HCF REWIND NO. 148: THE LEGEND OF BRUCE LEE AKA LI XIAO LONG CHUAN QI [Hong Kong 2010]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 183 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The life story of Bruce Lee, one of the greatest and most influential martial artists of all time and a pop culture icon whose popularity will probably never die out. The film begins with him losing a fight and having his back so badly injured that he is hospitalised. Lee remembers when he first encountered the world of martial arts as a bullied teenager and, initially against the wishes of his father, began an extensive programme of training and learning under the Wing Chun master Yip Man…..
In 2008, Hong Kong TV started showing a lengthy TV series entitled The Legend Of Bruce Lee. Eventually running to 50 45 min episodes, it was by far the most detailed account of the life of Lee that had been made, or so you would imagine with something as long as that. I’ve never seen it, because it was never shown in the UK or the US though it did air in several European countries. Instead, Lionsgate decided to edit the series down to a feature running just over three hours. This probably sounds like butchery, but judging by the quality on offer, Lionsgate probably did us a favour. Though it has a few good aspects, most notably the fights, it ends up being another exploitative cash-in on Lee’s name which trivialised and fictionalises a great deal, and ended up giving this Lee fan a really bad taste in the mouth. Don’t let the fact that Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee is named as executive producer fool you, and anyway, think back to when Shannon used her father’s name to promote absurd rubbish like the WMAC Masters, which presented itself as a martial arts competition but was nothing more than the WWF of the martial arts world, something not needed nor desired.
The TV series ran chronologically, but this film begins somewhere near the middle, with Lee having his back horribly injured during a challenge match. This is actually copied from the [far more entertaining and, in its own way, respectful] Hollywood biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, rather than being true to life. Anyway, Lee’s teenage training is shown in flashbacks until over an hour has passed, then we return to the present and everything else occurs chronologically up to Lee’s death. The training sequences, often the highlight of many martial arts films, drag considerably, and after that the film settles into a series of fights as Lee fights challengers over and over again. It’s nice to see lots of detail [if most of it still inaccurate] on Lee’s creation of Jeet Kune Do, his martial art which combined elements of many others, but so much time is spent on this that there is little time for Lee’s movie career, which may be just as well, considering the pathetic recreation of scenes from his films, with one fight from The Big Boss that is very different to anything that happened in that movie. Even if one accepts a coach-load of inaccuracies in a biopic [and I don’t accept them in this one, because there have been so many fictionalised accounts of Lee’s life over the years and this was an opportunity to set the record straight], surely you would expect them to at least get Lee’s films right, given that so many people have seen them?
But then this is a careless production through and through, right from establishing shots of San Francisco supposedly in the 1960’s but with modern cars, to Lee competing in something called the American Karate Championship which never actually existed. The whole thing is in Mandarin Chinese, even the many scenes in America where it is often quite obvious that the cast are speaking English and they’ve just dubbed it over in Chinese. The important character of Lee’s wife Linda is hardly in it, while various other real-life folk make appearances, usually under different names, such as a guy called Rolex who I presume is supposed to be Chuck Norris. Martial arts fans will at least having fun spotting the likes of Mark Dacascos and Gary Daniels here., but God knows why they agreed to appear. The inventing of events finally reaches a sickening climax when we are led to believe that, soon after Lee collapsed from exhaustion, he unwisely had a fight with a life-long enemy, and it was the exertion of doing this that caused his death. I can put up with things like Lee’s teacher Yip Man looking more like Pai Mei than the bald lean-shaven man he was in real life, but for God’s sake, did they have to invent crap like this just so we can get a typical martial arts movie-style final showdown?
The many fights, except for the occasional jarring wire effect, are actually very good. Battles where Lee engages experts in other martial arts are especially good, with great and easily understood use of techniques and fine filming which cuts the action at just the right speed. A brawl where Lee fights an exponent of Ju-Jitsu is especially interesting. Danny Chan [best known for his appearances in Stephen Chow movies], is probably the most convincing Lee impersonator yet: he really looks like him and has a good go at copying his fighting style. He’s really good with the nunchaku too. Of course he lacks Lee’s incredible screen presence, but that really was something unique to Lee. For the most part, and I haven’t yet mentioned the awful soundtrack which repeats two excretable songs several times, The Legend Of Bruce Lee is amazingly shoddy, just more Bruceploitation, and an insult to the name of a guy who remains a hero and an inspiration to millions, myself included.