at the very least “that big guy who killed a dude by cradling him like a baby way too weirdly.”
Enter the Dragon was the most famous movie by the most famous kung fu star, so you’re probably familiar with it. And Szu(ish) Yang(ish) would milk its popularity for 15 years. After Bruce Lee’s death, 750 Chinese actors changed their names to something very close to Bruce Lee, added kitty cat sounds to their kicks, and made unauthorized sequels to his movies. Bolo Yeung was in fucking all of them. He starred in Bruce’s Fingers, Soul of Bruce Lee, Image of Bruce Lee, Bruce Li Invincible Chinatown Connection, Amsterdam Connection, The Tattoo Connection, Enter the Game of Death, Dragon on Fire, Bruce and Shao-lin Kung Fu 2, Young Dragon, Enter the Game of Shaolin Bronzemen, Bruce the Superhero, Way of the Dragon 2, The Clones of Bruce Lee, Bruce Lee King of Kung Fu, The Big Boss 2, and Bruce Lee’s Dragons Fight Back (starring Jackie Chang).
Between 1973 and 1988, Szu Young acted alongside a Bruce Le, a Bruce Li, or a Bruce Lei 17 times, meaning he starred in 12 more Bruce Lee ripoff movies than there were actual Bruce Lee films. He has worked with hundreds of co-stars on dozens of movies, but he has never met anyone with a second name. To tell the Bruces apart, he had to use subtle vocalizations like a penguin, and even then he could never be sure he was on the right set or punching the right Bruce.
His characters rarely had names because why bother? It’d be like giving a backstory to the Before model on a tube of Teenage Mutant Karate Tortoise Penis Large-Up Cream. No one fucking cares who Henchman #3 is in Broose Lea Meets Cop-Robot 2000. Bad example, because that was Professor Shave Gravestone, who everyone loved. The fact is, you could have named Szu’s character “Titties Breakdance” or “Beijing Trevor” and everyone would have still called him “Bolo.”
In 1977, Sze tried to fix his name problem when he played a character named Bolo in a film he directed named Bolo. Strangely, it wasn’t about a man named Bolo murdering men by cradling them too tightly. It was a comedy aimed, apparently, at shitty toddlers dying of stupidity. It wouldn’t have exactly redefined his personal brand even if anyone had seen it. It was like Jaleel White writing “Urkel Vitamins!” on a bottle of benzodiazepine pills and leaving it in a parking lot. Still, it gave Tse the courage to finally, officially change his name to “Bolo.”
You already know this, but in 1988, the man now known as Bolo Yeung starred in a second Greatest Martial Arts Movie of All Time– Bloodsport. It’s the film my Netflix algorithm knows as “the only movie.”
Bolo was great in it. Just like in Enter the Dragon, he hardly talked, stole every scene he was in, and the moment the movie was over he spent ten years playing characters with the same name in third rate knockoffs of it. For instance, his first project after playing Chong Li in Bloodsport was playing Chang Lee in Bloodfight. That sounds like the winner of 1989’s Least Inspired Joke, but it’s what really happened.
If you had a wife named Maggy and you introduced her to Bolo Yeung, he would go home, build five mannequins named Majo, Morga, Maggie, Majjy, and Cyber-Maggy vs. Moonwolf, then fuck the shit out of them for SAG minimum. After playing “Chang” in Bloodfight, he went on to play “Chong” in Tiger Claws. Then he mixed it up by playing a good guy in Shootfighter: Fight to the Death, a movie the producers definitely pitched as Bloodsport meets nothing else featuring the co-star of Bloodsport. It had both bad guys from Karate Kid, only enough plot to get everyone into an underground death tournament, and one of the fighters was a man-snake. Look at how sweet Shootfighter man-snake was:
Fucking snake dodge! Snake dodge! Snake headbutt! Man-snake’s existence implies there are lots more magical Mortal Kombat guys in this movie, so it will already never live up to your expectations, but it’s still pretty great. And it’s weird seeing Bolo as the good guy, not because he’d been a villain for 80 straight movies, but because of scenes like this:
Was this Bolo’s script note? To have the hero rip a man’s bones into gore and then, in front of cheering fans, feast on his agony? Silently? For a full minute? This would be like Rocky III ending with Sylvester Stallone running over Mr. T’s head with his car and screaming, “Adrian! My boner throbs with the forbidden power I’ve taken from the vanquished!!!” Bolo didn’t even try for a catch phrase. He could have said, “Thought you could use a break!” or “If this movie is a hit, I’m going to play this character again in six no budget reboots with you impersonators!” Anything would be better than demon-hissing at the crying man’s ruptured remains.
So that brings us to this, the fight scene I mentioned 9000 Bolo Yeung facts ago– the finale of Shootfighter II. It’s everything Bolo had trained for over the course of 100 lazy, knockoff movies. It opens with an avalanche of story elements. There is no need to watch the rest of Shootfighter II because everything you need to know is communicated with “Chinese Hercules” levels of efficiency. Stakes are explained by having actors walk right up to the camera to show the audience their gun. It is not ham-fisted. It is Shaquille O’Neal searching for his wrist watches inside two full pigs.
The cage fighters, Bolo Yeung and Joe Son, are both cranky Asian men wider than they are tall. The film wants us to know this is serious, but they look the same heading into a battle to the death as they would bowling or enjoying a glass of sun tea. These are actors who can perform “menacing” and “bored after a long day of menacing.” Asking them to act like this particular murder is important is like asking a Wendy’s employee to make a cheeseburger extra special. They wouldn’t know how or even consider trying.
