What makes a star enduring? What makes icons out of actors like Bruce Lee, who tragically died before many of us were even born? Why, nearly forty years on from his death, do we still hold him up as the gold standard for both action films and martial arts?
That and more is explored in this new documentary, ‘I Am Bruce Lee’. Using a combination of footage from the time and personal accounts from friends, family and famous fans, ‘I Am Bruce Lee’ recounts the life of the most famous martial artist to ever live.
From his early days as a Hong Kong child star, to his arrival in America age 18, to becoming one of the biggest names on the planet, the film explores his personal philosophies on life, fighting, acting, and mixing western and eastern cultures to create a whole new martial art.
Let’s face it: if you love action movies you love Bruce Lee. If nothing else, the seminal ‘Enter The Dragon’ would create an aura of almost immortal proportions around the image of the actor.
For Lee enthusiasts, there is a lot here to love: the contributions from Lee’s wife, Linda Lee Cadwell, offer look into the personal perspective of the man, even small anecdotes, such as the couple’s love of cheesy US soap opera General Hospital, help to show the man behind the myth. Interviews with his daughter, niece and those whom knew him are also thoroughly interesting, but it’s the archive footage that blows you away.
Fascinating interviews with the man himself, screen tests, and martial arts demonstrations (including the famous ‘one inch punch’) show the man in action, both as a personality and as one of the greatest martial artists in the world.
Sadly, there is also a downside. Taking the format of a ‘talking heads’ doc, where interviews narrate the footage and general path of Lee’s life, we are treated to some unexpected guests.
Presumably lacking enough footage to fill a feature-length film, or maybe wanting some star power to add to the finished product, a plethora of celebrities and athletes show up to talk about the impact and influence the man had on their careers.
For some, there is an element of loose logic- Mixed Martial Arts fighters such as Gina Carano and boxer Manny Pacquiao talk about the mind-set of a professional fighter, while even UFC president/mouthpiece Dana White offers an interesting insight into how fighting is wired into the human psyche.
After that, things get a little peculiar; a mumbling Mickey Rourke, Kobe Bryant, and perhaps the most bizarre, ‘Black Eyed Peas’ musician Taboo explaining how Lee influenced his on stage dancing.
You can’t help but feel were these celebrity segments removed, the film would have retained some authenticity, and felt less like a TV special.
While the celebrity adulation takes away from the seriousness of the subject, ‘I Am Bruce Lee’ is an interesting peek behind the curtain of Lee’s life.
Whether it’s due to a lack of footage or lack of living/willing interview subjects who knew him, it is not an in depth as many film fans would want to, but remains a diverting and stylish love letter to a legend.