Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Remembering the Dragon - Bruce Lee 40 years on

The first time I saw him was the last scene he filmed before he died. Bruce Lee came and went before I had ever heard his name. The early eighties saw an explosion in home video, with film rentals becoming the new big thing. The Rediffusion shop in Worthing (Sadly now long departed) – I think its a Subway now – rented my Mum (Sadlier now also long departed) a Ferguson VideoStar – a video machine, a front loader, no less!. This marvel of technology required several things of us to assume it's proper place of honour and reverent awe in our lounge; a telly, a telly – video stand and... video cassettes. In the Netflix era, with digital surround sound and widescreen the standard the Video Home System must seem like something from a Soviet pirate station in the sixties, but back then sound was Mono and screens were square. Ish.
Just getting a film wasn't even that easy – older readers may remember the more recent Blockbuster video shops where you went in, selected your DVD of choice and rented same. Before that, you rented a VHS film. And before that, well, you came round our house to see one we had rented. As well as machines, Rediffusion rented tapes... but only to customers. My Mum, bless her controlled the membership card, which I would take down to the shop and rent one of the movies from the selection available – about thirty films in total. Lucky for me, Mum liked detective flicks, so if it was, say Dirty Harry I could rent it, bring it home and we'd watch it. You had to be creative with the truth to be me aged fourteen; if I wanted to see a movie, I'd be ok so long as I used the phrase; 'It's a detective film, Mum.' This creativity was never more stretched than when I came home with Enter The Dragon clutched in my eager little hands. I can't remember the exact wording, but I would have had to go with something along the 'He's a Chinese detective, who has to nick some drug dealers and bust Mister Big' lines to sell this one to the old girl.
So, this film starts with a girl being forced to commit suicide rather than be disgraced, with her Brother demonstrating his acrobatic skill at the Shaolin Monastery before coming to avenge her death and take down the Drug Lord who employed the man who would have disgraced her. All my mates wanted to see this one, which was hard to get, the few copies the shop had being much in demand. After seeing it, I bought every book Bruce Lee ever wrote, watched all his films and even bought a pair of kung fu trousers, slippers and a pair of nunchaku. Worthing's answer to the Little Dragon. What a tit. Long years later, I'm still a fan, though I know more about this enigmatic young man who died before I knew his name...
Above: The last scene Bruce Lee filmed. He was at his fittest, but was to die in mysterious circumstances at the house of an actress, Betty Ting Pei.
Above: How it began. Wing Chun Kung Fu Master, Yip Man of Hong Kong taught the young Bruce Lee the art. He would go on to create his own style, Jeet Kune Do - The Way of the Intercepting Fist.
The Green Hornet - the Sixties TV show was one of several Lee appeared in. Added to his schools, which catered to celebrities such as Steve McQueen and James Coburn, his star was on the ascendant.
Above: The Movies - starting with low budget films such as The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, both released in 1971, Bruce Lee exploded onto the scene. The films were instant hits, paving the way for the two best martial arts films yet made...
Above: Bruce with his son Brandon. Tragically, Brandon Lee was himself killed in an accident on a movie set. Below: The one-inch punch. Lee demonstrated his extraordinary abilities to astonished crowds, including the power of a punch delivered from just an inch from the target. The subjects were invariably flung backwards as if kicked by a horse. (Inset) Bruce Lee doing one finger push-ups on the set of Game of Death.
Above: Bruce Lee believed the key to winning a fight was fitness. He pioneered the art of training, inventing his own equipment as required.
The Way of the Dragon - filmed in Rome this was the film that sealed Lee's reputation. Set around a fairly standard B-movie chop-socky plot, the martial arts scenes were spectacular. The film culminates with a fight set in the Coloseum - with Bruce Lee fighting Karate Champion Chuck Norris.
Above - an incredible side-kick from Way of the Dragon.  Below - the fashions of the time were questionable, but with the money starting to come in, Bruce Lee was finally living the life of a star.

 Below; Enter the Dragon, released in 1973, the film was a sensation. The first American-Chinese martial arts film owed more than a little to James Bond.
Above; Lee with Enter the Dragon co-star John Saxon, himself a karate black-belt.

Above; The Nunchaku. Bruce Lee was proficient in a range of martial arts weapons, but his scenes with these, originally rice flails, are legendary.
Below; Game of Death. Intended to be his next film, Lee never completed it. The footage he had filmed was later released as a shoddily produced movie, using lookalikes to stand in for him. 

Below: Gone, never forgotten, Bruce Lee, founder of Jeet Kune Do.

Below: The statue of Bruce Lee that stands in Hong Kong harbour.

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