Bruce Lee (born as Lee Jun-fan, November 27, 1940 to July 20, 1973) was a martial artist, martial arts instructor, actor and film maker. He appeared in 20 films as a child actor, and became a celebrity in the United States with his role in the television series The Green Hornet, from 1966 to 1967. Afterwards, he starred in many films until 1973, when he died in Hong Kong at the age of 32.
Bruce Lee was born on November 27, 1940 at the Chinese Hospital in San Francisco's Chinatown. His father was an actor and fully Chinese, while his mother was Chinese/Caucasian. Bruce was the fourth child of five children. Both parents returned to Hong Kong when he was three months old, taking Lee with them. Months later, the Japanese invaded and the Japanese occupied Hong Kong for three years and eight months. Afterwards, Lee's father resumed his acting career. Lee's mother was from the Ho-tung clan, one of the wealthiest and most powerful clans in Hong Kong. Because of this, Bruce Lee grew up in an affluent and priveledged environment. Still, the environment Lee grew up in became overcrowded, dangerous, and full of gang rivalries due to an influx of refugees fleeing communist China for the then British-controlled Hong Kong. After Lee was involved in several street fights, his parents decided that he needed to be taught martial arts, and he was introduced to the fundamentals of Wu-style t'ai chi ch'uan by his father. Lee would begin studying Wing Chun at the age of 13, after losing a fight with rival gang members. About a year into his training, most of his fellow students refused to train with him, after learning of his mixed ancestry, as the Chinese were generally against teaching martial arts to non-Asians. However, Lee continued to study privately with his teacher, Yip Man.
While attending school, Bruce Lee was transferred from one school to another due to poor academic performance and possibly poor conduct. In the spring of 1959, Lee got into another street fight, and the police were called. Lee frequently got into street fights and even beat up the son of a feared triad (underground society) family. Fearing for his safety and wanting to give him a fresh start, Lee's parents decided to send him to the United States, where he would live with his older sister Agnes Lee in San Francisco. He would soon move to Seattle, where he would comtinue his high school education and work as a waiter in the Ruby Chow restaurant.
In March 1961, Lee was enrolled at the University of Washington, where he majored in Drama. He would also study philosophy, psychology, and various other subjects. While attending the University of Washington, Lee met his future wife Linda Emery, who was trying to become a teacher. They would marry in August 1964.
Martial arts careerEdit
Shortly after arriving in America in 1959, Bruce Lee began teaching his own take on Wing Chun, which he called "Jun Fan Gung Fu" (Bruce Lee's Kung Fu). He taught some of his friends he met in Seattle, such as Jesse Glover who continued to teach Bruce's techniques, and Taky Kimura, who was Bruce's first Assistant Instructor and devoted himself to preserving his art and philosophy since Bruce's passing. Lee opened his first martial arts school in Seattle. In 1964, Bruce dropped out of college and move to Oakland with James Yimm Lee, who was a well-known martial artist in the area. Together they founded Jun Fan martial art studio in Oakland. James would later introduce Lee to Ed Parker, organizer of the Long Beach International Karate Championships, which would lead to his discovery by Hollywood.
After filming one season of The Green Hornet, Lee found himself out of work and returned to teaching Kung Fu. After a long match with Wong Jack Man, Lee began to view traditional martial arts as being too rigid and formal to be of practical use in the chaos of a street fight. Lee began to to place emphasis on strength, endurance, and flexability, and emphasised what he called "the style of no style", which consisted of getting rid of formal, traditional approaches. Lee's idea of martial arts became to exist outside of parameters and limitations.
Lee appeared in the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships at the invitation of Ed Parker. It was there that he performed repetitions of two-finger push-ups using the thumb and index finger of one hand, feet about a shoulder-width apart. It was also there that he delivered the "One inch punch", where, standing upright with knees bent, his right foot forward and without retracting his right fist which was one inch from his partner, he was to deliver a punch with his right fist. As a result of the demonstration, the volunteer Bob Baker fell back onto the chair placed behind him to prevent injury, which then fell backward to the floor. He told Bruce "not to do this type of demonstration again." He said. "When he punched me that last time, I had to stay home from work because the pain in my chest was unbearable." It was also at the 1964 championships that Lee med Taekwondo master Jhoon Goo Rhee, and the two became friends. Rhee taught Lee the side kick, and Lee taught Rhee the "non-telegraphic" punch.
At the 1967 Long Beach International Karate Championships, Lee challenged USKA world Karate champion Vic Moore to block his "unstoppable punch". All Moore had to do was try to block it. When Moore was ready, Lee threw his punch, and stopped before impact. In eight attempts, Moore failed to block any of the punches.
Because his father was an actor, Bruce Lee was exposed to films at a young age, and appeared in some of them as a child. By age 18, Lee had appeared in as many as 20 films. When he returned to the United States in 1959, Lee abandoned acting in favor of martial arts. However, after the martial arts exhibition at Long beach in 1964, Lee was invited by William Dozier for an audition for "Number One Son". The show never aired, but Lee would later appear as "Kato" in the TV series, The Green Hornet. The show only lasted one season, from 1966 to 1967. Lee also played Kato in three crossover episodes of Batman, and had guest appearances in the television series' Ironside, Here Come the Brides, and Blondie.
