The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee

bruce lee game of death

Last year, at the Toronto International Film Festival, I was among the visiting journos who caused a bit of a commotion after watching the purported Bruce Lee biopic, BIRTH OF THE DRAGON, with many of us complaining that Lee was unnecessarily sidelined in his own movie. Instead, it became about the journey of Lee’s white sidekick, a part ludicrously patterned on Steve McQueen (ignoring pretty much everything about McQueen’s life in the process). To be fair, the filmmakers have since said this was an unfinished cut, but that was not how the film was presented. Why would anyone bring an unfinished movie to the biggest film festival in the world? This week, the delayed, recut edition of the movie comes out, and from what I understand, steps have been taken to shift the focus somewhat, although I can’t see how it could really be improved at this point.

bruce lee fist of fury

That Lee’s legacy would be short-shifted in 2017 is ridiculous, especially considering that in 1993, he was good enough to get his own big-budget studio biopic, DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY (hardly factual, but entertaining) that was a box-office hit to boot. Forty-four years after his death, Lee remains the biggest star in the history of martial arts cinema. Although guys like Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen & Jet Li have come close, there’s something about Lee that makes him different – his attitude. A rebellious, James Dean-type, he was the first truly modern martial arts hero, mixing an east meets west sensibility that made him equally popular in both places.

bruce lee enter the dragon

In one of the greatest tragedies in the history of cinema, Lee died at the young age of thirty-two, with only four completed films in the can. Had he lived, who knows what would have happened? Would he have continued on as a giant, or would he have been eclipsed? We’ll never know, but the fact remains, Bruce Lee is one of the greatest modern icons, and his body of work, short as it is, will stand the test of time.

His Best Work
bruce lee enter the dragon

While FIST OF FURY probably has better action; ENTER THE DRAGON remains his most solid overall film. An American production that didn’t sideline its Asian star (although he had to share the limelight with supporting players John Saxon & Jim Kelly); Lee went all-in on his attempt to break into the American market. Having spent years in San Francisco, he was virtually a native English speaker, and his edge made him an easier sell to Western audiences than most. For me, I’ll never forget watching it at my thirteenth birthday party on VHS in 1994, as it sparked a lifelong fascination with martial arts and kung fu cult cinema.

His Most Underrated Film
bruce lee way of the dragon chuck norris

Thanks to a tense working relationship with Lo Wei, the director of his first two films, Lee himself went behind the camera to direct WAY OF THE DRAGON. As a country bumpkin ill at ease in the big city (Rome), Lee set the template for Jackie Chan’s later fish-out-of-water action comedies. This one gets a little darker than Chan’s movies ever did, and there are some silly scenes (such as the dramatic close-ups of the cat in the final battle), but many sequences in it are iconic. In particular, there’s the incredible final battle between Lee and a young Chuck Norris, in the Roman Coliseum, which may stand as Lee’s all-time greatest mano-a-mano fight.

His Most Overrated Film
bruce lee game of death kareem abdul jabbar

People love GAME OF DEATH, but only for the finale. For those unaware, Lee died in the middle of filming what he hoped would be his greatest film, only leaving behind about forty minutes of fight scenes meant for the climax. After he died, Golden Harvest and his ENTER THE DRAGON director Robert Clouse, in an attempt to cash-in on the western market that was in the midst of a Lee-started kung fu craze, decided to turn this footage into a feature. No expense was spared, with them even hiring James Bond composer John Barry to do the soundtrack. Too bad that they didn’t realize that there was virtually no way to do this without being exploitative or cheesy, with horrible doubles taking his place, when they don’t revert to stock footage, or – horribly – a cut out of Lee’s head superimposed on another actor. What’s even worse is that they used footage from his actual funeral. Gross.

His Most Badass Moment

That said, I’m still glad GAME OF DEATH exists – for one reason. It allowed us to finally see the shelved original footage Lee shot, with the finale of the film being a cut-down version that pairs Lee in a series of battles with Dan Inosanto, Ji Han-jae, and finally Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in what’s maybe not his greatest fight, but certainly his most iconic.

His Five Best Films

4. GAME OF DEATH (for the finale alone)

Up Next

Despite the bad reviews, Bruce Lee aficionados probably won’t be able to help themselves when BIRTH OF THE DRAGON comes out on Friday, and who can blame them? It’s been more than forty years, but nothing has diminished his legacy (or that of his son – the late, talented Brandon Lee) and I doubt anything ever will. Rest in peace good Dragon.

Source: JoBlo.com



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