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 a entire market dedicated to peddling bullshit about the man. So I was suitably sceptical about the new documentary I am Bruce Lee when it was announced last year. However, Shannon Lee was an executive producer and the film was officially sanctioned by the Lee estate, so therefore there was some potential scope for a new insight.
From my perspective 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 move to the US and frustration with the film and TV industry. It is concise, but hardly new. It also glosses over certain facts pertaining to his marriage and family life. There is also a vary 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, through personifying him as the “outsider” to the perceived establishment.
Where I think I am Bruce Lee specifically fails is with regard to his impact upon mixed martial arts in the US. Not being an expert myself, I was confronted with differing opinions and not really given any clear insight about whether one or the other was right. If the overall point was that the debate was still ongoing, then even that was lost in the general white noise from both camps. Yet this aspect of the documentary was a stark contrast to the philosophical exploration of Bruce Lee. For me this was the best part of the proceedings, as it portrayed him as a genuine thinker and artist across many disciplines. He was a keen believer in adapting and assimilating knowledge, skills and processes that could be beneficial to all aspects of his life. His musing on simply being human were quite scholarly.
Overall I am Bruce Lee is possibly a good starting point for those who are interested in the man. It certainly is not the definitive exploration of the 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.