to the Chinese calendar, 1940 was the year of the dragon, A Cantonese film
actor named Lee Hoi Cheun was performing in San Francisco accompanied by
his pregnant wife Grace. By November Grace had gone into labour and was
taken to Hospital, her husband carried on to New York to perform there. On
the 27th of November 1940
at the Jackson Street hospital, Grace gave birth to a baby boy, he was
named Lee Jun Fan, which meant "To Return Again", the child
would return to it's place of birth someday. The doctor attending the
arrival gave the child the English name Bruce...And the legend was born!!!
At the age of 6, he started to appear in early Chinese films, his first
was called "A beginning of a boy". As he made more films, they
decided that he should star in a film along side his father. The film was
called "My Son Ah Cheun", in which Bruce had a bigger role than
his father. In each film he played a problem child, always stealing and
fighting. He made at least 20 of these Cantonese films including
"Boys on the Street" and "The Orphan". When Bruce was
14, he got beaten up in a street fight, so he decided to learn martial
arts and develop his physique, most people think that Bruce was born
muscular, he was actually totally the opposite, he was always rather frail
as a child and never ate well even when he returned to the U.S in 1958. It
was only through constant training and proper eating, that he built
himself up into the superhuman physical specimen that he was to become.
Bruce was never to lose a single fight ever again. At his primary school
"La Salle", he had badly beaten up the nephew of the chief of
police, and this was just the 1st of Bruce's many fights. Although his
first teacher was his father, who had him wielding a sword at the age of
six, his first real teacher was the Wing Chun master, Sifu Yip Man.
Bruce became obsessed with the whole concept of it and soon became a master at it. One of the Wing Chun training methods was the wooden man, which builds speed and focus. Another one of his teachers was Siu Hon Sung, a kung fu expert. Bruce had been learning Cha Cha dancing and offered to trade his knowledge of it for kung fu. It would normally take 3 weeks to learn 30 kung fu moves, but Bruce has mastered them in only 3 nights, Siu Hon Sung never did learn Cha Cha. In 1958 he became the Hong Kong Cha Cha champion. He then made 2 more Cantonese films, "The Orphan" and "Thunderstorm". Thunderstorm is the only film where he doesn't have a single fight, although there are confrontations. As time passed, Bruce would fight in the streets trying to see just how good he was. Eventually, the police warned his mother Grace, that if it didn't stop, Bruce would be arrested. So in April 1958, his father gave him $100 and sent him to San Francisco, his place of birth. He boarded a boat and left. He made more money on the way there giving Cha Cha lessons to the fellow passengers.
Bruce was living with a friend of his fathers, Ruby Chow, who owned a restaurant. Bruce worked in the restaurant and lived in the attic. When he finished High School, he was still constantly training and developing his martial arts. For Bruce it wasn't good enough to be a good martial artist, he had to be the BEST. Bruce grew tired of the restaurant and headed for Seattle to learn Philosophy. In 1959, he met a Japanese guy called Taki Kimura, he was twice Bruce's age and had suffered many years of racial abuse. Bruce persuaded him to take pride in his Asian identity and taught him martial arts. Another guy was Roy Hollingsworth, Eventually they suggested that he opened a school to make money. In Hong Kong kung fu was a secret Chinese deadly weapon and was never taught to outsiders, but Bruce welcomed ANYONE. In 1960, he opened a school called "Bruce Lee's Tao of Chinese Gung Fu. In 1961 when was showing some fellow university students a demonstration, he met a girl called Linda Emery. They got talking and had a date at the space needle, they soon got married, and Brandon was born followed by Shannon.
Bruce had developed a trick for showing off his speed, you would hold a coin and close your hand, as you closed it, he would take it. Not only could he pull this off, he could also swap the coin for another. (This is the same trick Jean Claude Van Damme does in Bloodsport, only that's a speeded up film and this is REAL!!!). In 1963, he wrote a book called "Chinese Kung Fu", it was incredibly detailed with precise drawings, the documentary (The Legend) shows 2 students demonstrating moves from this book. In 1964, at a kung fu demonstration at Long Beach, Bruce was recognized by Ed Parker, a television producer who was looking for someone to play Charley Chan's number one son in a proposed series. At Long Beach, with Taki Kimura as his assistant, he showed off his two finger press-ups and his legendary one inch punch. After this, a screen test was arranged for him to appear in a TV series, but, unfortunately it was never produced, but it did lead to The Green Hornet. In 1965, Bruce left Taki Kimura in charge of his kung fu school, while he was making The Green Hornet TV series where he would play as Kato.
