Monday, October 31, 2011

Bruce Lee: A re-assessment of sorts ...or, an appreciation

In my recent study of Wing Chun - in anyone's study of Wing Chun - the name of Bruce Lee is bound to be mentioned sooner or later.

In most folks of my era, the name connotes movies with bad dialog, extreme violence, overly punchy soundtracks, and all the cliches of grindhouse cinema to which  Quentin Tarantino paid homage in his recent movies. One particularly egregious example of this is Fist of Fury, which as it happens, is the Hong Kong version of Zorro or Zatoichi, and is in fact related tangentially to a real life person, Huo Yuanjia, which Jet Li portrayed in FearlessFist of Fury was recently remade as Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen.

Yet the utter crappiness the production values of Fist of Fury, or a movie like Way of the Dragon obscures the fact that the guy making - and in some cases, writing, and directing these movies - was highly talented beyond physical prowess, and much of the reason for the production values has to do with how Asians were cast in movies at the time and their overall opportunities in world media then, and the fact that movies in the west were (and are) heavily censored, as witnessed by how, say, Michael Moore's recent movies received much more revenue per screen than those really crappy Hollywood "blockbusters."  If you watch Fist of Fury after watching Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, then first you will think, after watching the later made movie, that the Chinese are being hard on the Japanese; but then after watching the Lee movie you will be astonished at how the Japanese aggression in China is almost completely airbrushed out of the Lee movie!

People just aren't aware of how propagandized they are, even via those Hollywood "blockbusters."

I can't believe how much money Johnny Depp gets for portraying a pirate with makeup.  But I digress. Slightly. It's an interesting comparison - Depp versus Lee.  Maybe there's aspects of Depp's career where he influenced later films, but I'm not aware of them...but even in a movie such as Fists of Fury/The Big Boss Lee was able to do things as a director which changed the way such films are made.

But enough of that...if you go searching around Youtube, you'll find links to a 1970s interview Lee did with one Pierre Burton.  In it, Lee talks about his own teaching style as that which is done not to get his students to become good fighters, but to express themselves.  In so doing, he goes around, as best he can, to explain the concept of non-duality; it is simply amazing that he is speaking this language in the 1970s, and doing so completely without the Buddhist narratives that undoubtedly influenced his own studies (either implicitly or explicitly).  But it is undeniably non-duality  of which he's speaking, and it's telling that this non-duality permeated who he was.  It should give us something on which to ponder.

He knew what he was after.  It's a pity he died so early; the successors in the movie world from the West are more second rate it somebody else somewhere wrote, Lee practically invented the role of the "action hero."   It is sad that we got the future governor of California instead of more non-duality from Lee...

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