ASIAN FILM - Article
08:35 - 27th September 2013, by David West

My Brother Bruce

It has been 40 years since the sudden death of Bruce Lee, but the Little Dragon remains one of the most recognizable figures in contemporary popular culture. He is synonymous with the martial arts, an inspiration to people across cultures and borders - a modern legend. But what was he like before his rise to fame?

Young Bruce Lee, the film by Raymond Yip and Manfred Wong, is based upon the memoirs of Bruce's younger brother Robert, and looks at life in the Lee household before Bruce left Hong Kong for San Francisco. It follows the family from Bruce's birth in a San Francisco hospital when his father was on tour, through his adolescence and first love.

Asked why he thinks people are still so enthralled by his brother, Robert replies, "Firstly, Bruce was 50 to 100 years ahead of his time; therefore, he is not a dated figure that can only appeal to a set time or mind frame. He has an endless attraction to people on many different levels. Secondly, what he expressed ultimately through his martial arts was a philosophy that preached self -reliance and tools to reach self-enlightenment by the act of truthfully expressing oneself. This is what we all try to achieve daily in form or another. Thirdly, we are all looking for a hero who fights for the underdog with believable conviction, and I feel Bruce had that, and people are attracted to that."

Bruce played the underdog in Fist Of Fury, as Chen Zhen fighting the oppression of the Japanese occupation, and as the simple country boy abroad in Way Of The Dragon. He brought a considerable sense of pride in being Chinese to his Hong Kong productions that was hugely attractive to local audiences - yet his appeal goes far beyond the Chinese community.

"Most importantly, Bruce was pure energy and that is a drug no one can deny," says Robert. "We are all attracted to that, and it keeps us coming back for more. If you look at Bruce Lee on screen and try to discover how he expresses himself so beautifully with his fighting movements, it's a wonderful mystery. Many look, love and analyse, but still can't figure out why he moves that way, and what drives him. Well, I can tell you this: he found who he was and used it. He did not have to emulate, copy, or fake. He simply expressed who he was after finding himself through his journey, and that is why I feel people still need Bruce Lee."

Of course, stepping in to the Little Dragon's shoes is no easy task and Robert was involved in the tough selection process to find the young man who could bring Bruce back to life on the screen. They chose Aarif Rahman, who had just started his acting career with his acclaimed role in the drama Echoes Of The Rainbow, for which he was nominated in the Best Newcomer category at the Asian Film Awards. Following his auspicious debut, Aarif accepted the enormous challenge of playing Bruce. "It was a joint effort, but my family was looking for someone who was not about copying Bruce, but about creating Bruce with their own angle," explains Robert. "Bruce never liked it in his life when others tried to copy him, so it was important to create a Bruce without copying the original. This is hard to do, but think of it as having 'no way as way and having no limitation as limitation', which are Bruce's own words. Aarif has that special something, his own charisma and stoic nature. So, when he created his own version of Bruce Lee, we knew that was the man for the job. Remember, the actor has to attract the audience and we feel he did just that, instead of acting out a Bruce Lee movement. He gave it so much heart and he worked hard. Everyone involved worked hard."

In some respects, Robert shares his brother with the whole world. Bruce's fame transcends time and languages, and filmmakers continue to reference his work. NEO asked Robert if there is one memory or image of Bruce that is particularly precious to him. "People ask me that all the time and there are countless memories, but my most treasured one was on the night before Bruce left for the States on that long ocean voyage," says Robert. "He sat me down on my parent's bed in their room. I was around 9 or 10 at the time. He looked at me and said he would be leaving for the States and he would not see me for a very long time. He looked at me with tears in his eyes. Before leaving, he simply patted me on my shoulder, looked me in my eyes and nodded his head. He did not have to say a word. I knew then and there we both felt the sadness and anticipated the loss of time together during those years he would be abroad. I am very fond of that moment, because I knew from the expression in his eyes that he loved me dearly as his brother and that I loved him too. I miss him dearly every day."

Young Bruce Lee is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Cine Asia.

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