- Friday, 20 July 2012
The story of the most famous, and for many, the best martial arts film star who ever lived has been told before in film, and through his widow’s 1989 book, The Bruce Lee Story. Director Pete McCormack and Producer Derik Murray wanted to tell the definitive story of this martial arts legend, and highlight the lasting impact of Lee’s films, his philosophy and his legacy.
To some extent, the film succeeds, as it contains some revealing interviews with Lee and highlights how racial prejudice in Hollywood in the 1950s, 60s and even 70s stymied his career.
We also learn that Lee trained many A-list Hollywood lead men, such as Steve McQueen and James Coburn, and what he thought of their potential. Reverential interviews with martial arts experts are sporadically interesting on technical points, but have less of an impact. Lee was trained in Wing Chun, but developed his own free-form of martial arts, Jeet Kune Do that was influenced by his passion for boxing. In his final years, Lee rejected any one style, advocating flowing water as the mental image for any fighter.
The film is let down by a weak structure and McCormack’s tendency to shift back and forth in time proves confusing. It’s not until the end that we figure out that, notwithstanding his iconic role as Kato in the American television series the Green Hornet, Lee was never in a Hollywood film. Actually, he did have a supporting role in Paul Bogart’s 1969 film Marlowe, but that isn’t mentioned.
Lee had to go back to Hong Kong, where he had been a child star, to kick start his career in the early 70s. There he made Enter the Dragon, the film that caught the attention of Hollywood. He made only five feature films before his sudden death in 1973 at the age of 32.
The interviews with Lee’s wife, Linda Lee Cadwell, help bring us closer to Lee, but her participation seems to have come with some conditions. The circumstances of Lee’s death are glossed over. Rumours of drugs and extramarital affairs are dismissed without discussion and although Cadwell seems suspicious of the diagnosis of cerebral edema, it is not surprising. The condition (water on the brain) results from a physical trauma to the head and fighting was, after all, Lee’s first love and livelihood.
For many, no story about Bruce Lee is complete without the story of his son Brandon who followed his father into martial arts, film, and an early death. The filmmakers, or Cadwell, have decided not to include Brandon in the film. Not only did the handsome Brandon look more white than Chinese, but when he returned from acting courses in New York to Los Angeles in the 1980s, Hollywood was ready to offer a mixed-race actor major roles. Brandon died in an accidental shooting on the set of his breakthrough movie, The Crow, in 1993, at the age of 28. Just as Enter the Dragon was set to launch Lee in a big career, so the Crow would have made Brandon one of the hottest leading men around.