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The Asian ApertureThe Legend of Bruce Lee (2008)
POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, July 16, 2011    Share

With the 38th anniversary of Bruce Lee's death coming up this Wednesday, July 20th, I decided to watch the Chinese production, Li Xiao Long chaun qi, aka The Legend of Bruce Lee. Airing in 2008 as a TV series, parts of the series were combined for a 3-hour plus movie that I saw. I would like to see the entire 50 episode series when it becomes available in the US. For now I am fine with the long movie version.

As with all bio pics including, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, historical inaccuracies are aplenty. My main problem with Dragon was that Jason Scott Lee didn't not resemble Bruce at all. He was too bulky. Also, the fighting style looked too much like something from a Jackie Chan movie. However, in The Legend of Bruce Lee, Hong Kong actor, Kwok-Kwan Chan does look a lot like Lee. So much so, that he had a part playing a Bruce Lee goalie in Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer. A couple of times watching, The Legend, I thought Bruce was still living.

The Legend shows Bruce opening up his first Kung Fu school in Seattle and training students. It also shows Lee fighting in the International Karate Tournaments in California, something that Bruce never did. He only performed a demonstration at that tournament. This is one of the reasons that Legend is so hard to watch. Surely a Chinese series based on Lee would have researchers who could take that extra step and strive for something more realistic. Bruce himself insisted on realism in his own movies and I wonder what he would have thought of bio pics that contain so many errors. That is not the biggest problem.

The main problem with Legend is that names have been changed of real life people that make a mockery of storytelling. There are numerous examples. Bruce Lee's friend in Oakland, James Yimm Lee is called Shao Ruhai. Bruce and Linda stayed with James when they moved to Oakland from Seattle. Robert Wall, who played Oharra in Enter the Dragon, the white guy with the long hair who Bruce fights with at Han's tournament is called Hoffman. One of Bruce's high ranking students, Dan Inosanto is given a ridiculous name and turned into a professor for some reason. It is just so strange that it turns out funny. Luckily I have read several biographies on Lee so I could spot the actual people who were misrepresented.
Another problem with Legend is that it shows Bruce putting up a sign on his school that says he would challenge anyone at anytime. Lee never did this. He did train with Wally Jay, a ju-jutsu expert, Jhoon Rhee, “the Father of American Tae Kwon Do”, and several other martial artists. This was done on friendly terms to help Lee gain knowledge into other forms of martial arts that were outside of Lee's own training in Wing Chun and Western boxing. So with all the problems can an audience take anything of value from watching Legend? The answer is yes.

The best part of Legend is how Bruce never gave up. He was beaten up by a gang of whites classmates that went to his school in Hong Kong. He was called a “dirty Asian,” and beaten down. Afterwards, the punks kicked his bike, denting it. Following that incident, Bruce begged his father for martial arts lessons and his father refused. It was not a fit activity for the wealthy Lee family. His father wanted him to study hard, go to college, and become a professional. Bruce had other ideas and eventually he was allowed to study. His Kung Fu sifu made him run 5 kilometers to the school, train for hours, and run 5 kilometers back. As a youth, Bruce was often thin and didn't eat well. He did learn to build himself up through Wing Chun. As a Kung Fu students, Bruce wasn't allowed to train with the other students until he could prove that he could take it. While everyone else learned punches and blocks, Lee had to maintain a horse stance. Then he had to hold a stick out without letting it move. When the master saw he was ready, he was allowed to train with the others. I'm not sure how much is fact and how much is fiction. I do know that Lee was a fast learner. When he moved to the U.S., he couldn't find a teacher so he became a teacher.

Another part of Legend, is how Bruce Lee came to develop his own martial arts system called Jeet Kune Do, which when translated to English means “way of the intercepting fist.” Kareem Abdul Jabbar, a former student of Lee's, put it best in the documentary, A Warrior's Journey when he said that “Jeet Kune Do is an American system.” Although JKD is based on Wing Chun, it is a melting pot of styles from France, Japan, China, America, Thailand, and anywhere in the world that has an effective fighting system. He studied all that was available at the time and took the best from each one. He researched techniques thoroughly and only those that worked were included, this is what he meant by “Absorb what is useful.” In Legend, Bruce is shown fighting with other martial arts masters to gain the secrets of their techniques. Then he would spend time in his study with numerous books in his home library covering different aspects of fighting and philosophy. Bruce intended JKD to have a philosophical component. It couldn't just be a physical system or it what have been lacking. Each night he would write down what he had learned.

Despite all the flaws, The Legend of Bruce Lee captures the spirit of the man that Dragon only hinted at. It is worth a viewing to see a young man struggle against being bullied and beaten and eventually over the course of time, transforming himself into a talented martial artists who had a zest for life that few can match today.

4 Stars for the right spirit (one star off for misinformation and factual errors.)

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2011 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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