Lee Jun-fan (Chinese: 李振藩; November 27, 1940 – July 20, 1973), commonly known as Bruce Lee (Chinese: 李小龍), was a Chinese-American martial artist, actor, director, martial arts instructor and philosopher. He was the founder of Jeet Kune Do, a hybrid martial arts philosophy drawing from different combat disciplines that is often credited with paving the way for modern mixed martial arts (MMA). Lee is considered by commentators, critics, media, and other martial artists to be the most influential martial artist of all time and a pop culture icon of the 20th century, who bridged the gap between East and West. He is credited with helping to change the way Asians were presented in American films.
The son of Cantonese opera star Lee Hoi-chuen, Lee was born in the Chinatown area of San Francisco, and was raised with his family in Kowloon, Hong Kong. He was introduced to the film industry by his father and appeared in several films as a child actor. Lee moved to the United States at the age of 18 to receive his higher education at the University of Washington in Seattle, and it was during this time that he began teaching martial arts. His Hong Kong and Hollywood-produced films elevated the traditional martial arts film to a new level of popularity and acclaim, sparking a surge of interest in the Chinese nation and Chinese martial arts in the West in the 1970s. The direction and tone of his films dramatically influenced and changed martial arts and martial arts films worldwide.
Lee played the role of Kato in the TV series, The Green Hornet (based on the radio show by the same name), alongside Van Williams as the title character, produced and narrated by William Dozier. The show lasted only one season (26 episodes) from September 1966 to March 1967. Lee and Williams also appeared as their characters in three crossover episodes of Batman, another William Dozier-produced television series. The show introduced the adult Bruce Lee to an American audience, and became the first popular American show presenting Asian-style martial arts. The show’s director wanted Lee to fight in the typical American style using fists and punches. As a professional martial artist, Lee refused, insisting that he should fight in the style of his expertise. At first, Lee moved so fast that his movements could not be caught on film, so he had to slow them down. After the show was cancelled in 1967, Lee wrote to Dozier thanking him for starting “my career in show business.”
Lee was an action choreographer on the film The Wrecking Crew (1968), with Dean Martin, Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan, Nigel Green, and Tina Louise. He had a small role in Paul Bogart’s Marlowe (1969), with James Garner, Gayle Hunnicutt, Rita Moreno, Sharon Farrell, Carroll O’Connor, William Daniels, and Jackie Coogan; and he was responsible for fight choreography for Guy Green’s A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970), with Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Quinn, Fritz Weaver, Katherine Crawford, and Virginia Gregg. He auditioned for the lead role of Kwai Chang Caine in the popular TV series Kung Fu (1972 – 1975), but it was ultimately given to David Carradine (years later, Bruce’s son, Brandon, would play the illegitimate son of Caine in Kung Fu: The Movie).
Lee is noted for his roles in five feature-length martial arts films in the early 1970s: Lo Wei’s The Big Boss (1971) and Fist of Fury (1972); Golden Harvest’s Way of the Dragon (1972), which he also wrote and directed; and Golden Harvest and Warner Brothers’ Enter the Dragon (1973) and The Game of Death (1978), both directed by Robert Clouse. Lee became an iconic figure known throughout the world, particularly among the Chinese, based upon his portrayal of Chinese nationalism in his films and among Asian Americans for defying stereotypes associated with the emasculated Asian male. He trained in the art of Wing Chun and later combined his other influences from various sources into the spirit of his personal martial arts philosophy, which he dubbed Jeet Kune Do (The Way of the Intercepting Fist). Lee had residences in Hong Kong and Seattle.
Lee died on July 20, 1973, at the age of 32. There was no visible external injury; however, according to autopsy reports, Lee’s brain had swollen considerably. The autopsy found Equagesic in his system. When the doctors announced Lee’s death, it was officially ruled a “death by misadventure”. Since his death, Lee has continued to be a prominent influence on modern combat sport, including judo, karate, mixed martial arts, and boxing. Time named Lee one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. He is survived by his wife, Linda Lee Cadwell, and daughter, Shannon Lee. His oldest son, Brandon Lee, died in 1993, due to an on-set accident while filming The Crow (1994).