While doing television appearances, Lee was working together with a couple of his martial arts students for a film called "The Silent Flute". The film wasn't released, but the plot would later be used in the 1978 film, "Circle of Iron", starring David Carradine. In 1969, Lee made a brief appearance on the film "Marlowe", and he choreographed scenes for "The Wreching Crew" starring Dean Martin, Sharon Tate, and featuring Chuck Norris in his first role. Lee was responsible for fight choreography in "A Walk in the Spring Rain" starring Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn in 1971. In the same year, Lee appeared in four episodes of the TV series Longstreet, where he played a martial arts instructor. Reportedly, Lee pitched an idea for a television series called "The Warrior" to Warner Bros. in 1971, however, Warner Bros. retooled the concept and renamed it "Kung Fu" and gave Lee no credit. Warner Bros. claimed that they've been working on a similar concept for some time.
Not happy with merely performing supporting roles in the United States, Lee Returned to Hong Kong with the intention of making a feature film he could show to executives in Hollywood. Lee was surprised that The Green Hornet was a hit in Hong Kong, where it was referred to as "The Kato Show". Lee would go on to star in films by Golden Harvest: The Big Boss (1971) and Fist of Fury (1972), each setting box office records. Having been catapulted to stardom, Lee started his own company, Concord Productions Inc., with Chow. For his third film, Way of the Dragon (1972), Lee had complete control of the film's production as the writer, director, star, and choreographer. It was in this film that Lee chose the role of the final opponent to go to Karate champion Chuck Norris, whom he met at a 1964 demonstation at Long Beach, California.
In 1972, Lee began working on his fourth Golden Harvest film, Game of Death, and was filming fight scenes with American Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. However, production was stopped when Warner Bros. offered the opportunity to star in Enter the Dragon, the first film produced jointly by Golden Harvest and Warner Bros. During this time, Starseas Motion Pictures promoted Lee as a leading actor in Fist of Unicorn, even though he only agreed to choreograph the fight sequences as a favor to his friend Unicorn Chan. Lee planned to sue the production company, but retained his friendship with Chan. Months after the completion of Enter the Dragon, and six days before it's July 26, 1973 release, Bruce Lee died. The film went on to be one of the highest grossing films of the year, and sparked a brief fad in martial arts, with songs such as "Kung Fu Fighting" and TV shows like Kung Fu.
After Lee's death, Golden Harvest and Robert Clouse (director of Enter the Dragon) recovered over 100 minutes of footage for Lee's Game of Death. The film was finished using a look-alike of Lee and using archive footage of Lee himself, and released in 1978. Several films were planned to feature Bruce Lee, such as Lo Wei's "Yellow-Faced Tiger". Lee worked on several scripts himself, some tentatively titled, "Southern Fist/Northern Leg" and "Green Bamboo Warrior", the latter of which was to be set in San Francisco, co-star Bolo Yeung, and be produced by Andrew Vajna, who went on to produce First Blood. Lee was also planning on directing his own script for Way of the Dragon.
Bruce Lee possessed outstanding speed and physical strength. The following are a list of feats attributed to him:
- His striking speed from three feet with his hands down by his side reached 0.05 seconds, and from five feet away it was around 0.08 seconds.
- In a speed demonstration, Lee could snatch a dime off a person's open palm before they could close it, and leave a penny behind.
- Lee performed one-hand push-ups using only the thumb and index finger.
- Lee could perform push-ups using only his thumbs.
- Lee could cause a 300 lb bag to fly towards and thump the ceiling with a sidekick.
- While training with James Coburn, Lee performed a sidekick and broke a 150 lb punching bag.
- Lee held an elevated v-sit position for 30 minutes or longer.
- Lee performed 50 reps on one-arm chin-ups.
- Lee could take in one arm a 75 lb barbell from a standing position with the barbell held flush against his chest and slowly stick his arms out locking them, holding the barbell there for several seconds.
- From a standing position, Lee could hold a 125 lb barbell straight out.
- Lee's combat movements were sometimes too fast to be captured on film at 24 fps, so some scenes were shot at 32 fps to put Lee in slow motion. Martial arts films are normally sped up.
- Lee could break wooden boards 6 inches thick.
- Lee could leave dramatic indentations on pine wood with one finger.
- Lee could punch his fingers through unopened steel cans of Coca-Cola, before the cans were made of the softer aluminum metal.
- In a move that has been dubbed "Dragon Flag", Lee could perform leg lifts with only his shoulder blades resting on the edge of a bench and suspend his legs and torso perfectly horizontal midair.
Death and legacyEdit
On July 20, 1973, Bruce Lee died unexpectedly in Hong Kong. His age was 32. The official cause of his death was a brain edema, found to have been caused by a reaction to a prescription painkiller he was reportedly taking for a back injury.
With the posthumous release of Enter the Dragon, Lee's status as a film icon was cemented. The film went on to gross a total of $200 million, and Lee's legacy was a new breed of action hero, a mold filled with varying degrees of success by Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and Jackie Chan.