Monday, January 8, 2007

The Bruce Lee Birthday Bash 11.08.99

The great thing about our Birthday Bash is that it takes little effort on the part of the reader to properly celebrate. Unlike traditional methods such as scanning the mall for that elusive perfect gift, our Birthday Bashes work the other way around. Here it’s the honoree who has done the hard work. You just sit back and enjoy all the presents.

No one did more to introduce martial arts and the Eastern Philosophy behind them to the West than Bruce Lee. As a matter of fact, in doing so, he incurred the wrath of Chinese kung fu masters and unleashed a string of death threats against him and his family. Whether these threats were carried out is subject to endless debate, but, nevertheless, Bruce Lee dropped dead on the set of Game Of Death at the age of 32.

Bruce Lee’s contribution to the Hong Kong chop suey films of the time is invaluable. Posthumously, he is still the world’s greatest martial arts star. His body of work paved the way for the acceptance of Asian actors as more than mere comic relief. Bruce Lee created his own fighting style, jeet kune do, and established a legacy of martial arts schools in this country. Lee also left behind the legend of his life and mysterious death -- rumors of a curse were seemingly confirmed when his son Brandon Lee was killed on the set of The Crow at 28-years-of-age. Bruce Lee’s gifts are plenty and best represented by these five films.

The Green Hornet (1966)
The team that brought America the campy Batman TV series attempted to appeal to a similar youth demographic with this darker series about a newspaperman who dons a mask to fight crime. Try as the producers might, Van Williams’ Green Hornet was upstaged time and again by Bruce Lee, a relative newcomer, who as the Green Hornet’s valet Kato, wore a tight black uniform and leather mask… and kicked major kung fu ass. As a matter of fact, Bruce Lee’s fists of fury were so fast that the cameras of the time couldn’t capture his movements, so he was asked to…s…l...o…w…i…t…d…o…w…n.

Fists Of Fury (1972)
After losing the role of Kwai Chang Caine in Kung Fu to the decidedly whiter David Carradine, Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong to prove his mettle to the world in Raymond Chow productions. Fists Of Fury started young Lee down that path. Lee stars as Cheng, a Chinese country boy sent to live with cousins in Thailand. He wears an amulet given him by his mother to remind him of the promise he made not to fight. Some of the best action sequences in Fists Of Fury are scenes of Cheng not fighting. Eventually he does fight, avenging the death of his cousin, murdered by a Japanese heroin-smuggling operation that uses an icehouse as a front. Fists Of Fury was released also released as The Big Boss.

The Chinese Connection (1972)
To confuse worldwide audiences even more, The Chinese Connection was released as the singular Fist Of Fury (apparently, Bruce Lee only needed one hand to kick ass in this flick) and The Big Boss (not The Big Bosses as you might expect) and The Iron Hand. Lee plays Chen Chen a martial artist who exacts revenge on the Japanese heroin-smuggling operation responsible for murdering Chen Chen’s kung fu master. Sound familiar?

Return Of The Dragon (1973)
Bruce Lee’s directorial debut, the surprisingly funny and, of course, action-packed Return Of The Dragon (similarly known as Way Of The Dragon And Fury Of The Dragon) was released after Lee’s death to record audiences. Lee is Tang Lung, a martial artist who visits his family in Rome, only to discover their restaurant business is under siege from the Syndicate. The Big Boss hires the best of Japanese and European fighters to take on Tang Lung, who defeats them handily… until a final showdown, in the Coliseum of all places, where Tang confronts American martial arts expert, Colt (Lee’s protégé, Chuck Norris).

Enter The Dragon (1973)
Lee stars as Lee, a Shaolin master who agrees to exact revenge on the mysterious Mr. Han, a former monk who disgraced the Shaolin temple, by competing in Han’s battle royale on a mysterious Pacific island. Bruce Lee by 1973 was the most successful Hong Kong export and an international superstar. Finally, he was given his American props when Warner Bros. hired him for Enter The Dragon. Of course, the yellow streak running up the publicity department’s back prevented them from billing a yellow man as the star of the film. In theatrical trailers, Bruce Lee took a backseat to John Saxon and American karate champion, Jim Kelly. But audiences immediately recognized Bruce Lee as the true star.

Bruce Lee’s philosophy can be summed up best in his own words: “Be Water.” On what would be his 59th birthday, hopefully we can all be Water.

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