"I fear not the man who has practiced ten thousand kicks once. But I fear the man who has practiced one kick ten thousand times."
The quintessential martial arts film star, particularly for action films set in contemporary times, and is widely considered to be the greatest martial artist of the 20th century.
Born in San Francisco
on November 27, 1940 (in a Year of the Dragon, appropriately), his time growing up was split between Hong Kong and America, specifically Los Angeles and Seattle
. This resulted in having a strong command of English that helped distance himself from the stereotype of the halted Asian accent. His first real break was playing Kato in The Green Hornet
TV series as a Hypercompetent Sidekick
. Kato became a Breakout Character
, and in Asia the show was was renamed The Kato Show
. He proceeded to gain a strong fanbase for Asian Martial Arts Movie
films until he was made an international star with the (internationally-produced) legendary film Enter the Dragon. Time
named him a person of the 20th century as the shining example of personal improvement through physical fitness while he is universally recognized as one of the ultimate film star tough guys.
He achieved this status with only one TV series, a scattering of TV guest appearances, and five martial arts films done in his adulthood, one of which, The Game of Death
, was unfinished by the time of his death. The affectionate biographical film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
, where he was played by Jason Scott Lee (no relation), suggests that his success in America helped to reduce the offensive levels of the Asian and Nerdy
and rude Asian
Lee was, and continues to be, a revered figure in the world of martial arts. He espoused a Combat Pragmatist
fighting style and created his own approach, Jeet Kune Do (Way of the Intercepting Fist), in order to create more practical martial arts. This style and the philosophy behind it (the most well-known tenet being "Absorb what is useful") has led some to call him the founding father of Mixed Martial Arts
, though this is hardly unanimous. The popularity of nunchaku
("nunchuks") is directly tied to his use of them in several films. This didn't mean he was a slouch in intellectual matters, either: Lee graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in psychology (though he also studied philosophy extensively). Lee used that latter knowledge to write a book about the philosophy behind his martial art. In short, this Asian man embodied the Greek ideal of having a sound mind in a sound body.
Said to be a Dance Battler
, since he was both a badass Warrior Poet and
an award-winning chachacha dancer. Also? He was always ready to take a challenge from martial artists — but the time one of them scared his kids, Brandon and Shannon, Lee had no mercy on him
Died tragically young on July 20, 1973 at the age of 32, from a brain aneurysm caused by a reaction between painkillers and brain swelling medication. His death sparked urban legends about his "true" cause of death, ranging from suicide to being a target of the Triads
. And like with Elvis Presley, there are those who still believe he never died and faked his own death
His death so devastated the Hong Kong film industry that producers began casting numerous Bruce Lee Clones
in their movies, with the hope that audiences, starved for Lee, would simply accept the poor imitations. While, by and large, it didn't work
, there are a few renowned martial arts stars who managed to get their first break during this period, Jet Li
and Jackie Chan
among the most famous.
Also tragically, his son Brandon died from a prop gun accident
on the set of The Crow
Truly, father and son both, Too Cool to Live
Tropes associated with his work include:
- Action Hero: His standard character, though he deconstructed it in Fist of Fury.
- Artistic License – Martial Arts: In spite of his reputation as the world's greatest martial artist, his movies feature a lot of this. He's admitted that jumping high kicks are only good for movies, and he would never use them in a real fight. However, Lee's films did not rely on the Wire Fu and hyperactive pace that was strongly associated with the genre at the time.
- Asian and Nerdy: He also does a bit of it in Fist of Fury, when he impersonates a telephone repairman to infiltrate the enemy headquarters. As the Rifftrax guys point out, he seems like a Chinese man doing Jerry Lewis doing a Chinese man.
- Badass: Always an action hero.
- Big Ol' Eyebrows: An unintentional example, given that Lee was born with them.
- Blood Upgrade: A mainstay in his fight scenes.
- B-Movie: His early movies were treated as B-movies in America.
- Brick Break: Lee would demonstrate his famous "one inch punch" on boards, though he would criticize board breaking later on.
- Briefer Than They Think: His film career included work as a child and teenager, as well as many bit parts in Hong Kong, but he only starred in 4 complete films over a 3 year period (plus Game of Death, which was unfinished).
- Bring It: Common in his movies, and frequently homaged.
- Charles Atlas Superpower: Lee's followers often ascribe him abilities that border on superhuman, such that the viral video (falsified by the ad company) of Bruce Lee playing ping pong using nunchuks was done well enough and Lee's own superhuman reputation was such that many believed wholeheartedly that it was all true.
- Lee felt that many martial artists of his time did not spend enough time on physical conditioning. Lee included all elements of total fitness—muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility. He tried traditional bodybuilding techniques to build bulky muscles or mass.
- Combat Pragmatist: Lee put this into his fight scenes based on his own fighting philosophy, called Jeet Kun Do (Way of the Intercepting Fist).
- Funny thing. While all those flashy moves he uses in films are a big part of his reputation, when asked what he would do if attacked randomly on the street, he says he'd first bite the assailant. It can be assumed that he'd probably reduce the assailant bedridden with one kick after biting.
