Pritpal Sembi, Senior Lecturer in Film Studies
The enduring legacy of Bruce Lee
July 20 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of Bruce Lee's death.
I was way too young to watch Enter the Dragon (1973) when it was first available on video. but that didn’t matter because I watched it at my Uncle’s house (on his old ‘piano keys’ video recorder) and it was deemed infinitely more suitable than the ‘video nasties’ prevalent around that time.
I had no idea of the status of Bruce Lee, his legacy or his contribution to cinema at the time: all I knew was that I wanted tobe Bruce Lee and became hungry for more of his films.
Insatiable, I then watched Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972) and The Big Boss (1971). Around this time I discovered that I was watching a posthumous legend and I was heartbroken. Clutching at straws I would watch him play Kato in The Green Hornet TV series and sat glued to all the old Batman TV shows because I’d heard that Kato made appearances there too.
Using a mix of archival footage, and a stand-in for Bruce Lee, the eerily prophetic Game of Death (1978) didn’t quite cut the mustard for me – but at least it was another temporary ‘fix’ for a gutted and transfixed generation (well, the last 20 minutes anyway).
Love them or hate them: martial arts films are important texts that can cross many geographical and cultural boundaries: you don’t have to understand Mandarin or Cantonese to appreciate the skills and prowess of Bruce Lee.
I doubt that the martial arts film would have been as prevalent and influential in the West if it wasn’t for the enterprising perseverance of such a dedicated pathfinder.
His life was legendary and inspirational – as captured to some degree in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993). Dozens have tried to fill the void left by his death, but their inevitable shortcomings are to be expected when you try to fill the shoes of someone so very, very, accomplished.
I often wonder: had Bruce Lee lived to see the worldwide success of Enter the Dragon (1973) what might he have done next?