Bruce Lee was a man of destiny. A child star in Hong Kong, he learned the Wing Chun style of Kung Fu from master Ip (or Yip) Man, who has recently become the subject of a host of film treatments, including the internationally popular franchise starring Donnie Yen. Most viewers will know Lee’s story chapter and verse, but Pete McCormack’s “I Am Bruce Lee” shoehorns in some interesting details. The 1957 Hong Kong cha-cha champion? But, of course.
In terms of format, “I Am Bruce Lee” is not all that different from Fuel TV’s recent tribute series “Bruce Lee Lives,” mixing film excerpts with reminiscences from his family and colleagues, as well as commentary from contemporary mixed martial arts fighters, nearly all of whom revere Lee.
However, the participation of Lee’s widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, and breakout martial arts movie star Gina Carano distinguish this new documentary. Nearly all of Lee’s films are discussed at length, but clips of Lee’s epic battle with Chuck Norris in the Roman Coliseum in “Way of the Dragon” take pride of place.
While celebrating Lee’s mystique, the film also tries to put to rest many of the rumors surrounding his life, particularly notions that an ancient curse or the triads were responsible for his untimely death. It also attempts to minimize the non-dogmatic approach of Lee’s Jeet Kune Do as a forerunner to mixed martial arts.
Nonetheless, it certainly seems that Lee inspired most of his fighters, including Cung Le, who also appears in the film. Yet, perhaps the best advertisement for Lee’s Jeet Kune Do and related philosophy would be his friend and fellow teacher, 70-something Dan Inosanto (the weapons master in “Game of Death”), who looks like he could be at least two decades younger in his interview segments.
Built around Lee’s supercool “be like water” interview, the film moves along at a quick pace, while emphasizing the spiritual aspects of his story. Just about every surviving figure in his life is heard from, except Norris.
Granted, Lee fans have seen documentaries like this before, but we really cannot get enough of the icon. It might be hagiography, but it’s entertaining and appropriate.Recommended as a communal experience for fans, “I Am Bruce Lee” screens this Thursday (Feb. 9) and next Wednesday (Feb. 15) nationwide, including at the AMC Empire in New York and the AMC Metreon and 4 Star Theatre in San Francisco.
Director: Pete McCormack
Cast: Bruce Lee, Linda Lee Cadwell, Cung Le, Dan Inosanto, Gina Carano
Running Time: 90 minutes
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit: jbspins.blogspot.com