The legacy of legendary Bruce Lee goes on

The legacy of legendary Bruce Lee goes on
Bruce Lee

S Prabhakar

July the 20th,  2023  was the 50th Death Anniversary of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, who not only introduced martial arts into movies but also single-handedly gave it cult status.

Even after 50 years of his death hundreds of clones of Bruce Lee try hard but cannot come anywhere near to be comparable to his unique skills and greatly sculpted body.  Much before the use of cable technology and CAG the action scenes conceived and done by him were far ahead at his times. But even today, it is difficult to be recreated.

Initiation into Martial Arts

Though may sound strange, but after Bruce Lee was involved in several street fights and his parents had decided that he needed to be trained in the martial arts.   His European background from mother side initially come in the way from learning martial arts Wing Chun Kung Fu from Ip Man because of a rule in Chinese martial arts not to teach to foreigners. But later on he was persuaded to teach Bruce.   Many Chinese students refused to train with Bruce and forced him to train privately with Ip Man.

His own style of Martial Arts

Since Bruce Lee felt that traditional martial arts techniques were too rigid and formalised to be practical he decided to develop a system with an emphasis on “practicality, flexibility, speed, and efficiency”  and evolved his own style called `Jeet Kune Do or the Way of the Intercepting Fist’.

Jeet kune Do, is a hybrid martial arts drawing best of different martial forms which ultimately paved way to mixed martial arts which is very popular these days.  He opened his first martial arts school named the `Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute’, in Seattle. Purists may have their own reservations in Bruce Lee style of martial arts, but there is no denying of the fact that Bruce Lee is the most influential martial artist of all times and helped not only in popularising martial arts in action movies but people taking up different forms of martial arts like Judo, Karate, Taekwomdo etc., in a big way.

Brought Hongkong / Chinese movies on to the center stage in Hollywood movies: Bruce Lee can be credited with bringing Hong Kong/Chinese actors and production houses to lime light in the Hollywood and  drastically changed the way Chinese people were presented in American films.   A host of actors specially action stars like Jakie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Cheung Wing-fat, Hui Liu, (of The 36 Chambers of Sholin fame), Chow Yun Fat later came up.   Besides these Chinese/Hong Kong martial artists, other martial arts exponents belonging to other countries like, Chuck Norris (Bruce Lee student), Jean Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes and Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh made a career out of martial arts.  Of all copy cats, Indians like Mirhun, Chiranjeevi, Rajni and Arjun (the senior Tamil actor)  were the lagging far behind.  His biggest fan Jackie Chan who had a 30 second screen space with Bruce Lee in the Enter the Dragon had longest career as martial arts hero blending comedy with action scenes.

Early years of acting

Bruce Lee was introduced to film industry as a child artist by his father who was a famous opera star.   At the age of 9 years he co-starred in a leading role in `The Kid’  He was very prolific and acted in about 20 movies by the time he turned 18 but all these are non-martial arts movies.

In 1959, Bruce Lee was sent to US by his parents and he started teaching his own brand of martial arts called Jun Fan Gung Fu.   Bruce Lee started appearing in many championships which included the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championship where he performed the famous two-finger push-ups, using the thumb and the index finger of one hand, with feet at approximately shoulder-width apart and also the `one inch punch’.  The videos of these and many more feats by Bruce Lee went viral.   This championship has attracted the attention of TV production houses and Bruce Lee has bagged the role of Kato in TV serial `The Green Hornet’ which presented Asian martial arts to western world.

Brief but very Successful Movie career

Bruce Lee association with Ramon Chow of Golden Harvest has spun a great success story both for Bruce Lee and Chow.   They produced big box office successful movies one after the other in the form of `The Big Boss’, `The First of Fury’ and then co-produced `The Way of Dragon’ with his own company Cancord Proudction Inc.    In this movie Bruce Lee was in complete command as the writer, director, star, and choreographer of the fight scenes.   His climax fight scene with Chuck Norris in this movie has attained iconic proportion and rated as the best action scene ever choreographed.

In all these movies he had shown the exploitation of Chinese/Hong Kong people in western countries, which gave him an iconic status in China.   This may be a reflection of his own childhood street fights and bullying he was subjected to.  In Hollywood, Lee represented a rebuke to racist stereotypes, showing that Asian men were more than just servants and villains.  The resounding success of these movies have made Hollywood studios to sit up and take notice of Box office potential of an Asian star Bruce Lee.   Warner Brothers offered Enter the Dragon, the first film to be produced jointly by Concord, Golden Harvest, and Warner Bros. `Enter the Dragon’ not only went on to become one of that year’s highest-grossing films world-wide but cemented Bruce Lee status as a martial arts legend.    He shot all the action scenes The Game of Death, before his untimely death, which was completed with a double and released after his death.

The magic of Enter the Dragon

The global success of Enter the Dragon was unprecedented.    Unlike these days Hollywood movies were released only in few select metro cities in India.   There used to be a single theatre in the entire city which used to screen Hollywood movies.    Against this background Enter the Dragon and never seen before the martial arts of Bruce Lee, Jim Kelly and Bolo Yeung have caught up the imagination of cine goers in India to such an extent that it ran to packed houses in all cities.

I vividly remember the long Queues in cities like Hyderabad, Vizag and Vijayawada like those for a NTR movies and it ran for 50 days in many centres – a first for a Hollywood movie in AP. After the first round it went to second and third tire centres and everyone, even those, we did not understand a single word of English and never watched an English movie in their life had watched Enter the Dragon and Bruce Lee has become a household name in India. Every youngster in that era hung Bruce Lee posters from Enter the Dragon, for inspiration to build their bodies. Understandably there was a mushroom growth of martial art training schools in every corner of India.   In every language,  whether it is Hollywood, China, Hong Kong and India, hundreds of movies came on the theme of illegal martial arts competition.

Bruce Lee Legacy

Bruce Lee died on July 20, 1973, aged 32, a week before release of Enter the Dragon, thus was deprived of enjoying the global success of his movie.   He died at a very young age when the world was at his feet. Had he lived on, the world would have been richer with more wonderful cinema from him.

In the last five decades the legacy of Bruce Lee continued in a manner never seen before.

Whenever anyone takes the name of martial arts of any form like Judo, Kung Fu, Karate, the name which comes first to one’s mind is that of Bruce Lee.  His influence on the martial arts, and inspiration to generation of martial artists goes on even after half a century after his death.

In hundreds of Indian and foreign movies there was a reference about him in the narration of the movie prominently and his poster were used.   In one martial arts movie, the `Atma’ (soul) of Bruce Lee come out of his grave and guides the hero.   Very recently one of Ram Charan’s Telugu movie was named Bruce Lee (as a mark of respect the hero has for Bruce Lee), though the movie subject does not deal with martial arts. There are countless number of videos on social media sharing anecdotes about Bruce Lee and martial artists sharing their experiences and paying glowing tributes to Bruce Lee.   Time magazine named Bruce lee as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th Century.

In China, Hongkong and US many fans came together to observe the 50th death anniversary and paid rich tributes to the immortal soul by demonstrating martial arts. Though most of the friends and co-stars of Bruce Lee have passed away, the duty to take Bruce Lee legacy falls on Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon and grandson Andy.  Though we say it for many people undeservingly, to say that the name of Bruce Lee will live on as long as the movies lives on in the real sense is most apt.

Thank you Lee, for all the entertainment and inspiring generations of youngsters to take up Martial Arts and being fit.

Southonomix Bureau

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