I seriously doubt anyone reading this doesn’t know who Bruce Lee is. His fame and inspiration has managed to surpass more boundaries than any other actor, period. With his movies, Bruce overcame racial boundaries, and became an icon in just about every country on the planet, and even today his influence seems to be out running time by a long shot!
I can remember seeing ‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’ when I was a kid and being amazed at what I was shown. But then learning the actual truth, going beyond the semi-fictional story telling to hear about Bruce Lee’s real life, and it was clear to me he was far greater than the movie was ever able to portray.
The real story begins at the end (sort of), when Bruce Lee became known world wide as the king of Martial Arts movies.
The BIG BANG of Martial Arts movies
In Hong Kong, martial arts movies were already cemented as a mainstream part of local cinema and the world outside had little to no exposure to martial arts films. One day a movie was being produced by a local guy Raymond Chow called ‘Tang shan da xiong’.
Before this movie was released, martial arts movies were a bit laughable at times. The wild swings (instead of actual punches) and crazy wire work used to demonstrate ridiculous feats of strength were the norm, however fake and unrealistic, stale fight scenes were the mainstream…
…at least in comparison to this new movie.
One of the actors who showed up to work on the movie was casted in a supporting role, a former child Star who’s physical prowess and onscreen presence shocked the movie making team resulting in him being given the lead role of the film. This man would change the fight scenes into something more real and exciting, something that would change the game forever.
Shortly after, ’Tang shan da xiong’ was released. At the end of the first screening, there was absolute silence.
Then suddenly an uproar, as the excited audience went mad with enthusiasm and raised the main actor up on their shoulders chanting his name.
That’s when the Big Bang happened.
The actor’s name, Bruce Lee, became hugely famous. The movie, known to audiences all over the world as ‘The Big Boss’, smashed box office records and created a whole new cinematic experience for people everywhere, reaching as far as audiences in the US and throughout the Western World (and the rest!).
With such hype, the only sensible thing for for Bruce Lee to do, was another movie.
Along came Fist of Fury…
…and people flocked to their local cinema to see it, smashing the record set by ‘The Big Boss’ before it. But then something else happened…
The people in the audience, Chinese, African Americans, and racially oppressed people form all over the world witnessed something a little different. They saw a man being oppressed for being Chinese, with the whole race being generalised as ‘Sick Men of Asia’. The one man then stood up for what he believed in, and taught these villains one hell of a lesson (lots of painful looking kicks and punches, including a killer move known as ‘The Fist of Fury’).
People all over the world who have ever experienced racial prejudice, or even just been the victim of a bully, saw a cultural hero, not just an actor or fighter. Bruce Lee was now somewhat of a role model for people everywhere, and made them believe in themselves once again.
More movies came. Way of the Dragon also gave audiences a chance to see a powerful oppressor being beaten by the smaller, Chinese man. But the movies being released were also jam packed with other messages, with statements on characters, life and even the art of fighting itself, showcasing different levels of martial arts mastery, philosophy and even strategy.
The world simply couldn’t deny the fame and influence of this 30 year old Chinese-American, especially since he saw himself, and everyone else as more than that – “as human beings, citizens of the world”.
The Western World of Cinema Throws itself at Bruce Lee
Bruce is offered many deals from the United States, to star in a English Speaking movie that would reach far more people than he could have ever imagined. But he turns these deals down, even though he wants this more than anything.
Bruce stuck to his values. He wanted to create a movie that would convey a message on martial arts, culture and race.
Bruce is then offered a role in the movie ‘Enter The Dragon’ by Warner Bros. Bruce works hard on this movie, and brings together 3 main characters: one Chinese Man, an African American and a Caucasian. Bruce sees this as an opportunity to bring races together, and he also brings a whole new level of excitement and precision to his fight scenes and creates one of the greatest movies (not just martial arts movies) of all time.
As he awaits the release date, he goes back to work in Hong Kong. He starts making plans to resume shooting his most recent movie (which he had to stop in order to star in Enter The Dragon), and starts making arrangements while the weeks count down.
3 weeks before the movie opens, he suddenly dies.
The world captures a glimpse at Enter the Dragon.
Audiences everywhere, people who already knew about the little dragon, and those who don’t, capture the spirit of Bruce in his biggest film to date.
People everywhere new to the experience, in absolute awe are asking “Who is this guy?”, wanting to see more of the legend on the screen in front of them. Sadly, they are all informed of his passing, and the world is left with an empty feeling.
You can’t knock Bruce down so easily, even in death.
People everywhere start mimicking Bruce, practicing Martial Arts, and going back to his older Hong Kong movies to see more of the legend, they can’t get enough! Even in death, his influence is stronger than ever. People start reading up on Bruce, learning absolutely everything they can, becoming Bruce Lee fanatics.
…every day to this very day, as more and more people see one of Bruce’s movies, experience his passion and energy, they start learning more about him and his philosophy.
With every movie reaching a new level, it seemed Bruce was taken away far before his potential peak. He gave us a quick tease of what he had to offer before leaving us.
As a guy born 10 years after Bruce Lee died, I can personally attest to the influence I’ve seen Bruce have on people younger than me (and of course myself!). Not just movie fans or Martial Artists, but musicians and just about anyone who he feels his energy at some point in their lives. He truly is the greatest martial arts actor of all time.
Simply by watching his movies, millions of people all over the world have been obsessed not only with his fighting prowess or Martial Arts, but his character, his personal life, opinions and even more so – his philosophy. How many famous actors can say they’ve had that kind of effect?
With all the discussion on the internet and by famous fighters arguing as to whether or not he was the best fighter in the world, to those people I think they’re waisting their time. Bruce Lee is the greatest Martial Artist of our time. Believe it or not, there’s a difference between a fighter and a martial artist.
As a Martial Artist he stood between Eastern and Western Culture and brought them together through cinema. As a Martial Artist he completely changed and redefined the concepts and philosophies of martial arts and combat. As a a martial artist he has inspired millions to better themselves, and to BE themselves.
I simply cannot write about absolutely everything that Bruce Lee has done, or even every thought that darts around in my mind, it simply wouldn’t fit this one post (or 10). Consider this an introduction to my thoughts on the master, just a story to help those unfamiliar understand why he’s so great.
I’ll leave you with that last thought – A man who has brought together culture, changed film genre, redefined an art as well as fighting, changed the lives of everyone around him as well as millions before AND after his death who have never even met him, for close to four decades afterwards…
… How many actors, fighters, martial artists or people have you ever seen achieve such feats? I can still only think of one – the man himself!
For more on Bruce Lee, check some of our recent posts with info on him here!