Be Water: There can only be one Bruce Lee; ESPN’s 30 for 30 Documentary
Updated: Aug 15, 2020
Recently, ”Be Water” was released on ESPN, a documentary on Bruce Lee’s life just after Michael Jordan’s series. Of course I was anxious to watch it. I think I’ve consumed every piece of found footage out, read all of his books like Tao of Jeet Kune Do when I was a child. He inspired me to study Kung fu and other martial arts while in college and throughout my life. Prior to hearing about the film, I had been meaning to write a passage on my blog about Bruce Lee, but I was reluctant to, because people have used and exploited his name and stolen his image for years since his death in video games, comic books, movies. So I am writing this blog post for myself, not to capitalise on his name, but to thank him for all the inspiration and light he’s provided throughout my life.
Living in Hong Kong having moved from America, having now written, starred in 3 feature films of my own, about to release my 4th Agent Revelation, it’s hard for me not to think of Bruce Lee if anything to learn how he overcame his own adversities like being relegated to insignificant roles in Hollywood or roles and ideas being stolen from him like the TV series “Kung Fu”. Almost 50 Years after his death, while there has been progress, I can tell you from first hand experience, that many of these same adversities exist. And now with Hong Kong in turmoil, and Covid-19, Asians are being painted in even harsher light, victims of hate. Bruce Lee has remained one of the few positive images Asians might draw inspiration from.
The film gives a lot of insight into his struggles as an actor, that Hollywood is an unfair system. In this doc, his understanding that America doesn’t want to bet on someone unproven is justified. Similarly, having pursued acting in New York, I gave it up when I moved to Hong Kong, because I didn’t think following the system was a winning scenario: too little opportunity, and of those few, many were demeaning. I had landed a job at CNN in Hong Kong as a producer, and it was for many one might call a dream job. But a commercial director who I happened to live next door to me asked me to be a lead in 2 of their commercials, and then a casting director called me in for a very small role in a French International Film. I read a long script cold for her on camera, and the next day she called me and said, “I don’t know what you did, but the director said you got the part.” I thought to myself, “I got it because I can act.” I knew I had much to improve, but I knew I had the talent. But I also knew returning to the states and auditioning for roles again, despite some success was not for someone who looks like me. Leading roles written specifically for Chinese men, which are already so few, from famous stories are still to this day being recast, rewritten, and meanwhile some filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino who owe so much to Bruce Lee, taint his image and tarnish his legend.
Despite all of this, what I’ve learned from Bruce Lee over the years is that he didn’t complain about struggles and inequities, he went out and made his own films and was relentless about the ideas, philosophies, and stories he personally wanted to tell, even holding out on Enter the Dragon, until there were script changes. He lived for challenges, and he didn’t limit himself to being just an actor; he was an athlete, he was a visionary, and wanted to show the country where he was born, that he had much more to offer the world, than what was portrayed in media.
The challenge though has been that many have sought to literally copy him, both Asian and non Asian so that they might achieve his success or make money off it. There have been more roles for a Bruce Lee hero, or character than any Other character for Asian men. But I believe that’s not what Bruce Lee was after. He wanted to express himself and his passions to the fullest extent. That’s why, I was adamant about not using any martial arts in my first 2 films Supercapitalist and Always. And as I’ve pushed into sci-fi and action, I’ve had a bigger lean on military tactics and western boxing (which are also passions of mine), because I think his true legacy lies in what he wanted most: RESPECT, and I don’t feel copying or imitating him would achieve that. That’s not to say his influence on my work is not deeply rooted.
That’s why one of the hardest things to watch in this documentary was his funeral, and what his family went through. With his death, there was great loss of what could have been as a friend, father, philosopher, and filmmaker. But I am certain, that even in death you aren’t complaining. You are probably writing your next script or practicing some new move in the clouds.
I’m here now to thank you. Not to be you or even try to be you, but to recognise, that through your films, writings, actions, and journey, you fluidly penetrated our hearts and minds. I hope, like you, I can express my own beliefs through actions and gain respect as a human.
Mr. Lee, you became water. I’ll strive to too.
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Agent Revelation(coming Nov 2020)