- For more of an elaboration, Bruce lee took the view that traditional martial arts techniques were too rigid and formalistic to be practical in scenarios of chaotic street fighting. Lee decided to develop a system with an emphasis on "practicality, flexibility, speed, and efficiency".
- The Comically Serious: Once or twice. Specially here.◊
- Conservation of Ninjutsu: Cuts through crowds of chivalrous mooks, usually with only a few blows each, but his one-on-one fights last much longer.
- Dead Artists Are Better: Dying in his prime almost certainly aided his legendary reputation.
- Early Installment Weirdness: His first "big" film, The Big Boss, is very different from his other films. It's a little more cartoony (cut-out wall punch), cheesey (the big bad's demise), very bloody and Lee's character has a lot more trouble against his final opponent, rather than curbstomping the second half, than those that would follow.
- Fighting with Chucks: He made the nunchaku famous, with such sequences like the big fight in Han's basement from Enter the Dragon. He also fought with a single Chuck in Way of the Dragon.
- Finger Poke of Doom: The 'one-inch punch' technique he popularised is one of the rare examples that looks unimpressive-but-devastating enough to count for this trope while also being moderately effective in real life. It consists of jerking your fist approximately one inch forward incredibly fast, hitting a target with a remarkable amount of force despite the tiny range and lack of windup to build momentum. In real life, of course, it won't send your opponent flying across the room, stone dead, or even do as much damage as a proper punch, but it's still a decent surprise attack that can significantly injure your opponent without you having to move more than... well, an inch.
- Fountain of Expies: To the point it got its own trope.
- Genius Bruiser: His characters are always as intelligent as they are powerful.
- Good Old Fisticuffs: While much of his movements are more along the lines of Lightning Bruiser territory, he dabbles into this at his slowest moments. A good example would be the Chuck Norris fight, where after a series of rapid punches and kicks, he knocks him over with haymakers.
- Guns Are Worthless: Averted. Lee had no illusions about the supremacy of an armed man against an unarmed one. One of the reasons he signed on to Enter the Dragon was the possibility that, since he was playing a badass Secret Agent, he might get to carry a gun in a few scenes; he was disappointed when he learned that the script required his character to go in unarmed, and he changed the script slightly so that the character's annoyance at the rules would reflect his own.
- He Cleans Up Nicely: Ever seen him in a suit and tie, all groomed up? No? Then, just see◊. Lee was pretty famous for being a stylish fellow. A number of years ago, Japanese toy company Medicom released an entire line of Bruce Lee 12" dolls based on the various stylish attires he wore. In another example, Bruce's only English role where martial arts wasn't involved (an episode of Here Come The Brides called "Marriage Chinese Style"). Likewise, his only turn as an antagonist when he played Winslow Wong in Marlowe in two different but just as stylish suits.
- I Am Not Leonard Nimoy
- I Have Many Names: Bruce Lee, Lee Junfan, Sai-fon, Li Yuanxin, Li Yuanjian and Li Xiaolong. The fact that he has so many names just boosts his legendary status.
- Insufferable Genius:
- During the The Green Hornet/Batman crossover, Bruce apparently flew off the handle at the revelation that Robin was supposed to beat Kato and threatened to beat the actor to within an inch of his life if the script wasn't changed. Supposedly, Bruce even chased Robin's actor Burt Ward around the set until someone made a joke about "the black panther and the yellow canary," after which everyone broke down laughing.
- An alternate version of the story, however, has Burt Ward shooting his mouth off about how his judo skills could easily outmatch Lee's kung fu, which leads to the aforementionned chase-around.
- And there's the original cut of Game of Death. He fights through the world masters of all martial arts, kills them, and finally fights the only foe who can match him...someone who practices Jeet Kune Do.
- Kiai: Lee's whooping kiais were intended to convey the power of his attacks and became a signature of his fight scenes. Just about anyone who parodies kung fu films will imitate them.
- Lightning Bruiser: His characters and in real life. When the song said "Those kicks were fast as lightning", this is why.
- Mook Chivalry: Lee's films include lots of scenes where mooks surrounding him and attack one at a time.
- Mr. Fanservice: Has quite a following of fangirls for being athletic and good looking, particularly in his younger days.
- Rapid-Fire Fisticuffs: Most of his fight scenes focus on the speed at which Lee could deliver his attacks.
- Rated M for Manly: All of his movies, all of them the noble variation.
- Shirtless Scene: Every single one of his movies has at least one. You can count on him kicking a lot more ass if his top is torn or removed.
- Silent Snarker: In most films or even in interviews, you could always tell what he was thinking without him saying anything.
- Short-Lived Big Impact: He didn't star in very many films, and died at the age of 32, but Bruce Lee is widely credited with introducing martial-arts films to the United States, and popularizing East Asian culture. His fighting philosophy still lives on to this day, and he has inspired dozens upon dozens of Bruce Lee clones.
- Tranquil Fury: Most of his films often portray his anger this way, the only time he ever expresses a berserk style reaction is when he strikes a blow to someone.
- Type Casting: As the Asian version of John Wayne.
- Walking Shirtless Scene: In many of his movies, the only times his torso is fully covered is when he's in one of his disguises. This suggests that his chest is more distinctive identification than his face.