THEY CALL ME BRUCE? (25th Ann. Edition)
They Call Me Bruce? stars and is co-written by Korean-American stand-up comedian Johnny Yune, who appeared many times on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Listening to his humor, timing, and accent in the movie, Yune comes across as a real-life version of Andy Kaufman’s Foreign Man character, making the viewer uncomfortable that he has gone into comedy while performing predictable punch lines and self-deprecating jokes, like the Dangerfieldesque, “I am a sex object. I always ask women for sex, and they object.”
For those who enjoy watching bad movies with friends like I do, They Call Me, Bruce? is a rare treat. Rare because it is not often you are laughing at how absurdly bad a movie is within its first minute. Yet, that’s what I found myself doing every time as the Asian-themed disco number, complete with gongs and bizarre lyrics, accompanied the “ori-ental boy” running in slow motion while the opening credits play.
The reason the young boy, Joon, is running is because he is unable to find a doctor for his ailing grandfather (Yune). Joon is worried what will happen when he is alone, and his grandfather tells him to seek out a woman in New York who will take care of him, dying before offering any more help. Jumping ahead in time, Joon is now an adult (Yune), working in Los Angeles as a cook for a very poorly acted Italian gangster stereotype, Lil Pete (I may be mistaken about his name, but I am not going to work harder than the screenwriters did), who calls him Bruce because “they all look alike.”
Joon is a big fan of Bruce Lee and wants to be like him. He tells anyone he needs to appear tough in front “Bruce” is his name. He meets Anita (Pam Huntington) at a bar. After he saves her from some bar patrons, she asks to be his girlfriend to which he immediately agrees. She gives him a necklace, assuring him that she won’t sleep with another man while he wears it. Joon makes the same pledge. However it turns out she is with the FBI, or a similar organization, and the necklace is a microphone that will be used to bust up the Lil Pete’s activities.
After Joon stops a robbery at a liquor store, Lil Pete thinks he might be the man to transport cocaine across the country to the Boss of Bosses. Joon, who thinks he is delivering flour to make noodles, and Freddie (Ralph Mauro) head to New York, making stops along the way. They are followed by Anita and her team, and also by Big Al’s girlfriend Karmen (Margaux Hemingway). Big Al is a rival of Lil Pete and hopes that if Karmen can disrupt the shipment, he can take over L.A. Unintended hilarity ensues.
Much of the movie’s humor is very dated, such as Yune’s line, likely from his act, “I was once run over by a Toyota...oh, what a feeling,” which was an advertising line, and a sight gag referencing the TV series Wonder Woman. There’s jokes derived from the culture clash, like the time a cowboy tells Joon his girlfriend is named Susie, and, then Joon, a la Abbott and Costello, creates tension when says he had sushi last night.
While it attempts to be a comedy, and there are a handful of funny gags, the real laughter is generated by the ineptitude of just about every single participant of the cast and crew. It looks as if the producers had just enough money to make the movie, but they were only able to hire people who had almost no idea what they were doing or not enough money to execute what was requested. From fake beards to sets where walls are obviously fabric hung in a studio to extras that standout, every department succeeds at failing at some level. The editing tries its best to cover problem areas, but it only draws more attention.
The DVD packaging claims to be “a high quality transfer from a recently found pristine 35mm print,” but that’s a bit of a stretch. The film is dirty and has marks throughout. Some times spots appear in the same spot for a about an entire reel, but that all adds to charm.
The one area where the They Call Me Bruce? DVD can’t be faulted is in fooling buyers. Warning signs of the movie’s “so bad, it’s good” potential are evident even before the very first sequence: this DVD release actually misses the anniversary it purports to commemorate by two years; Pam Huntington (in her fourth and final role according to IMDb) and Ralph Mauro (whose credits more often are a job description rather than a character name) are above the title; Film Ventures International, the company that brought the world Jaws rip-off Grizzly, was the distributor; and the movie title in the opening credits is missing the question mark. If all that doesn’t guarantee a good time, what does?