I Am Bruce Lee (2012)
Because of Bruce Lee's iconic status within popular culture there has been a wealth of material produced about him since his death. The problem lies in trying to determine what is relevant, genuine information and what is hearsay and cant. To put not too fine a point on it, there is an entire market dedicated to peddling bullshit about the man. So, I was suitably sceptical about the 2012 documentary I am Bruce Lee when it was first released. However, as Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon, was an executive producer and the film was officially sanctioned by the Lee estate, I felt that there was some scope for further insight in to the man.
Having now watched the documentary, I do feel that the results are somewhat varied. I am Bruce Lee covers a lot of familiar ground initially, referencing his youth in Hong Kong, his "legendary" fights and his subsequent move to the US. It also explores Lee’s frustration with the film and TV industry. The script is concise but hardly new. It also glosses over certain facts pertaining to his marriage and family life. There is also a very broad selection of talking heads, offering their take on the man, his skills and philosophy. Some are edifying and others are not so. However, what is highlighted is the influence that Bruce Lee had and continues to have with a broad spectrum of people. Particularly musicians and performing artists, as well as those dedicated to martial arts. His ethnicity also seems to play a key role, casting him as the "outsider" to the perceived establishment.
Where I think I am Bruce Lee specifically fails is with regard to Lee’s impact upon mixed martial arts in the US. Not being an expert myself, I was confronted with differing opinions and not given any clear insight about which point of view was right. If the conclusion was that the debate is still ongoing, then even that gets lost in the overall white noise. Furthermore, this aspect of the documentary was a stark contrast to the philosophical musings of Bruce Lee. For me this was the best part of the documentary, as it portrayed him as a genuine thinker and artist across many disciplines. Lee was a keen believer in adapting and assimilating any knowledge and skills that were beneficial to his life. His musing on simply “being human” were quite scholarly.
Overall I am Bruce Lee is a good starting point for those who are interested in the man and wish to go beyond the apocrypha and myths. It certainly is not the definitive exploration of his legend but it may well inspire people to look further. It does confirm, through a wealth of vintage interviews and home video footage, that Bruce Lee had an inherent star quality and was a deep thinker as well as a superb martial artist. His words still speak clearly for themselves today and there really is no requirement for further testimony to this affect from Mickey Rourke and a host of other curiously chosen pundits.