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Bruce Lee fans won't get kicks from new biopic
Posted on Fri, Dec 10, 2010 at 10:18 am
by IDMA Editor

Anyone raised or interested in Hong Kong won't want to pull their eyes off the exquisite production design, which captures the colony from the '40s to the '60s. But period atmospherics and a pageant of who's who in '60s Cantonese cinema are hollow stand-ins for true insight into how Lee's childhood impacted his character formation and lifelong quests in martial arts and filmmaking.

Photo of a younger Bruce Lee

Buyers from over 10 territories reportedly scooped up the title at the American Film Marker in Los Angeles before its November release in China and Hong Kong -- a sign that worldwide fascination with the star hasn't subsided since he passed away in 1970. So the likelihood of a sequel is high, even if the direction and writing make the film the least exciting among a slew of homages marking Lee's 70th birthday.

At least, viewers can enjoy the dynamic presence of Aarif Rahman ("Echoes of the Rainbow"), who is arguably the most charismatic impersonator of the star to date. The rest of the cast is also excellent.

The film, co-directed by Manfred Wong and Raymond Yip, is narrated by Lee's brother Robert, on whose book the film is largely based. Robert also appears in an introduction with elder sister, Phoebe. Both stress that unlike previous biopics that portray Lee as a legend, this is a more personal account that also preserves their family's history.

Maybe that's why the recalled events have scant entertainment value, even though theirs is surely no ordinary family.

Lee's father, Hoi Chuen (Tony Leung Ka Fai), is a renowned opera star married to Grace (Christy Chung), a Eurasian from a wealthy family. She gave birth to Bruce in San Francisco while Hoi Chuen was on a performing tour in 1940. In 1941, the Lees move back to his ancestral mansion in Hong Kong just before the Japanese occupation.

Photo of Bruce Lee and his father and mother from

The resplendently lit and decorated interiors overflowing with authentic looking period props help one visualize Bruce Lee's childhood spent in the company of a traditional Chinese household of 30 members. However, neither his naughty pranks as a boy nor his penchant for street fights as a rebellious teenager are depicted with enough verve. His two smartass sidekicks are unlikeable at best, a plain nuisance at worst. His love problems with the daughters of two famous actors are even more lackluster.

Lee's experience as a child star might have provided a key to understanding his aspirations in the film industry. But instead of exploring how he coped with celebrity status from a tender age, the directors are content to recreate a few scenes from his classic films like "The Kid" and "The Orphan" (albeit done in stylish, authentic-looking black-and-white).

More realistic representations of slapdash filmmaking conditions in '50s and '60s Hong Kong would have provided a more solid background to his upbringing. In fact, child stars were notoriously abused, notably his co-star Bo Bo Fung (a Hong Kong equivalent of Shirley Temple), who makes a fleeting appearance. It would be fascinating to know if he suffered a similar plight.

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