Although it never really took off, The Green Hornet lasted 30 half an hour episodes. Bruce as Kato became more popular than the main star, especially in Hong Kong. In the documentary (Bruce Lee: The Martial Arts Master), Van Williams who was the main star of the Green Hornet recalls how Bruce used to run around the set practicing his kicks, he would jump up and tap you on the ear with his foot, but this stopped when one of the extras turned around and got his jaw dislocated. During filming Bruce liked to work in close to improve the fight scenes, but he also injured quite a few stuntmen by doing this, they found it pretty hard to find them in the end. Bruce had to slow his movements down because, on film, he was practically a blur and you couldn't see what he was doing properly. After the Green Hornet, Bruce opened up another kung fu school called "Lee Jun Fan, Gung fu institute", this is where he learned to use the nunchaku's from fellow student Danny Inosanto, he had now become so popular, that he could charge $275 an hour. Here he taught actors like James Coburn, Steve McQueen and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and where he created his own technique, Jeet Kune Do, which means "The Way of the Intercepting Fist", He thought it would be better to intercept and attack, rather than just plain attacking. It worked, making Bruce indestructible. In 1967, Bruce starred in "A Man Called Ironside" as a martial arts instructor, he then filmed 12 episodes of Longstreet, a short series where he teaches a guy his new Jeet Kune Do techniques. This was a great idea that would let Bruce show the world his new martial art. He became more and more interested with making a Hollywood movie, he wanted to make more money than Steve McQueen...PER FILM!!! Which he actually did for one film. On a documentary, the producer of Longstreet recalls how he met Bruce, He was hidden behind a door and grabbed him when he entered the room, the guy couldn't break the hold, this become Bruce's way of introduction. He would swing a punch at your face at 140mph, just missing by 1/10 of an inch, rather than just shaking hands, he just loved to show off.
In 1970, Bruce realised that his immediate film career was to be in Hong Kong, despite a visit to Hong Kong in 1968, Bruce had been away for 12 years. He appeared on a TV show, it was there that he broke 4 out of 5 one inch thick boards, and one dangling piece as well (Breaking a dangling one inch piece of wood is an amazing feat). A big Japanese guy was showing off his strength as well by holding a tug of war display, people were trying to pull him out of a circle...4 people against him. Bruce was asked to try and replied, "That's not what I do, but I can knock him out", the Japanese guy was laughing, and a minute later he was on the floor unconscious. This was seen by TV producer Raymond Chow who had just opened up Golden Harvest studios, he offered Bruce a two picture deal and they flew off to Thailand to film "The Big Boss". During filming, one of the Thai's thought that the fight co-ordinator was faster than Bruce, 5 minutes later...he didn't!!!. Another thing that surprised the cast was Bruce opening a bottle of drink with one thumb (The kind that normally needs a bottle opener). The movie became a smash hit breaking all known box office records, totalling over $3,000,000. At that time, this was a tremendous feat. He then flew to Shanghai and filmed "Fist of Fury", Raymond Chow told Bruce that he would play a bigger part in producing it, than in his last film. This, once again broke all box office records, including the ones from "The Big Boss". Bruce earned $30,000 for the two films.
By now Bruce had become a national hero and started up his own company called "Concord Productions " and decided that he would write, direct, and star in his next film. He went to Europe location hunting, finally deciding on Rome. He brought in 3 top martial artists, Bob Wall, Whong In Sik and Chuck Norris, who he would fight at the end of the film. The result is another sell out, where police arrive to sort out the traffic jams and big crowds. All 3 of these films had Bruce arriving in a strange town, not knowing his potential enemies. In "The Big Boss", he was in Thailand working at an ice factory with his cousins, In "Fist of Fury", he had come to Shanghai to attend his teachers funeral, finding his school abused and insulted by the local Japanese school, In "Way of the Dragon" he's come to Rome to help out at a friends restaurant, which is being hassled by a protection racket. Also the enemies were never Chinese, always foreigners like the Thai's, Japanese and the Europeans and Americans.
Even when there was the odd bad guy Chinese, it's clearly pointed out that they're just misguided pawns of a foreign boss. Bruce would often be challenged by the extras when making a film, but he was never actually defeated. Bruce didn't drink, so the parts he played didn't drink either, he always showed himself like he was in real life, "The Way of the Dragon" is the best example of Bruce in real life. In the only bedroom scene he ever filmed in "The Big Boss", a prostitute gets him drunk and takes him back to her place, only then he falls asleep. He would also show off his ability to play all kinds of different characters, In "Fist of Fury" he dresses up as an old newspaper guy as well as a telephone repair man. Bruce, James Coburn and Stirling Silliphant had been trying to put together a project to be called "Silent Flute". 20th century fox agreed to do it, but on a tiny budget and providing that it could be shot in India. They spent week's location hunting there and in Nepal, India they decided was a waste of time. In Nepal Bruce saw a Pagoda (Tall Tower). This gave him the idea for "Game of Death", Bruce filmed 1/3 of this film before being interrupted to film "Enter the Dragon". "Game of Death" was completed in 1978 after Bruce's death, the story line is changed and Bruce only appears for 10 minutes at the end. This is footage from the Pagoda version, from which he had intended. The 1st 95% of the film is NOT the missing scenes, I suggest that you check out the "Game of Death" part of this website for more info on this. "Enter the Dragon" was the 1st time a U.S and Hong Kong film company had come together to make a film. This was the film that brought Bruce world wide fame and made him the world's first Asian superstar. The film had about 8 different languages going on while filming, which was causing problems for the producers and directors, "Making this film was absolute hell".
