I Am Bruce Lee Movie Review
It's also relentlessly positive, interviewing only family, friends and people he inspired.
Born in San Francisco, Lee made more than 20 films as a child in Hong Kong and became a champion dancer. Facing racial and gang problems (he was a quarter German), he returned to America at 18, where taught martial arts and Chinese philosophy and fell in love with a student (Lee Cadwell). As a natural showman, TV producers cast him in The Green Hornet, but he hated being told what to do.
Returning to Hong Kong, he was welcomed as a former child star and relaunched his film career on his own terms. He died at age 32 following a cerebral oedema.
This inability to let others dictate his fate is a recurring theme in Lee's life. One of his worst experiences was The Warrior, a TV show he developed that Hollywood executives refused to let him star in (they retitled it Kung Fu and cast non-Asian David Carradine in his role). He could never understand why race was such an issue for everyone, famously challenging Chinese martial arts experts to a throw-down to win the right to teach non-Asians.
This lively, fast-paced documentary has a knowing sense of humour that's never critical; even Lee's stubbornness and quick temper are seen as signs of a principled stand. Interviews bring out sharp personalities, exploring his influences and impact, such as how his blend of martial arts with boxing and fencing paved the way for today's mixed martial arts competitions. Although he always said what he did was combat, never sport.
Filmmaker McCormack puts the film clips into this context, revealing things we probably never noticed before. And we also see telling interviews with Lee himself, including a marvellous screen test when he was 24, plus home movies in which he trains the likes of Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Chuck Norris and Joe Louis. All of this combines to explore an unbeatable 135-pound man who exuded Elvis-style charisma and swagger and created a constantly evolving fighting "anti-style" (jeet kune do) that forever changed the way action movies are made.