Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Legend of Bruce Lee (4½ Stars)

This film about Bruce Lee's life was made in 2010. Despite being a big fan of Bruce Lee I waited until today to watch it. The reason is that the reviews I read were so bad that I didn't think it would be worth watching. Today I finally gave in and watched it. And I'm confused. Why are the reviews so bad? Weren't the reviewers watching the same film?

This film is a perfect companion to "Young Bruce Lee", also known as "Bruce Lee, My Brother". "Young Bruce Lee" deals with his early life, from his birth to his emigration to America in 1959. "The Legend of Bruce Lee" begins in 1964 and continues up till his death in 1973, although there are flashbacks to his final years in Hong Kong.

The actor who plays Bruce Lee, Danny Chan (called by his Chinese name Chan Kwok Kwan in the poster above) is amazing. In all the films I've seen about Bruce Lee I've never seen an actor who matches Bruce's appearance so exactly. Apart from that, he's an excellent martial artist in his own right, not just an athlete mimicking fighting moves for the camera.

The film follows Bruce's determination to devise a new fighting style which combines the best elements of other styles. He came to America as an expert in Wing Chun, which he considered to be the best, but he thought it could be improved. He meets with masters of Ju Jitsu, Filipino Boxing and Taekwondo to learn from them and incorporate their best moves into his new style, which he called Jeet Kune Do.

My main criticism of the film is the awful music that breaks in at random moments. There are cheesy choruses of women singing lines such as "Bruce Lee, Bruce Lee, we adore you". It's so bad that it's embarrassing. Another mistake is that everyone in the film speaks Chinese, even people in America who evidently aren't Chinese, such as hospital surgeons and television producers.

I have a theory about this film. I've tried to find information online that verifies it, but I've had no success. In 2008-2009 there was a Chinese television series about Bruce Lee, also called "The Legend of Bruce Lee". It was made up of 50 episodes, each lasting 45 minutes. The actors in the series are the same ones who appear in the film. My theory is that the film is an abridged version of the series, a sort of "Best of the Legend of Bruce Lee", just the best three hours out of the 37 hours that the series lasted. Since the series has never been released with English subtitles, could any of my Chinese readers find this out for me please?

Incidentally, check out the newspaper report about Bruce Lee's successes that was shown in the film. Obviously, the word "miraculous" is spelt wrong. But check out the text of the article below the headline. (Click on the photo to enlarge it). It has nothing to do with Bruce Lee or any other fighters. The article is about hockey and basketball. And then there's the date, Friday, March 16th, 1971. This day was a Tuesday. Sloppy.

Added on September 27th

After doing some more research I've found confirmation that the film really is a collection of highlights from the television series, not original material.

I've also been reading reviews about the film, and now I understand the criticisms. The problem is that it claims to be a biopic about Bruce Lee, but it contains things that simply aren't true. For instance:

  1. There was nobody called Hoffman at the 1964 karate championship.
  2. Yellow-Skin (real name Wong Jackman) never broke Bruce Lee's spine in a private match.
  3. Bruce Lee did not collapse while filming "Enter the Dragon".
  4. The evil Japanese nemesis Yamamoto did not exist.
  5. Bruce Lee never became the US karate champion.

These are all significant things. I'm thankful to other reviewers for pointing them out. So it isn't a biopic about the real Bruce Lee, it's just a fantasy story that is loosely based on his life. I still enjoy the film, as a film, but as a documentary of his life it's a total failure. But then again, "failure" is the wrong word, because I doubt it was intended to present the real Bruce Lee, any more than Robin Hood films are intended to show the real historical character as he was. The problem in Bruce Lee's case is that he's a recent hero, so we're forced to compare the stories with the well-documented truth.

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