I Am Bruce Lee
It is remarkable to think that a man who only completed four films as an adult has become one of the most recognisable faces of the Twentieth Century and whose legacy continues to thrive in the Twenty-First Century.
2013 will mark the fortieth anniversary of Bruce Lee’s death and Pete McCormack’s documentary provides a reminder of just what makes Bruce such a potent icon. The movie follows the common format of intercutting footage of its subject with interviews taking in his family, friends and famous fans.
Much of the footage will be very familiar to Little Dragon devotees – there is Bruce performing at the Long Beach Karate Tournament, clips from his Hong Kong movies as well as The Green Hornet and Longstreet and the classic TV interview with Pierre Berton.
However often that material from the Berton programme has been aired, it remains one of the most powerful artefacts to capture Bruce’s personality. He was enormously charismatic, passionate and articulate in a manner no martial arts action star before or since has ever come close to.
The memories of his friends and family are illuminating, although perhaps rose-tinted by the passing of time as there is little sense of Bruce having any shortcomings. The contributions of the famous fans are a mixed bunch. Those who have been actively involved in combat arts at least possess an understanding of Bruce’s contribution to the martial arts.
At the other end of the scale, Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas seems to think that standing sideways on stage is some sort of major accomplishment. He says what he took from Bruce was to ‘always bring it’, a wonderfully nebulous statement that could mean anything but probably means nothing. Similarly a professional skateboarder and a break-dancer have little to offer beyond adulation.
I Am Bruce Lee deserves praise for being willing to address the hero worship that surrounds Lee. The interviewees are split between those whose idolisation is unshakeable and those willing to say on camera that Bruce was not the most dangerous fighter of all time.
Judo champ, stuntman and renowned martial arts master Gene LeBell knew Bruce, trained with him and worked with him on several TV shoots. LeBell says flat out that Bruce was just not that big physically and would not have been able to beat Chuck Norris in a real fight. That will no doubt be sacrilege to those unwilling to let Lee off his pedestal for even a moment, but hey, if you want to go and tell ‘Judo’ Gene that he’s wrong, be our guest.
McCormack’s film is not the first documentary to celebrate the life and work of Bruce Lee and it probably won’t be the last. But it is another welcome look at the work of a marvellous performer who brought the kung fu movie from Hong Kong to the world, a man who challenged stereotypes of Asians in Hollywood and whose legacy continues to inspire people all across the world to follow in his footsteps.
Dr Paul Bowman puts it best in the film when he says that when you watch a Bruce Lee movie, for the time when you are identifying with that extraordinary figure on the screen, you ARE Bruce Lee. I Am Bruce Lee. Are you?