How Bruce Lee Changed Martial Arts Cinema – Part 2 | Video Essay


Welcome back! Last time, we left off with Fist of Fury In which Bruce Lee revolutionized Hong Kong martial arts cinema Splitting the Kung Fu genre from Wuxia Make sure to check out part one if you haven’t Because in part two Bruce Lee is gonna flex, hard Not only will he be writing, directing and producing a film of his own He’ll set out a trajectory for future Hong
Kong martial arts movies to follow Reaching international stardom in the process Appearing in video games Inspiring the Ninja Turtles Influencing black culture And a lot more Curious yet? Let’s go. After collaborating with director Lo Wei twice Bruce Lee became the biggest star in Hong Kong Naturally, the studio offered him a chance to write, direct and produce his own movie Expressing his vision in its purest form In The Way of the Dragon What we got, surprisingly Is a combination of action and humor Bruce Lee plays an uneducated Kung Fu practitioner Yeah, it’s a weird running gag at this point At a friend’s request He goes to Rome to help protect a Chinese restaurant From being attacked by a local mafia gang Bruce’s ambition is clear from the start Set in Rome With multiple foreign stars Even with some James Bond style action Bruce Lee aims to be international The story, I think, also draws inspiration From Bruce’s personal multi-cultural upbringing With depiction of racism that Bruce Lee may have experienced back in the States Not only from white people But also from his fellow Chinese “All Chinese boxing has is Taichi” “Useless, no?” You can see Bruce plays around with his persona quite a bit Showing his body even more One upping his past characters In a delightful manner But as I said, the most surprising new addition to the genre Is the humor The first 30 minutes of the film contains no action Instead, it opts to entertain you with slapstick and situational comedy The entire opening scene is Bruce Lee in a comedy routine Indicating the intentionality And even when the action kicks into high gear The blood and gore of the past Are replaced with humor And cheeky intercuts with a kitty Believe it or not This is a real game changer Before this film Much of the martial arts genre in Hong Kong is gritty dramas Similar to Kurosawa’s samurai films Additionally, Hong Kong has yet to develop its own brand of humor The Hui Brothers Show began just a few years ago And we are an entire decade away from the golden age of Hong Kong comedy It would seem like Bruce Lee fundamentally understood that Kung Fu films, in some way, are just heightened slapstick Seeing people flying across the room Is funny And you most likely already know the impact From this point on Kung Fu and comedy became inseparable If it’s a Kung Fu film It’s most likely going to be a comedy, too Jackie Chan, Gordon Liu, Sammo Hung and many others Would cultivate the action comedy genre to international fame And it all started, when Bruce decided to tell a joke Not bad, for a directorial debut After The Way of the Dragon Bruce Lee began production on his next film The Game of Death But halfway through filming Bruce Lee finally got his chance to enter true global stardom As he was offered to star in an American film Enter the Dragon With 50 times the budget of The Way of the Dragon Enter the Dragon is undoubtedly the most beautiful Bruce Lee film Cinematography is great And the music is so iconic The theme became THE Bruce Lee music And the fight scenes are just flawless Coming from the American side of cinema Much of the fights are as much about the people as they are about the movement Close ups of people’s faces and reactions give emotions to the fight Sometimes, you don’t need to see the hit to feel it The film even took some cue from the wuxia genre it has left behind Tropes like the woman warrior Makes the genre feel fresh again That’s Lady Whirlwind, Angela Mao No stunt double, this lady can kick Another trope that is from wuxia films is the utilization of terrain Fights are no longer held on flat ground We see people fighting on Rooftops In a treasure room And of course, the iconic mirror room This, too, will go on to inspire other Kung Fu films In the film, Bruce plays a Shaolin martial artist Who goes undercover in a martial arts tournament To gather evidence of the illegal dealings of the tournament host This plot set up is such a brilliant idea It’s copied by, well… Almost every single fighting game at the time Some of which even pitted a Bruce Lee look-alike Against people who can literally throw fireballs A testament to his strength Leaving such a strong impression in people’s mind So many iconic things from this movie that’ll
live on in pop culture There is no way I can talk about all of them So, let’s skip to the most important part: Bruce Lee broke the racial barrier Bruce Lee’s punches and kicks finally hit the heart of audience around the world It made this film an international success An American film featuring a foreign, Asian star? Bruce did the impossible Everywhere you look, you can see influences from this film It further pushes our collective fascination towards Eastern culture Giving us gems like Ninja Turtles And crap like Double Dragon Films like Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon became possible It made Hollywood much more willing to cast foreign stars Such as Jackie Chan and Jet Li While not strictly related to Bruce Lee I’d be remiss to not also talk about co-star Jim Kelly Whose terrifically charming performance Made him a big name star He went on to star in many successful blaxploitation films Forever associating Kung Fu with black culture Making movies with African American leads much more widely accepted You see the colorful landscape we have in
Hollywood today? Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu literally shaped history And the power can still be felt to this day Sadly, Enter the Dragon will be Bruce Lee’s final completed film As he died from a cerebral edema Cutting his promising career Tragically short Still Bruce Lee has left us with one final
gift The half finished film Game of Death Over the years There were multiple attempts to finish this film We are going to talk about none of them I just want to show you what Bruce intended to be in the film And through this Show you something you may not have realized In the film, Bruce plays a retired martial arts champion Who is confronted by Korean underworld gangs He’s forced to go up a pagoda To retrieve an unknown valuable item from the top floor At least 39 minutes have been filmed All of which are fight scenes And they are the best of the best Because here, you see one thing you don’t see often You get to see Bruce… having fun “Surprised?” This nunchucks fight begins with a dance off That’s how you know it’s serious business There’s a lot more talking during the fights “Do you speak any English?” And Bruce actively teases his opponent “How do you like that?” great comedic effects “How do you like that?” There are, of course, dramatic moments as well But clearly, Bruce wanted to be lighthearted He wanted to continue what he started in The Way of the Dragon Most of us remembers Bruce as this absolutely confident Immensely wise young man Every word from him Is a word of wisdom But really, I don’t think Bruce wanted that There’s a reason why Bruce kept playing uneducated man in comedic situations Look at his smile Look at him, slightly embarrassed Bruce Lee is a charming, funny man Look at this man’s expression Doesn’t that remind you of someone? I think, Bruce would be very proud So I’m going to end this retrospective With a personal observation I began this retrospective by pointing out that Different people remember Bruce Lee differently That means a lot more than you’d think It’s really because Bruce never has enough time to express himself to us To show us the version of himself he wanted to show us Most of us only remembers his on screen persona Mainly the wiseman badass from Enter the Dragon Confident Arrogant Calm Flawless But if you look at the behind the scene footage from Game of Death You get to see him fail at his iconic nunchucks play A move that he must have practiced thousands of times And he failed multiple times And for a brief moment You get to see him… laugh it off Having fun This is how I’m going to remember him From now on

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