Tuesday, November 27, 2012
ACF 1735: Bruce Lee remembered
Born November 27, 1940, San Francisco
Died July 20, 1973, Hong Kong
Bruce Lee was the single person most responsible for reinventing and reinvigorating the Asian martial movie and making the genre popular in the United States and other western countries. He would have marked his 72nd birthday today if he had not died such a tragically early death in 1973.
Born in the U.S. to Chinese parents who were touring with a Chinese opera company, he grew up in Hong Kong, but returned to the U.S. in 1959. Most accounts attribute his return to his father's concern for his safety after Bruce got in a fight with the son of a feared Triad [Chinese criminal gang] member. He majored in Philosophy at the University of Washington, where he met his future wife Linda Emery. They later had two children. Son Brandon Lee, was born in 1965 and died in a tragic weapons accident on March 31, 1993 while filming The Crow. Daughter Shannon Lee, born 1969, has worked as both an actress and as a producer. Interestingly her first credited film role was as the "Party Singer" in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, the rather under-rated 1993 bio-pic in which Jason Scott Lee starred as her father.
Lee was the real deal - a true martial arts master. He developed his own martial arts system, known as Jeet Kune Do or the Way of the Intercepting Fist. A non-formalized style, it emphasized "practicality, flexibility, speed and efficiency." [source: Wikipedia]
Lee appeared in films from a young age because his parents were in Chinese opera. However, it was in the United States, after he began teaching martial arts to such film stars as Steve McQueen and James Coburn, that his career really began. He starred as Kato in the 1966-67 television series The Green Hornet. Reportedly, he felt that his future in Hollywood was limited after he was passed over for the role of Kwai Chang Caine in the Kung Fu TV series, a role that went instead to David Carradine.
Bruce returned to Hong Kong, where film producer Raymond Chow offered him the lead in Tang sha da xiong, or The Big Boss in English. The film was a huge hit, as were his next two films. But it was with Enter the Dragon, co-financed by Warner Brothers, that Bruce's international reputation was immortalized. The final fight in the room of mirrors is one of the most iconic of all martial arts film sequences.
Sadly, Bruce died before the film premiered. He was visiting actress Betty Ting Pei, who gave him one of her prescription pills because he had a headache. He had an adverse reaction, could not be revived, and died later that day of cerebral edema.
Bruce is most fondly remembered for:
The Big Boss (a.k.a. Fists of Fury), 1971
Fist of Fury (a.k.a. The Chinese Connection), 1972
Way of the Dragon (a.k.a. Return of the Dragon) 1972
Enter the Dragon, 1973
Game of Death, 1978 (Most of this film was shot after his death using a stand-in for Bruce. Still, the last sequence, as the real Bruce fights his way up a pagoda, facing increasingly difficult opponents on each successive floor, is fantastic. It plays like a series of boss fights in a live action video game.)
Only the first two of these were released in the United States prior to his death.
Enter the Dragon is available on DVD from Warner Brothers.
The other four films can be found in Bruce Lee: The Master Collection from 20th Century Fox, which also includes a bonus disc of documentary footage. They are, however, dubbed versions. It would be great if at some point the original versions, with good subtitles, become available.
In the meanwhile, all of these films are wonderful ways to remember Bruce and keep his spirit alive.