« Coffee Break | Main | Nagisa Oshima: 1932 - 2012 »

January 15, 2013

I am Bruce Lee

i am bruce lee 1.jpg

Pete McCormack - 2011
Shout! Factory Region A BD

This was the first time that I was aware that Bruce Lee had some German relatives. It's an aspect of Lee's life that is explored to some extent in this documentary, and something that seems to have served as something of a theme in Lee's life. It is this Eurasian heritage that caused Lee to be something of a perpetual outsider no matter where he was, as well as the person who fused Asian and western martial arts, as well as being a globally idolized movie star for a very brief period.

That German heritage dogged Lee as being ineligible to be a martial arts student in Hong Kong, as he was not "pure" Chinese. Lee was also attacked by the Chinese community in San Francisco for teaching Chinese martial arts to caucasians. It is also this mixed heritage that probably plays a part in Lee thinking of himself as a global citizen.

I Am Bruce Lee 2.jpg

The film that we have here, though, is produced in part by Spike TV so the emphasis here is on Lee's evolution as a martial artist. A lot of talking heads, including daughter Shannon Lee, who is one of the credited producers, wife Linda Lee Cadwell, a few former associates, and celebrity fans like Mickey Rourke and Kobe Bryant. Way too much time spent on the paternity of Mixed Martial Arts. Way too much time on Mixed Martial Arts fighters. The evolution of Lee's martial arts, from classical Wing Chun to Lee's hybrid dubbed Jeet Kune Do, is of interest. Whether Jeet Kune Do inspired caged matches in Las Vegas seems a bit beyond the point.

Another one of those talking heads is Gina Carano. Yeah, she's attractive, and she can probably kick my ass with minimum sweat. But what I would have like to have seen would be a few minutes of Bruce Lee, the Hong Kong child movie star. And for that matter, what was the artistic influence of father Lee Hoi-chuen, an actor with a considerable filmography of his own? Martial arts may have been what Bruce Lee may have used to define himself, but Lee is remembered primarily by his movies.

As long as it wasn't couched heavily in academia, I would have liked to have seen a film using Paul Bowman's book, Theorizing Bruce Lee as a starting point. Bowman, does offer a little bit of cultural heft to I am Bruce Lee. It is Bowman who discusses some of the cultural influences on Lee's life, as well as the political aspects to Lee's first two starring Hong Kong films in regards to the British and Japanese characters. For myself, Bruce Lee's legacy is primarily cinematic, one that first opened the doors to the world for martial arts movies from Hong Kong, which in turn paved the way for a younger generation of western educated filmmakers, including some with greater artistic aspirations. Without Bruce Lee, it is doubtful that there would be world wide interest in Hong Kong filmmaker, Wong Kar-wai, or that Wong would be making a movie about Lee's teacher in Wing Chun, Ip Man.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 15, 2013 08:00 AM


I am in no way a Bruce Lee fan, not that I don't like him but I know several people who totally idolize him and I can say that he deserve to be an icon. My friends are such big fans that they probably have watched all his movies and know some of his lines even. It is always nice to watch documentaries of such icons and I think they did a decent job on Bruce Lee.

Posted by: Rose at January 28, 2013 09:19 PM