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The legend of Bruce Lee lives on

TO honor the legendary kung fu star Bruce Lee, the latest biographic film "Bruce Lee, My Brother" was released on November 25, two days before what would have been his 70th birthday. The film beats out other Chinese films in cinemas nationwide and even stands out from foreign blockbusters like "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" and "Resident Evil: Afterlife."

It has been 37 years since Lee died in Hong Kong. Yet people's love for Lee and his miraculous martial arts have survived the test of time. Memorial halls, statues, films and TV have all been built or made in his honor.

Though Lee lived a mere 32 years he left us with many memories through his films, martial arts and philosophy toward life. Shanghai Daily talks with some mainland film critics, trying to uncover the real Bruce Lee through his movies.

Born to a Cantonese opera and film actor father, Lee, or Lee Jun-fan, started his acting career at about 10-years-old. Usually he played rebellious teenage boys, who were cynical and often provoked fights. "He was kind of acting himself as he was also a mischievous boy in childhood," says Shi Chuan, deputy chair of Shanghai Film Association.

In 1959, for fear of getting involved in a life of crime, Lee was sent to San Francisco, where he was born, by his parents, with only a US$100 in his pocket. He lived with his father's friend and earned a living by taking part-time jobs in China town. He then moved to Washington where he earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Washington, opened his own kung fu schools, met and married his soul mate and lifetime lover Linda Emery.

In 1966, appeared in his first television series "The Green Hornet." He played Kato, an American-Japanese journalist and sidekick to the Green Hornet. Together they fought criminals and bad guys. The series was quickly canceled due to poor ratings, yet Lee managed to impress American viewers with his rare and amazing fighting arts. Though it was just a supporting role, he was already knocking at Hollywood's door.

Lee later starred in several TV series and movies, mostly as a hitter, which really disappointed him whom regarded television and film works as a means to express his philosophy in martial arts and raise people's interests in it. He then went back to Hong Kong and there, he started cooperation with local filmmakers.

In 1971, Lee worked with Golden Harvest and released his first Hong Kong produced film "The Big Boss." The film was a massive success, setting a Hong Kong box-office record with HK$3.5 million in the first three weeks of release. He then starred as the fictional hero Chen Jun in "Fist of Fury," wowing audiences with brutal physicality and unbelievable fight scenes.

Lee's films became blockbusters and his films kept smash the records of the previous ones. When "Way of The Dragon" premiered, the police had to re-route traffic away from the cinema. The Hollywood-made "Enter the Dragon" finally helped Lee open the door to Hollywood and the Western world. People around the world marveled at him, especially children.

"Lee's films were always magnetic and inspiring, with universal values. No matter how the settings and story lines changed, it was always about fighting, fighting against power and oppression," says Shi.

"His films called on people to fight for their rights and futures."

"The climax is always at a sacred and divine place of the powerful, such as the Colosseum or a Japanese dojo. In these scenes Lee would fight his rivals into submission and smash their pride and egos," Shi added.

Zhang Zhenhua, professor of Shanghai Montage Culture and Arts Training Institute, says: "Lee today is often regarded as a cultural icon since he is the epitome of the Chinese's people's fighting spirit, like the character Chen Jun in 'Fist of Fury.'"

The scene where Chen Jun fought at a Japanese dojo, he smashed an insulting wooden board that read "Dong Ya Bing Fu" (Weak Chinese Man). The classic scene reappears again and again in later Chen Jun films that starred Jackie Chan, Jet Li or Donnie Yen.

Before Lee, movie fights involved mostly swords in Hong Kong costume dramas, or various kinds of gunfights in Hollywood action films. He explored a unique film type featuring stunning and realistic fight scenes, bringing viewers into a brand new world.

He also formed his own charismatic acting style that included his typical squealing, defiant hand gestures, wiping his nose in fights, and licking bloody daggers.

Today you can still find Lee's signatures in many films. Milla Jovovich's marvelous fighting in Luc Besson's "The Fifth Element," Uma Thurman's yellow jumpsuit in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill," the clumsy panda's beautiful sidekick in "Kung Fu Panda," to name just a few.

"Lee's films are to the Chinese film industry what western films are to Hollywood. No doubt Lee is the father of kung fu movies," says Shi.

Later, Lee wanted more directorial control of his works and set up his own film production company. He broke up with his long-time working partner/director Lo Wei and wrote the script for "Way of The Dragon," the first film he directed.

Ni Zhen, professor of the Beijing Film who adapted the script for Zhang Yimou's "Raise the Red Lantern," says: "Holding the camera, Lee is just like Charles Chaplin. His idea was rather simple, trying his best to show the whole fight and the beauty of his martial arts."

"Lee's acting and directing all served his martial arts. His films have few camera tricks. He prefers long takes, which show every bit of his fighting," Shi says. "Long takes are always carefully used as it may bore viewers. But it never happens in Lee's film because his fighting is just so spectacular."

Lee was a stubborn perfectionist when it came to his films. The first time he cooperated with Golden Harvest, he insisted that the production cost of each film should be no less than US$600,000. He drove the scriptwriter of "Enter the Dragon" back to the States by threatening to walk away because he loathed the script and thought the writer knew nothing about kung fu.

On July 20, 1973, at the age of 32 and at the peak of his career, this energetic man died suddenly, leaving his second self-directed film "The Death Game" incomplete.

At the time of his death Lee was reported to be resting in the Hong Kong home of Taiwanese actress Betty Ting, who was allegedly having an affair with him.

According to Hong Kong media, Lee complained of a headache and took a nap after taking Equagestic, a painkiller containing aspirin and a muscle relaxant.

Around 10pm, he was discovered in a coma by Ting and Raymond Chow (head of Golden Harvest), and was rushed to Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

However, he failed to make it and never woke up.

Lee's death remains a mystery. Though medical experts ruled he died of cerebral edema, the cause for it was never explained.

Rumors said he was poisoned, either by Japanese fighters he once defeated, or by his martial arts counterparts who were jealous of his achievements.

Speculations had it that Lee died of over-exercising and internal disorders due to taking various Vitamins and using vibrating machines to keep fit and train his muscles. It is said Lee has no more than one percent of body fat before he died.

In 1985, Black Belt Magazine argued that Lee could have died from a delayed reaction from a Dim Mak strike (dianxue) he received a few weeks before his death. Dim Mak is a marital arts technique known to incapacitate or even kill people by pressing certain acupoints on the body. But like many other theories, there was not enough evidence to prove it.

According to Doctor Lycette of Queen Elizabeth Hospital who anatomized Lee's body, Lee may have died of an allergy to the painkiller he took that afternoon. He also ruled out hemorrhage because none of the blood vessels were blocked or broken. A University of London medical professor supported this theory. The professor thought the edema was caused by hypersensitivity to either meprobamate or aspirin, or a combination of both.

Regardless of how he died, Lee's memory will live on and even he himself once said he would have no regrets.

"If I should die tomorrow, I will have no regrets. I did what I wanted to do. You can't expect more from life," Lee said.


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