I Am Bruce Lee (2011)
Director: Pete McCormack
Starring: Bruce Lee, Linda Lee Cadwell, Shannon Lee, Teri Tom, Dana White, Jon Jones, and Kobe Bryant.

The Plot: Bruce Lee, a man who has in time become so legendary that opinions on him have become nearly mythical. Was he truly the greatest martial artist who has ever lived? Were his films the greatest action titles that were ever created? Opinions certainly vary on all questions related to this powerful man, and the cultural phenomena that is “Bruce Lee” is thoroughly examined during the course of this documentary: I Am Bruce Lee. A full length dissection of the man, his abilities, his story, and his legacy, I Am Bruce Lee does not intend to be an absolute biography of Lee, but instead it stands out as a loving tribute to his longevity and seemingly endless popularity.

The Review
As a child of the eighties, I occasionally feel as if I may be one of the last kids who grew up thinking that Bruce Lee was essentially a martial arts God. As a kid, my uncle introduced me to Enter the Dragon, and I heard all of the stories surrounding Bruce Lee. The classic tale that Bruce could rip the beating heart out of a man’s chest and show it to him before he died, I confess that I likely believed this to be true until I was well into my teenage years. As a young man, I believed that Bruce Lee was the single toughest man who had ever lived throughout human history, and this of course made him a hero for me. I know that I am not alone in this hero worshiping, and I would hope that even a few of my readers shared the experience. Every kid I grew up around essentially believed the same things about Lee, and I still know a few people who would vouch for many of those ancient myths. The fact of the matter is that Bruce was not a God, nor was he half of what his myths made him out to be. However, the truth about Bruce Lee is something more complex than the blatant tales of machismo that follow his name, but as far as I am concerned the reality is every bit as interesting as the myth. He was a forward thinking pioneer within the world of martial arts. In a time where the majority martial artists still believed in, and actively propagated, the ancient myths about singular styles that were more powerful than all others: Bruce Lee was a man who realized the strengths in every style and that true power came from the individual and not any one singular style or system.

What is “Bruce Lee,” ultimately? It’s hard to pin down, and I Am Bruce Lee does its best to try and explore some of the ideas that surround both the man and his mythos. For martial art film fans, his choreography honestly couldn’t be construed as the very best out there. Was it true to combat? In many ways, yes. If a fighter were to land the correct punches, sure, he could knock out a guy with one punch. Fights can be over quite fast when one opponent is infinitely more skilled and prepared. This is a bit more honest than the ten minute staged scenes of punch/block scenarios that are often seen within almost every traditional Shaw Bros. martial arts film. However, which is more entertaining to actually watch? I would be lying if I didn’t say that Lau Kar-leung’s work is much more exciting to me as a viewer. Yet, there’s something so interesting about Bruce Lee and his work, even for modern audiences. It has something to do with his cocky bravado. His characters were never weak, but they were never bullies either. It makes it all the more painful to recognize that his death happened at such a young age, because his crossover potential could have had an even more profound effect on the Asian American community and the racial stereotypes that are consistently promoted in popular culture. Yet, Bruce still stood up tall and stood up proud within a time of radical change. With his few films he managed to influence the entire world and forever changed the face of Asian culture.

The philosophy of Bruce Lee is brought into the film extensively, but almost all discussions of this man do eventually revolve around these ideals that he would often speak of. His philosophical teachings were complex and, for my money at least, maybe even a bit too too overtly dramatic, but this was mostly due to his showmanship in all facets of his life. Such can be said for many of the speakers who show up in this documentary. Overall, Lee’s teachings are given their due respect and the film offers a very telling look at this interesting man. However, I can understand that some movie fans will walk away disappointed by the guests that are brought in to give their opinions within the documentary. What does Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas really have to say about Bruce Lee and his legacy? He’s no expert on martial arts, Cinema, or any combination of the two. Still, I think that this peculiar crossing over into the pop world may inevitably be the key aspect of this documentary that actually makes it unique. This is not a film that looks to be the most detailed version of Bruce Lee’s life. There have been other films that have given fairly accurate depictions of his cinematic work and his personal life, but I Am Bruce Lee seems to be primarily concerned with legacy. This is a documentary that focuses on Bruce’s effect on the world. From the role that his machismo has had in inspiring young men to strive for something different, to the effect that his teachings have had on traditional martial arts. Although many of the guests who are interviewed do indeed seem pointless, the fact that Bruce Lee could inspire them is a testament to his enduring legacy. Even if it only means that Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas turns his body to a 90 degree angle (like Bruce) while belting out his awful music onstage.

If you know me personally, you probably know that I am a huge fan of mixed martial arts. I am every bit a fight geek, and I try to keep up with as many fighting sports as I can. In doing this, I have of course grew even more closely attached to the legacy of Bruce Lee. A heavy component within I Am Bruce Lee is the effect that his teachings have had on MMA and the UFC brand in particular. Within this documentary, UFC president Dana White puts forth his argument that Bruce Lee was in fact the father of MMA. His cross-training ideas, which threw the traditional martial arts rulebook out the window, were very far ahead of their time and do in fact sound a lot like what current MMA competitors practice. Bruce Lee practiced wrestling, grappling, and incorporated any movements that were proven effective into his studying. He considered himself a global citizen, and in doing this he borrowed from many arts. As the documentary points out, Bruce Lee was not the very first person to do this, but he certainly was one of the first big names to push this idea in a manner that would work the most. Within the film, “Judo” Gene Lebell is also interviewed quite extensively. A man with a great deal of history with Bruce Lee, Lebell seems a bit salty that Bruce is still held in such high regard. Gene Lebell is a name that should not be forgotten, because he is one of the biggest proponents of martial arts within the twentieth century, but his dismissal of Bruce Lee’s additions to The Martial Arts comes across as sour grapes. His confidence that Chuck Norris would murder Bruce Lee (an argument that I would likely agree with, but put in a much more tasteful manner) is the icing on the cake in terms of his repeated dismissals of Lee’s legendary accomplishments. Still, Lebell’s voice is certainly welcome within the film and I enjoy that the documentary wasn’t entirely one sided in its approach.

The Conclusion
I Am Bruce Lee may not be filled with entirely new information, but it is a very welcome look back on the legacy of a very important man. Younger audiences may be raised wondering why Bruce Lee was a hero for so many people, but if they take the time out: I believe this documentary shows the reasoning behind it. A fascinating character on and off the screen, this documentary gives a colorful portrayal of Bruce Lee and it stands out as one of the best documentaries that I have seen on him. I give it a four out of five, definitely check it out.