A legendary martial-arts expert and actor, Bruce Lee was a determined individual who taught martial arts without boundaries and turned it into a global phenomenon. Not only did he invent his own unique kung fu style, Lee left a legacy in the Hong Kong movie industry by boosting its global reputation. But while he had a bright and promising career, his fame was almost entirely posthumous. Here is an in-depth reflection on the life and times of the man behind the legendary and mythical name.
The Early Years of Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee was born Lee Jun Fan on 27th November 1940, in San Francisco, California, to father, Lee Hoi Chuen, and mother, Grace Ho Oi-yee. His father was a notable Cantonese Opera singer and actor who had traveled down to the United States on a musical tour which coincided with the birth of Lee. His wife, on the other hand, is known to have come from the lineage of the Ho-tungs who were a very prestigious and powerful family in Hong Kong.
More so, it was gathered that Lee’s family members who initially moved to the US a year before his birth returned to Hong Kong when he was three months old to enable his father to continue his career there. However, a few years after their arrival in Hong Kong, the country was attacked by the Japanese who held the country under sieged for close to 4 years. Cheun was able to continue his acting career when the war finally ended.
Following a turbulent teenage lifestyle in Hong Kong, Lee’s parents had to send him back to the United States to live with his elder sister, Agnes Lee who was in San Francisco at that time. However, he decided to move down to Seattle where he lived with and worked for the Chinese politician and restaurateur, Ruby Chow. He used the money from his work to complete his high school education and technical studies at Edison Technical School, before proceeding to the University of Washington where he majored in philosophy. He also studied poetry, dance, gymnastics, and judo while in school. With a special interest in Asian and Western philosophy, Lee incorporated a mix of Asian religions and beliefs into his studies which helped hone his love for poetry, and self-expression.
His Acting Exploits Include the 1971 Production, The Big Boss
Bruce Lee’s acting career began as a kid as his father Lee Hoi-Chuen, a notable Cantonese opera was often seen on both stage plays and films during his career days. Lee eventually made his debut film appearance as a baby in Golden Gate Girl back in the 40s. By the time he turned 9, he appeared in the Hong Kong film, The Kid, and before he was a teenager, Lee had 20 movies to his credit.
While most of his adolescent works are unknown and hard to find outside Asia, Lee gained a lot of popularity for his role in the TV series, The Green Hornet in which he was cast as Kato in 26 episodes. The show was based on a radio program released back in the 30s and it showcased the actor’s unique fighting style as the central theme in the series. Lee is also known for his guest roles in other TV shows like Ironside, Blondie, Here Comes the Bride, and Longstreet.
The talented martial artists also received commendations for his works in feature films like Marlowe in which he starred alongside James Garner who was once under his tutelage learning how to fight. This was followed by The Big Boss which was a major hit for the actor, then along came 1972 productions like Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, and Game of Death (which was actually completed in 1978).
More so, Lee got posthumous recognition in the United States with the release of Enter the Dragon in 1973. Bruce Lee’s life has also been posthumously depicted in several works such as the movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story released in 1993, the 2009 documentary How Bruce Lee Changed the World, and many others.
Lee is Remembered for Teaching Kung Fu Without Ethnic Discrimination
Before settling in America for college, Lee had studied dancing and trained under Yip Man in the Wing Chun form of kung fu. During that time, it was reported that many tutors at his school in Hong Kong did not want to teach him as the Chinese were against the notion of non-Asians being taught the technique of martial arts. However, having keen interest to learn, Bruce Lee stuck with Yip Man who taught him privately.
He later developed a unique fighting style – a mix of boxing and cha-cha dancing over the years. Lee then proceeded to open a chain of kung fu training school in Seattle, where he began teaching his own form of martial arts. In his school, Bruce Lee made history as the first kung fu instructor in America who taught kung fu to non-Asians.
Regardless of race or ethnicity, Lee accepted students without discrimination which eventually landed him in trouble with Wong Jack Man as the famous Wong Jack Man Vs Bruce Lee fight ensued and it was stated that he would only be allowed to teach martial arts if he won the fight. Lee made history as he recorded a resounding victory in the fight which put an end to all forms of discrimination.
He Also Popularized the Concept of Martial Arts in Western Films
Bruce Lee is notable for the expose he brought for the Asian community in the Western world through his kung fu fighting techniques. His initial display of the martial art style started from the show The Green Hornet which piqued the interest of many film lovers in America. More so, his fighting style began to dominate a good number of Hong Kong films that were being produced in the 70s which further launched the popularity of the fight, and Lee’s Enter the Dragon is ranked the most influential action thriller of all times.
Furthermore, the widespread fame it garnered made Western filmmakers integrate the style into their films and stars like Jean- Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, and Steven Seagal began to replicate the fighting styles in many Hollywood productions during the 90s.
The Asian Actor was a Happily Married Man
While teaching in his martial-arts school in Seattle, Bruce Lee met and married his heartthrob, Linda Emery in 1964. The couple had two children – a son they named Brandon who was born in 1965 and a daughter Shannon, born in 1969. Unlike her husband who was in the spotlight for his career, not much is known about Linda apart from the fact that she supported the actor in his pursuits changing base with him as the need arises. However, she finally settled in Seattle after his demise and it was also in the same town that she buried her late husband and latter her son, Bradon who died in 1993.
Bruce Lee’s Death Sparked Rumors of an Alleged Family Curse & Chinese Gang Feud
The very promising and iconic martial-artist was dimmed quite unpredictably on July 20th, 1973, at age 32. According to reports, Bruce Lee allegedly died from brain edema caused by an allergic reaction to a prescription painkiller that he was taking for a back injury. Though there were several speculations about the cause of his death, coroners officially ruled his demise as a misadventure. However, his sudden demised sparked several rumors. While some believed that he was a victim of a curse, others speculated that he was killed by Chinese gangsters.
The controversy surrounding Bruce Lee’s death heightened over the years when his 28-year-old actor son, Brandon, died under mysterious circumstances on the set of the movie, The Crow in 1993. The younger Lee’s sudden demise from an accidental shooting further led many to believe that the family-curse theory was even more surreal. Brandon was buried next to Bruce at Seattle’s Lake View Cemetery.