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Featured DVD Review: The Legend of Bruce Lee

September 20th, 2010

The Legend of Bruce Lee - Buy from Amazon

The Legend of Bruce Lee was a TV series in China that ran for 50 episodes, but here it is being released as a 3-hour movie. That's not a good sign, because unless each episode was roughly 4 minutes long, there's going to be a lot cut from this film. That said, perhaps the film will focus on just one part of Bruce Lee's life and it will still satisfy. Or perhaps it wouldn't matter either way.

The Show

We meet Bruce Lee as he wins the California State Karate championship, which is the first tournament he has entered. When asked by a reporter what level of Karate training he has obtained, he says he uses Kung Fu.

After the win, he returns to his school and proposes to Linda, who accepts.

He uses his new fame to recruit students to his school in Seattle, including non-Chinese students, something that is strictly forbidden by the unwritten rules of Kung Fu. Fellow Kung Fu masters meet secretly to discuss it and then send a representative to tell him to cut it out. He doesn't. In fact, he says teaching outsiders is important to the future of Kung Fu.

They disagree and send a man named Yellow Skin to fight. I assume it's a nickname. Bruce Lee and Mr. Skin know each other, as Bruce defeated him in the past. But Mr. Skin has studied hard and learned how to defeat all of Bruce Lee's moves. That doesn't work out so well, so he cheats after the fight and breaks Bruce Lee's back.

I would like to point out that we are about 20 minutes into the movie at this point, and close to 10 minutes of those have been spent fighting. So while the story has obviously been compressed, they are not cutting back on the fighting. Also, some might have noticed that this synopsis feels quite disjointed, but there's a reason for that. I tend to write the synopses in a tone similar to the film I'm reviewing, and the film tries to pack a lot into the first 30 minutes or so without enough time to have organic transitions.

While lying in his hospital bed, Bruce Lee flashes back to his youth and how he was bullied and how that motivated him to learn Kung Fu. (I particularly like his first foray into martial arts, which involved kicking an opponent in the balls. It's my preferred method of fighting also.) Throughout the flashback (which probably took an entire episode in the full TV series) we see Bruce Lee learn Kung Fu, not only the methods, but the philosophies as well.

Flash back to the present, and we see his recovery, then his rise in fame, and the many confrontations he had over the years.

This movie definitely has some pros and cons. On the positive side, this is an interesting story, if told right. On the negative side, I'm not sure its interesting enough to last for 50 episodes, while stretching it out that long and them compressing it again seems to have taken its toll. Firstly, it feels episodic. Secondly, it feels disjointed. And thirdly, it feels repetitive. If you were to watch this show an episode a week, you might not be bothered with how similar a lot of the fights feel. But seeing them compressed into 3 hours amplifies this problem.

There are other issues that creep up. For instance, while the TV series had a high budget compared to most Chinese shows, the production values are still dodgy at times, especially compared to a theatrical release. Some of the dialogue is a little cornball, but this could have been an issue of mistranslating. There's a scene very early on where the Kung Fu masters talk about the unwritten rule, and the way they repeat it doesn't emphasize the seriousness of the situation, it just makes it feel clumsy.

That said, the actor that plays Bruce Lee, Danny Chan, does an excellent job. He got Bruce Lee's mannerisms down very well.

The Extras

There are no extras on the DVD. However, you can watch the film in the original Mandarin or in English.

The Verdict

The Legend of Bruce Lee tells a story that is worth watching. Unfortunately, that story was already told in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, and it was told well. If you are a fan of the master martial artist, then this film is worth checking out, but I think even then the DVD is just worth a rental.

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