Monday, March 12, 2012

I AM BRUCE LEE and you're not!

(2012) SPIKE TV HD Broadcast.  D: Pete McCormack.  This is the latest and perhaps first officially sanctioned full-length feature film documentary on the life of martial arts icon Bruce Lee.  While the production is slick and fast-paced, it's basically a shallow primer for casual or new fans.  Hardcore Lee minions will not be overwhelmed by the information, comments, trendy graphics and stock images flashed across the HD screen.  Basically a talking-heads program with film clips and still images interspersed, the choice of interviewees is quite odd.  There are lots of mixed martial arts stars and other athlete fans but only a few folks who actually knew and/or worked with Lee (for example- wife Linda and Danny Inosanto).  There's lots of talk about Lee's colleagues like Chuck Norris and Joe Lewis but they never appear on camera to speak for themselves.  The always entertaining Bob Wall does get ample screen time but doesn't get to tell some of his crazier stories and there's way too much of earnest fanboy Reginald Hudlin, although the welcome presence of veteran stuntman Gene LeBell is much appreciated!  Mysteriously MIA are John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Fred Weintraub, Jhoon Rhee, Robert Baker and any of Lee's stellar Hong Kong cohorts!  It's sort of weird including all these MMA stars who weren't even born when Lee died and totally ignoring Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Sammo Hung and especially Tony Jaa, who actually knew, worked with him and/or followed in his footsteps!  The majority of Lee's presence is centered around his only surviving (and much overused) TV interview on the Pierre Berton show (Berton's sideburns are a major distraction).  Also, the numerous film clips from Lee's TV appearances and kung fu films are all displayed cropped and altered from their original aspect ratios.  What's with that?  Overall, the show is very good but I did wish it would have premiered some shred of new or rare footage.   The show doesn't really give a good, cohesive explanation of Jeet Kune Do's philosophy, spending more time talking about what it isn't.  It would have been nice to show Lee's continuing influence on today's action cinema too.  Without a doubt, I AM BRUCE LEE is very West Coast, MMA-centric.  For my money, the best documentary to date is still John Little's A WARRIOR'S JOURNEY (2000)   which focused on Lee's unfinished GAME OF DEATH and totally blew me away at the time with the outtakes and the surprising amounts of unused footage.  For die-hard fans, it's also worth seeking out some of the more obscure, non-official Lee documentaries where you get super rare interviews with many of his Hong Kong cast and crew members and even autopsy photos!  I expect I AM BRUCE LEE will get a few more Spike TV airings before hitting DVD and blu-ray.  (It did play several major cities for a limited theatrical run before the Spike TV premiere) so definitely check it out in your preferred format.

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