It’s impossible to think Dynamo isn’t self-aware. In the first scene, a crass, cutthroat businesswoman passes Bruce Lee’s funeral – stock footage of it anyway – implanting the idea to exploit grief and fandom raise her advertising firm’s stock. So she hires Bruce Li, and Dynamo becomes Rocky. Instead of fighting for pride, Li brawls for profits. Which, of course, summarizes Dynamo’s entire existence.
Dynamo’s crude quality doesn’t stem from the way it uses death to shamelessly exploit Lee’s legacy – plenty of others in this brief sub-genre did the same. Instead, Dynamo’s world is oppressively sleazy. Opening credits show a naked woman dancing on stage. Executives aggressively gamble on horse racing. Women sleep with men to further their own careers and hurt their competition. Mobsters work clean-up, either attacking Li as his fame grows, or kidnapping his girlfriend when the dollars reach their bank accounts.
Dynamo’s misshapen, it’s sloppy, it’s ludicrous
Dynamo’s misshapen, it’s sloppy, it’s ludicrous
Everything in Dynamo is about money. Li fights because he’s paid better compared to driving a taxi. His trainer takes six figures too. Women fawn over men as told (and paid to do). At the end, Li’s willing to throw a fight as unscrupulous rivals look to profit.
A lot of this is Hong Kong finding its way in the ‘70s. All around, there’s conformity to western living. Advertising and commercialization is at the center. In using Li for his look-a-like qualities, Dynamo commentates, hypocritically so, on Hollywood’s own shrewdness and lack of moral control.
In few ways is Dynamo anything less than crude. It’s misshapen, it’s sloppy, it’s ludicrous. Yet Dynamo isn’t a total throwaway. Li’s athleticism can’t be questioned. Were not for his unfortunate, typcast mirror-image face, or if Bruce Lee didn’t exist, maybe he had a shot. Dynamo stages fun fights too, including one at a ski resort with combatants in full winter gear, and rather than swords, they strike each other with ski poles. Energy runs high too. Action flourishes with few lags, sending out kicks and punches in droves. Choreography excels, certainly more so than other cruddy kung-fu flicks from this era. It’s wonky, awkward fun with the minimum quality to be entertaining.
Dynamo’s mere existence 42 years after release is more luck than anything. Sourced from a release print, each frame shows its age. Restoration reaches a limit, and a poorly preserved theatrical stock is that point.
Color hardly exists anymore in this image. Yellowing sapped any vibrancy decades ago. Dynamo appears sickly in its current state, and little can change that. Only a few hues break free, some flower and city lights the exceptions. Damage is persistent, if well controlled. Rarely do imperfections cause significant damage. Hasty splice marks and frame skips represent the worst.
Like color, black levels, too, are all but totally lost. Even the negative space in the 2.35:1 frame grays out, so some of this comes back to digital mastering, if not all. Contrast runs hot, fading and clipping. Compression issues stem from the disc for sure, causing excessive banding and chunkiness. Fast action leads to break-up. A “better than its ever looked” result, if that statement means little in this circumstance.
It’s likely this dub is all that exists anymore, so better than nothing. Muddy, scratchy, and popping, PCM can do little against this low-grade analog source. Puffy bass matches strained treble in harshness.
Only a few lines fall below audibility. That’s a bonus. With the erratic edits, skips and jumps understandably follow.
Rarely do you hear two commentators more enthusiastic than author Michael Worth and broadcaster Iain Lee. These two clearly love this stuff. That passion continues in a well produced featurette on restoring and preserving these genre films, titled Dirty Kung-Fu, running eight minutes. Drawing Dynamo interviews the Blu-ray’s cover artist for six minutes.
A shorter TV cut is also included, pulled from a 16mm print, and aside from the vertically stretched ratio, it’s almost a toss-up between the two in quality. While heavily oversaturated, the 16mm aesthetic works, even if this version edits out the non TV-friendly stuff.
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Dynamo’s self-referential seediness almost works, but everything is held together by well put together action sequences.
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