out of Five
Running time: 93
Watchable documentary that's chiefly notable for its archive footage of the man himself, though it's also all rather one-sided and there's very little here that will be new to Bruce Lee fans.
What's it all about?
Directed by Pete McCormack, I Am Bruce Lee is a documentary about the life, work and philosophy of Bruce Lee, featuring contributions from friends, family, famous fans and colleagues, interspersed with a variety of numerous archive clips from his films, home movies, screen tests and interviews. The film traces Lee's early life in Hong Kong (though he was born in San Francisco), where he became a champion dancer and made films as a child before returning to America at 18, and finding work as a teacher of both martial arts and Chinese philosophy.
After marrying one of his students (Linda Lee Caldwell, on hand for interviews), Lee broke into the entertainment industry, where he became a TV star as a result of his role on The Green Hornet. However, he found Hollywood a frustrating experience and eventually returned to Hong Kong, where he made the films he wanted to make before his untimely death by a cerebral oedema at the age of 32.
Clearly something of a superfan, director Pete McCormack has unearthed a wealth of terrific archive footage, including a lengthy 1971 TV interview (from English language Hong Kong chat show The Pierre Berton Show), as well as an amusing Hollywood screen test and some priceless home movie footage of Lee teaching James Coburn martial arts in his back garden (other famous students included Steve McQueen).
On top of that, McCormack has lined up a seemingly never-ending collection of talking heads, including famous fans (Mickey Rourke, Taboo, Kobe Bryant), family (Linda Lee Caldwell, Lee's daughter Shannon Lee), friends and colleagues, as well as current fighters such as Haywire's Gina Carano and Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini, who laughingly imagines the outcome of a bout between Lee and himself if they were to fight today.
The main problem with the film is that it's all rather one-sided, with everyone basically lining up to say how great Lee was and nobody offering any real criticism; the closest we get to that is ex-stuntman and fighter Gene LeBell disputing the fact that Lee is frequently cited as “the father of mixed martial arts”, saying that if Lee's the father, then he's the grandfather, but this is still presented in a light-hearted way, even if we sense LeBell's issues with Lee actually go a little deeper.
Similarly, while there's plenty here for newcomers to Lee's work and the analysis of his fighting style (particularly the dance and boxing influences) is fascinating, there's very little here that will be new to Bruce Lee fans and none of the stories attempt to challenge the Bruce Lee legend as written.
I am Bruce Lee is a watchable and frequently entertaining documentary, but it's a little let down by being so relentlessly one-sided.