I won't go into detail as I've done that in the "Enter the Dragon" review. On the first day of filming, Bruce was very nervous, and the first scene that they shot was the scene where he has to pick a girl. If you watch closely his bottom jaw is slightly trembling. He was so anxious, it had to be a good film, this was his chance to prove to America what he could do, as well as it being his first English speaking film. The big fight scene at the end took 7 days to film, it was during this that an extra challenged Bruce in real life. He wanted to experience Bruce's Jeet Kune Do, Bruce drew a circle on the floor and told him that he had 3 punches to knock him out of it. He couldn't, so Bruce told him, "OK my turn", he pointed to his shoulder blade and said "I'm going to hit you right here, are you ready?", the guy said "What do you mean, am I ready?", before he could say anything, his teeth started falling out of his mouth, Bruce was just SO fast. Another extra challenged him, they sparred for a bit, then the guy got kicked in the head...and that was enough. The mirror scene took hours to set up, getting the mirrors in the perfect place, so they don't reflect any cameras. People would argue over whose job it was to do stuff, this is where Bruce came in...The Chinese would die for him. Eventually the film was completed. During the time of filming "Game of Death", Bruce had been working with some new character ideas, they would have wielded weapons, like swords and long knives. On the documentary "The Legend" you can see photos of at least 4 of these characters. One of them is a blind swordsman, his version of a character called Zatawichi, (A popular Japanese film at the time). Unfortunately we'll never see Bruce in these roles, but it is interesting to think about the kind of sword films Bruce could have produced. Like the classic "Duel to the Death".
On the 10th May 1973, the trouble for Bruce Lee had begun. While dubbing the sound effects for "Enter the Dragon", he passed out for a whole half an hour. He went to the hospital, and was prescribed the drug Manatol, it was used to reduce an apparent Brain Swelling. This was due to exhaustion, also he had recently lost weight. On July 20th 1973, Bruce had arranged to meet Raymond Chow along with actress Betty Ting Pei who would star in "Game of Death". He stopped off at Betty's house and told her that he had a headache, she gave him an Equagesic (A painkiller, that she regularly used herself), Bruce lied down in her bed and went to sleep. During his sleep, an allergy to the painkiller caused the brain swelling (Cerebral Adema). Later Betty tried to wake him but couldn't, panicking she called Raymond Chow, who came over and called the doctor. Bruce was rushed to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, he was barely alive and the ambulance crew were fighting to resuscitate him, but Bruce was pronounced dead on arrival. As the news spread across the world, people talked about nothing else, refusing to believe it. Bruce had two funerals, one in Hong Kong and one in the U.S. Over 27,000 people attended his funeral, few could hide their grief, and people were just breaking down and crying when they saw him in the open coffin. A banner is placed amongst the many tributes reading "A star sinks in a Sea of Art". When the press found out that Bruce had died at Betty's house, they were quick to speculate that Bruce had died while they were having sex, and to this day vicious rumours still spread across the world. At the airport, Linda breaks her silence and tells Hong Kong to drop it and that she blames nobody, and that Bruce had died of natural causes. His funeral in Seattle was attended by all his friends, family and former students. James Coburn and Steve McQueen acted as pallbearers. Should you wish to watch the funeral, you can find it on the documentary (Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend). Finally on the July 31st 1973, Bruce was laid to rest in Seattle at the Lake View Cemetery. His and Brandon's graves are regularly visited by people from all over the world. There are ALWAYS fresh flowers on their graves. Some day, I too will place mine there and pay my respect to my most favourite person in the whole world. Soon after the funeral, as the wild rumours continued, the autopsy results were that Bruce had died of a cerebral adema in reaction to the painkiller that he had taken...the result was "death by misadventure". For years Betty Ting Pei had kept quiet, ignoring the insults thrown at her. until in 1983 when she first broke her silence on a TV show and told the world that she wouldn't have done nothing to hurt Bruce as he was a good friend. But the rumours are STILL going, one's I've heard are that a Chinese mafia gang arranged his death, which supposedly had control over all of the Chinese actors. That he'd been killed by shaolin monks for teaching the secrets to the outsiders. The other rumour is the curse, Bruce supposedly was haunted by personal demons. he had premonitions that he would die at half his father's age of 64, which he did, at 32, also a protector of evil blew off his roof to warn away evil spirits, the previous occupants of his house had it blown off also and disaster had befallen them. Karreem Abdul Jabbar's basketball number was 33, Bruce would have been 33 that year in November...the rumours just go on. Personally I believe in the cerebral adema, the swelling was brought on by great stress and over work, Bruce practically wore himself out to a disappointingly early grave. In 1978, the producers of "Enter the Dragon" decided to finish "Game of Death" as a tribute to him. In my opinion they'd have been better to show us the entire 30 minutes of the REAL version. The first 95% is not the MISSING scenes but a poorly crafted attempt at a storyline which in no way resembles Bruce's original storyline.
To this day many Bruce Lee Imitators have tried to be just like him, but have all just faded, but maybe a star like Jackie Chan can rise to the limits, but even Jackie Chan doesn't claim to be the new Bruce Lee, there will NEVER be a new Bruce Lee.
Thanks to Drunken Master for access to pictures and information
J C Taylor 2001