A crowd of about 15 wealthy gamblers are there to watch, and they each specifically look like the last person you’d trust to keep your murder fighting pit a secret. They all take turns demonstrating how they’ve never seen a fight, a crowd, or a movie. For instance, one guy spends the whole match against the cage fist pumping and any time he starts to feel too silly he’ll throw an awkward high five to the nearest extra.
The extras are putting in five times more work than the fighters. If you’ve ever seen a kung fu movie, you recognize the move where one guy has a staff and chases his enemy with foot smacks. It never hurts anybody, but it’s more exciting than picking it up and walking over to them. At least it was before Bolo Yeung tried it. He looks like he called time out to sweep up dog hair. This is how an elderly couple learns hip hop dance on a cruise ship, not how you kill a man with a stick. It’s almost too terrible to explain away with “everyone involved sucks.” They might have had to patch this scene together with rehearsal footage after Bolo left to film Bloodpunch IV with Jake-Claude Von Doom and the original Hamburglar.
Bolo and Joe both have a tendency to look away when they attack or block as if they learned how to fight by watching Magic Johnson play. It takes away all urgency from this life-threatening situation as if they learned risk assessment by watching Magic Johnson fuck. Nobody in this cage gives a shit if they live, die, or look at all like two men fighting. Luckily, the subtle filmmakers remind the audience of the stakes by constantly cutting to a shot of the villain holding a gun against the neck of Bolo Yeung’s friend.
This is a pretty normal trope for a death tournament movie. Bloodsport is both the best known example of the genre and the only one where the hero enters the tournament for no reason other than kicking ass. Normally, they need to be blackmailed. What’s weird in Shootfighter II is that it’s happening in plain view of the main group of shootfighting fans. Assuming they’re okay with this very different tone of crime, it still seems a little distracting. This would be like watching an illegal horse race while Magic Johnson was in the center of the track hovering a nose bleed over a sleeping baby. It is not the drama you paid to see, but it will command a bit of your attention.
It’s insane and ridiculous, but checking in to see which of these guys is smiling is the only way to know who’s winning. Joe and Bolo never change expressions and their punches and kicks miss by a wider margin than Magic Johnson AIDS jokes in a karate article. But you can always tell when one of Bolo’s nonchalant air swipes was supposed to hit because the hostage is having fun.
I didn’t edit that clip in any way. The sequence of events is this: Bolo claws at Joe’s titties with both hands and misses, neck hostage guy fucking loves it, then suddenly Bolo is holding a stick again while Joe patiently waits to die with his arms at his side. It should not be possible for any men to be this bad at pretending to fight, especially these two. At this point in his career, Bolo had been in over 200 professionally choreographed fights and Joe Son was a UFC veteran who would go on to be a convicted sex criminal and actual murderer. Joe Son could have shown a tape of his UFC fight to the producers and said, “In my exact experience, real cage fights look more like this:”
The filmmakers knew the action had to escalate, but weren’t sure how to do it since the gun-in-the-neck guys can only smile and frown so hard. One idea Joe had was to climb onto Bolo’s shoulders like he’s getting sleepy at DisneyLand. I guess It was about as good an idea as the one he had at UFC 4 when he clung to a useless headlock while getting punched directly in the dick. And it didn’t help the scene when veteran actor Bolo Yeung chose to sell the attack as “mildly to not annoying, this reminds me of the other time I held a guy up by his mangled dong.”
By this point, each fighter had drawn blood, but the makeup effects were limited to a few streaks of fake blood on two very wet men, so their wounds closed after one or two camera cuts. And with neither able to land a convincing shot, it seemed there was only one way this fight was going to end– have Bolo freeze in place for several seconds so Joe could pick up an emergency fuel can and douse him in gasoline.
Think about what this means. Someone built a cage for the purposes of locking two gladiators inside and thought, “We should be ready in case they drove here from the left side of the basement and ran out of gas.” This is a truly insane choice for the one single object to put in a fighting cage. Even assuming it was for one guy to light the other on fire with, what kind of maniac wants Bolo Yeung on fire in a crowded room with one exit? You think a burning alive Bolo Yeung is going to wait for the building to evacuate before he bursts through the cage and into a flammable stampede of sociopaths? All these people should be dead and this lair should be ashes. It’s pure dumb luck that Joe Son suddenly came down with a brain disorder that prevented him from swinging a torch any lower than seven feet in the air.
There is no more certain way to lose a kung fu fight than to use a lethal weapon against an unarmed opponent. If you’re the only one with a sword, drop it. That man is about to do something so cool and kill you. In this case, it would be almost too obvious for the blind, battered, gasoline-covered man to defeat the guy beating him with a flaming stick, but one thing Shootfighter II: THE ULTIMATE FIGHT TO THE DEATH: KILL OR BE KILLED never does is defy expectations. Sure enough, Bolo finishes Joe with dozens, maybe zeros of punches. With the bad editing and mistimed sound effects, it’s hard to tell which impacts happened and which ones were sarcastic. After it ends, Joe is helpless while the crowd chants for Bolo to execute him. But Bolo has done this enough times to know: if you’re the only one with a sword, drop it.
With the hero gladiator refusing to kill and walking away, there were no cliches left to film. “Not… so… fast,” said Joe Son as he picked up the discarded sword and drove it into his own guts. “You assholes… forgot about this one.” And with a look of disappointment from the bad guy of Karate Kid, Bolo Yeung had finished the perfect final fight of his long film career– an impossible combination of insane, cliche, terrible, and awesome. Long live Sze “Bolo” “Chong” “Chinese Hercules” Yeung.
This article was brought to you by our fine patron and Hot Dog Supreme, Ethan Rangel: half wolf, half cop, half cyborg, and all wolf again twice, for a total of 2.5 wolves.