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I Am Bruce Lee Review


Director: Pete McCormack

Cast: Linda Lee Cadwell, Shannon Lee, Dan Inosanto, Diane Lee Inosanto, Richard Bustillo, Kobe Bryant, Mickey Rourke

Running time: 90 mins

Certificate: 15

Synopsis: A documentary on the life and times of the ‘father of modern martial arts’, Bruce Lee. Charting his humble beginnings as a child actor in Hong Kong, his move to the United States and struggles in Hollywood and ultimately his return to Hong Kong to make some of the most successful films in his career. 

At a time when Hollywood studios are falling over themselves to crack the Chinese film market, this is a fascinating documentary into one man’s struggle against the system. This film is not just about a simple martial artist; Bruce Lee is a cultural icon. Comparisons are made with Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali (Pete McCormack had previously directed the documentary, FACING ALI).

We do get many interesting insights into his early years – the fact that he was born in San Francisco but grew up in Hong Kong as a very famous child actor. He made over 20 films as a child and was the ‘Macaulay Culkin’ of his time. He started martial arts when he was 13, learning Wing Chun, and he took classes in cha cha dancing and actually won the crown colony Cha-Cha Championships when he was 18.  He was sent away to America when he encountered trouble with the police in Hong Kong, and we get introduced to how he met Linda Lee Cadwell, how he set up his martial arts academy, his initial TV work such as the GREEN HORNET, Bruce training Hollywood stars such as Steve McQueen and Roman Polanski.

His struggles as an ethnic minority in getting Hollywood lead roles (even though he is ¼ German) is also vividly portrayed; as is the effect the Manson murders has upon him. This ultimately led to his triumphant return to Hong Kong to work with Raymond Chow to make some of the greatest martial arts movies ever. We get introduced to his most iconic movies such as WAY OF THE DRAGON, GAME OF DEATH and ENTER THE DRAGON.

This documentary is infuriatingly gripping. Every second that Bruce Lee is on screen reminds us what a legend he was and how eloquent he was. The film is interspersed with excerpts from the CBS Pierre Berton Show, where he made his famous ‘Water can flow, Or it can crash. Be water, my friend…’ speech. Nowadays, we have action heroes, who struggle to even string three words together.

What really disappoints is that the film veers off on a tangent about how Bruce Lee might have been the forefather of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Anyone outside of the USA would be completely lost by the comparison and people from Hong Kong may possibly even take offence by such comparisons. Spike TV, who produced the film, may have had a working relationship with UFC events, but any such discussions have no place in this documentary.

Discussions by Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas about how Bruce Lee influences how he stands on stage was equally inappropriate. Although Chuck Norris is mentioned a lot in the film, where is the interview with him or David Carradine? They should have done more interviews with his contemporaries.

While it is lacking in controversy, the circumstances of his death is glossed over, as is the death of Brandon Lee, it is very effective when it’s portraying the friendship between Bruce Lee and close friend, Dan Inosanto – it’s genuinely touching to see his tears as he talks of missing Bruce.

The highlight has to be watching Bruce Lee’s balletic graceful movements again on the big silver screen. Even to this day the choreography is unmatched and is worth the price of admission alone.

I AM BRUCE LEE arrives in UK cinemas 20th July

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