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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Review: THE LEGEND OF BRUCE LEE - Volume One (2008 TV Series)


Perhaps no one is as lauded, both personally and professionally, than Bruce Lee (Li Xiao Long). Well, Jackie Chan is a close second but that's not the focus of this review. Where should I start? I have many conflicting emotions writing this and I am sure there will be some people that will take my own informed opinions with a grain of salt. And you should. Because this review is my own, of course.

Let's start with the production. CCTV backed The Legend Of Bruce Lee. It's video quality. Although it was filmed in 2008, I was disheartened of the low quality throughout the ten episodes in Volume 1. Made for several million dollars for 50 episodes and Executive Produced by Bruce's daughter, Shannon, I felt that the overall vision was amateurish but had promise. Yet, seeing a young Bruce Lee (Danny Chan) along with terrible and distracting English dubbing dialogue, be the focus of trouble coming to him rather than see him get into trouble bends what is actually known about the man himself that is easily verifiable.

While in high school, with mostly British students in Hong Kong while Britain resided/ruled at the time, Bruce saw the discrimination against Chinese students thinking they were not "good enough" like the Brit students were. He decides to excel in order to prove that Chinese people are also competent and talented. Winning a Cha-Cha contest with childhood friend Qin Xiao Man (Xiao-Xiao Bian), he becomes the source of annoyance by schoolmate Blair Lewis (Ted Duran), a talented boxer. His disdain for the Chinese people puts him and Bruce in many confrontations and Bruce gets his ass handed to him time and again until he learns boxing himself and winds up on the school's boxing team. The rivalry between the two leads up to a championship where Bruce wins against Blair. And from that moment Blair knew Bruce could achieve anything. He sets out to teach Bruce about three-time champion David Cafeld (Kszysztof Kristofer Wodejszo), setting aside rivalries and becoming friends.

Knowing full well the vagaries of adapting stories about Bruce Lee, I can see that some of the more established events were either obfuscated, abbreviated, glossed over, or not even mentioned. Such as: by the time Bruce Lee was 13 years old he had already been known for being in some films. And, as for the fights shown -- especially the ones regarding Blair Lewis, a classmate (which was semi-accurate) -- it drove Bruce's impetus to study martial arts with his Uncle Shao Ruhai (Luoyong Wang) who was very reluctant to teach the youngster. It wasn't until Shao convinced Bruce's parents that he was enrolled in Master Ye Wen's (the late Cheng-Hui Yu) Yong Chun Chuan [Spring Shadowboxing] school and Bruce begins his training. Bruce actually uses what he is taught, along with Blair's tutelage, to defeat David Cafeld.

I know I am overlooking one key element regarding Bruce's life here but for expediency I have overlooked "Yellow Brat," (Yuan Li) a servant and student of Wang Yunsheng Kung Fu Center that Bruce fights and loses to before Bruce is given a chance to study under Master Ye. I guess every "legend" has its humanity somewhere. From being bullied in high school to becoming adept at his craft, this does take us on a journey toward self-discovery where Bruce is concerned. And although some of the acting seems a bit much to handle, you can't help but sympathize what Bruce is going through.

One of the hardest scenes I sat through was with the female high school principal with Bruce's parents and the outright racist tones she gave made me feel that the discrimination among school students paled against the administration itself. Was that how she truly acted? Did other faculty display it? It made me cringe and I felt nothing but outright callousness and bitchiness from the actress portraying this person.

Another individual worth looking at is Wang Li Chao (Yu Cheng), a businessman and friend of Bruce's father. A leader of the community, he is also the local "mob boss" that controls a gang to do his dirty work. As Bruce fights against the shakedown of businesses from Li Chao, he orders one of his acolytes, Ah Liang, to kill Bruce. After tracking him down, he uses his motorcycle to crash into Bruce's non-motorized bicycle, putting him into a short coma. It is presumed that this incident (other reports claim a Yakuza style hit was made against Bruce) was the one that made Bruce's parents realize he was not safe in Hong Kong. Fearing that the attempt on Bruce's life will be traced back to his gang, Wang Li Chao orders Yellow Brat to kill Ah Liang to cover up his involvement. But since it became unsuccessful, Bruce confronts Wang Li Chao and attacks him using his Kung Fu skills. This is the incident when Bruce is whisked away with Uncle Shao and stays in Seattle for a time to avoid capture by the Hong Kong police.

Okay, a point of note here: It was well-known that as a teen Bruce would continually pick street fights. He was picked up by the police for starting fights and that was the reason the mother, Grace, couldn't deal with Bruce's bad behavior and shipped him off to America in 1959 to live with friends of the family. Again, this is the "legend" of Bruce Lee, so why this nonsense? But Bruce did finish high school and honed his love for martial arts in Seattle where he wound up at the University of Washington, working nights as a busboy and waiter at Ruby Chow's, a Seattle restaurant. In the film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, he worked at the fictional Gussier Yang's restaurant in San Francisco. Yes, things can be taken out of context for dramatic purposes like the unconfirmed reports of Bruce being framed for murder. Dramatic license or "alternate facts," take your pick.

Legend of Bruce Lee: Volume 1
Flaws aside in the ten episode arc, we see a troubled young man who is trying to find his place in the world, on a path to learning all he can about bettering himself, and deciding that philosophy would be his major, incorporating his martial arts studies with it. While in Seattle at the new school, Bruce challenges a karate team with his Chinese style of Kung Fu. He angers the team, and challenge him to a formal battle. Bruce agrees, but only if their Master Kimura, the karate expert of Seattle, will be the one to fight and to have reporters cover the event. Kimura, agreeing to the conditions, both young men fight, and Kimura is defeated in eleven seconds. Kimura then questions his beliefs about martial arts and becomes fascinated with Bruce's Kung Fu that he asks to be taught more about it. Bruce is suprised but declines. However, Kimura's daily persistence soon wears him down and Bruce grudgingly accepts Kimura as his first student. A new friendship emerges between the two and Kimura gives Bruce the chance to start his own school using Kimura's home.

From what I see with Volume One, it imparts a semi-autobiographical representation of a man on a mission, growing up from troubled child to a man focused on being what he sets his mind to. That isn't a bad thing but I did enjoy the story so far. Aside from the cheesy opening musical score "Bruce Lee Battle Call" to the end credit score, it was apparent that no music accompanied some of the storylines. And, yes, it's a story - parts real and fictionalized - one that gives some semblance of hope that one man's future can change himself and grow.

I would recommend you see this series through the eyes of Bruce and how he comes to realize his potential. Danny Chan does a wonderful job attempting Bruce's signature moves and even in one scene he tries a weak attempt at the howl Bruce was known for. It can be a bit humorous in parts, overly dramatic when it comes to the parents, intimate and personal when it wants to be. Overall, an interesting series that can get bogged down if you even attempted to take the real incidents and strung them together as a realistic portrayal of Bruce Lee. But, mind you, this is a "legend" -- and that's how this man is remembered.

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