Glamorous Hong Kong porn star Betty Ting Pei (as herself) is lounging at home when the doorbell rings. It's her lover: international martial arts movie icon Bruce Lee (Danny Lee). Fresh off the set of his latest triumph, Enter the Dragon (1973), and horny as hell. Before long Bruce and Betty get down and dirty between the sheets in steamy slow-mo. Afterwards Bruce lights up a post-coital doobie while Betty takes a shower, allowing the audience an eyeful. She returns and, to her horror, Bruce Lee lies dead from an unexpected brain aneurysm. The tragic news sends shock-waves around Hong Kong. At a press conference reporters besiege Betty with sordid questions about Bruce, their sex life and drug use. It seems everyone blames Betty for Bruce's premature death. Shopping at the supermarket she overhears gossipy housewives label her an evil slut who slew a great Chinese hero. Rowdy construction workers hassle her on the street, eager to learn exactly how she shagged Bruce to death. Meanwhile nunchaku-wielding kung fu fans threaten Betty's life. Later, a depressed and dejected Betty pours her heart out to a sympathetic bartender. Insisting the ribald rumours are untrue, she recounts the story of how Bruce Lee saved her from a gang rape and looked set to change her hitherto tragic life forever...
Shaw Brothers, Hong Kong's most venerable film studio, famously failed to sign the real Bruce Lee to a contract after the star balked at their insultingly low wage offer. However, as many a conspiracy theorist loves to point out, towards the end of his life a disgruntled Bruce was plotting to quit Golden Harvest and filmed a screen test for Shaw's. His premature death put paid to those plans. But that didn't stop Shaw Brothers shamelessly capitalizing on the Hong Kong celebrity scandal of the century with Bruce Lee & I, a.k.a. Bruce Lee - His Last Days, His Last Nights, a tawdry showbiz exposé-cum-sexploitation-biopic. Roped in to play Bruce Lee was a young Danny Lee (no relation). Later renowned for starring opposite the iconic Chow Yun Fat in trailblazing heroic bloodshed action films City on Fire (1987) and The Killer (1989) and directing a run of truly tasteless true crime pictures in the Nineties. At the time Danny was a contract player whom for some reason Shaw's routinely cast in only their strangest films: e.g. Super Infra-Man (1975), Oily Maniac (1976), Battle Wizard (1977).
Meanwhile, in what must have surely been a weird and disorientating experience, Betty Ting Pei plays herself. At the time the scandal made Betty, who had a legitimate film career prior to becoming typecast in soft-core fare like The Call Girls (1973) and Adultery, Chinese Style (1973), the most hated woman in Hong Kong. Drawn from her own memoirs, and according to some sources co-produced by the actress, Bruce Lee & I was presumably meant to set the record straight, allow Betty to share her side of the story and maybe claw back some sympathy. That and titillate the grindhouse crowd with ample nudity and copious scenes validating fans' long held suspicions that Bruce's legendary skills and stamina extended beyond the fight ring. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, know what I mean, son?
A strange, self-loathing, schizophrenic production that indulges in sleaze whilst simultaneously decrying it, the film lends equal weight to Betty's plight as it does Bruce Lee's tragic fate. Whether the viewer chooses to believe Betty's protestations of naivety or not, it is hard not to feel some sympathy through tragic flashbacks that show the ill-fated sex star (unconvincingly portraying herself as a wide-eyed schoolgirl) exploited by sleazy agents and lecherous businessmen. Until Bruce takes a shine to the luckless lady, beats up thugs hassling her for unpaid gambling debts, schools her on spiritual enlightenment and eventually coerces Golden Harvest execs to cast her in a serious dramatic role for his next film Game of Death (1974). Strangely, the film continues to insist their relationship was platonic even in the midst of continuous sex scenes, including one silly sequence seemingly inspired by the famous hall of mirrors finale in Enter the Dragon. While a substantial portion of those events dramatized are drawn from fact, things do take a turn for the surreal when a heavenly voice from a burning candle convinces Betty to not kill herself but wait for a special someone who will alter her hitherto tragic life. The film also broaches more scurrilous territory with scenes where a sexually frustrated Bruce almost rapes a hapless nymphet who wanders into his hotel room or literally tries to slap some sense into Betty. On the one hand, Betty is self-effacing enough to admit pimping herself out to a string of rich playboys in her lean years. Yet she also takes pains to signpost her virtuous side. She is the one who brings up Bruce's wife and children whom the film otherwise sideline completely.
Jumping around in time in semi-coherent fashion, director John Law Ma - formerly an actor, his eclectic directing career included Shaw Brothers' hit comedy Crazy Bumpkins (1974) and three equally popular sequels - stitches together syrupy romantic montages, chopsocky action scenes choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping that recreate alleged real life altercations between Bruce Lee and various thugs, and soft-focus sexploitation, seemingly inspired in equal parts by Way of the Dragon (1972), Emmanuelle (1973) and Love Story (1970). Melodramatic to a ludicrous degree, it does not work on any level above camp. However, Danny Lee makes a surprisingly convincing Bruce while Betty Ting Pei gives a disarmingly earnest performance. While Bruce Lee & I was evidently successful enough to ensure Betty segued out of sexploitation and continued making serious dramas well into the mid-Eighties, rumours persist she quit the industry to become a nun. Honestly, if you watch the film closely, the signs are kind of there.