Stars: Aarif Rahman, Tony Leung, Christy Chung | Written by Robert Lee, Manfred Wong | Directed by Raymond Yip, Manfred Wong
Review by Baron Fortnightly
“Known as ‘The Little Dragon’ to legions of adoring fans, Bruce Lee is regarded by many as the greatest martial arts legend who ever lived. From his birth on November 27th 1940 to his departure for San Francisco in 1959, discover how Bruce Lee lived through war and persecution and survived the brutal street-gangs of 1950′s Hong Kong before going on to live his dreams.”
Young Bruce Lee is a Hong Kong biopic based on the recollections of Bruce Lee’s siblings, mainly the first-hand experiences of his younger brother Robert Lee, author of the book “Bruce Lee: My Brother”. From the opening credits you can tell this film has high production values, and why not, it’s an incredible look at the world’s most famous martial artist who died long before his time at the age of 32.
The story starts with Bruce’s birth in San Francisco on November 27th 1940, whilst his parents are working in the States as stage actors. We get to meet Bruce’s large family and even larger extended family, who like many Chinese are struggling under the yoke of the Japanese oppression. It’s Bruce’s dad that introduces him to acting whilst he is still a baby, throughout the film we see Bruce in bit roles as a child actor and hanging around the studios with his friends.
As Bruce becomes a teenager we see the rebellious streak he is so famous for, which gets him into all sorts of trouble. It’s about this point in his life that Bruce starts learning Wing Chun from Ip Man. Oddly for a film about a martial arts legend there is very little fighting, especially the sort that Bruce is famous for. We see Bruce dance, or upset young women more than fight. Although one of the best scenes is where he both upsets women and competes in a dance contest with his younger brother Robert, the young actor playing Robert pulls some of the funniest facial expressions.
There is one meaty fight which features Bruce against an English boxer, and later a homage to the famous Coliseum fight from “Way of the Dragon”, which is recreated shot for shot, move for move. Unfortunately the movie comes to a close when Bruce is sent by his father to the United States in 1959, after getting into too much trouble in Hong Kong.
Young Bruce Lee is not a martial arts movie, it’s a moving story about an all too human young man, who learns to never give up and to always strive for what you believe in. It’s so much deeper than a martial arts film, you get a real sense of insight into the life of the pre-fame Bruce Lee and into Japanese-Chinese-British politics at the time.
Award winning actor Aarif Rahman does a good job under much scrutiny as Bruce Lee, and if you watch the behind of the scenes featurettes you’ll see why the film-makers chose him. Tong Leung and Christy Chung are great as his parents with the film being as much about them as about Bruce. Bruce’s friends are well represented by Jennifer Tse, Jin Au-yeung, Leung Man Lan, Zhang Yishan, Hanjin Tan and Lawrence Cheng, many of whom later appeared in the Big Boss and Way of the Dragon.
The DVD includes English subtitles for the 2.0 and 5.1 Cantonese audio tracks as well as an impressive audio commentary by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan; let’s face it adding a Bey Logan commentary doubles the quality of ANY DVD. Extras include a trailer gallery, a comprehensive set of making off featurettes that cover the whole film making process, including fight scenes and dance rehearsals, plus the icing on the cake – a concise and informative world exclusive featurette from Cine Asia entitled “Memories of the Master”.
Clocking in at just under 30 minutes this featurette covers Bruce Lee’s life as a child actor where he’s described as a Hong Kong Macaulay Culkin, his cha-cha dancing success (winning two major titles), his interest in philosophy, his struggles against racism in the states and the West’s perception of the Chinese, his hard work and dedication in becoming a serious adult actor, his eventual success with the Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, and finally Enter the Dragon before his untimely death. You can tell that the people taking about him still miss him and regard him as having a profound effect on their lives. The photographs of Bruce with friends and family alone are worth watching the featurette for.
If you’re after a martial arts movie, this isn’t for you, but if you want to see what made Bruce Lee the legend he became then this release is well worth picking up.