Each review will be linked to the title below.
(*seen originally in theaters)
(**seen rereleased in theaters)
- Golden Gate Girl (1941) – directed by Esther Eng & Kwan Man Ching – uncredited – aka Tears in San Francisco or Jinmen Nü
- The Birth of Mankind (1946) – directed by
- Wealth is Like a Dream (1948) – directed by Leung Yue – aka 富貴浮雲 & Fu gui fu yun
- Sai See in the Dream (1949) – directed by Aimin Jiang – aka 夢裡西施
- The Kid (1950) – directed by Fung Fung – aka 細路祥, Kid Cheung, & My Son A-Chang
- Infancy (1951) – directed by Kim Chun – aka 人之初 & Ren zhi chu
- The Guiding Light (1953) – directed by Kim Chun – aka 苦海明燈 & Ku hai ming deng
- A Mother’s Tears (1953) – directed by Kim Chun – aka 慈母淚, Ci mu lei, & A Mother Remembers
- Blame it on Father (1953) – directed by Wai Suen – aka 父之過, Fu zhi guo, & Father’s Fault
- A Myriad Homes (1953) – directed by Ji Zhu – aka 千萬人家, Qian wan ren jia, & A Home of a Million Gold
- In the Face of Demolition (1953) – directed by Lee Tit – aka 危樓春曉 & Wei lou chun xiao
- Love Part 1 (1955) – directed by Kim Chun, Sun-Fung Lee, Tie Lee, Wui Ng, Hang Wong, & Ji Zhu – aka 愛 上集 & Ai Shang ji
- Love Part 2 (1955) – directed by Kim Chun, Sun-Fung Lee, Tie Lee, Wui Ng, Hang Wong, & Ji Zhu – aka 愛 下集, Ai xia ji, & Love, the Sequel
- An Orphan’s Tragedy (1955) – directed by Chu Kei – aka 孤星血泪 & Gu xing xue lei
- Orphan’s Song (1955) – directed by Dai-Suk Chin & Kai Lee – aka 孤兒行, Gu er xing, & An Embittered Woman
- We Owe It to Our Children (1955) – directed by Kim Chun – aka 兒女債 & Er nu zhai
- The Wise Guys Who Fool Around (1956) – directed by Kim Chun – aka 詐痲納福, Zha dian na fu, & Sweet Time Together
- Too Late For Divorce (1956) – directed by Wai-Kwong Chian – aka 早知當初我唔嫁 & Zao zhi dang cu wo bu jia
- The Thunderstorm (1957) – directed by Ng Wui – aka 雷雨 Lei yu
- The Orphan (1960) – directed by Lee Sun-Fung – aka 人海孤鴻 & Ren hai gu hong
- The Wrecking Crew (1968) – directed by Phil Karlson – action director only
- Marlowe (1969) – directed by Paul Bogart – also action director
- A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970) – directed by Guy Green – action director only
- The Big Boss (1971) – directed by Lo Wei – also action director – aka 唐山大兄, Táng Shān Dà Xiōng & Fists of Fury
- Fist of Fury (1972) – directed by Lo Wei – also action director – aka 精武門, Jīng Wǔ Mén & The Chinese Connection
- Way of the Dragon (1972) – also director, writer, producer, action director – aka 猛龍過江 & Měng Lóng Guò Jiāng – originally released in the US as Return of the Dragon
- Enter the Dragon (1973)** – directed by Robert Clouse – also action director, uncredited co-writer, uncredited producer – aka 龍爭虎鬥 & Lóng Zhēng Hǔ Dòu – posthumous release
- Game of Death (1978) – directed by Robert Clouse (new footage) & Bruce Lee (initial footage, uncredited) – There are two versions of this film, each one with a different plot (the original from an incomplete 1972 film and the 1978 build doing a “footage mashup”). Lee was shown in incomplete original footage from 1972, plus stock footage from Enter the Dragon and other films. The original was finally released as a short film in the year 2000.
- Circle of Iron (1978) – directed by Richard Moore – co-story – aka The Silent Flute – The Silent Flute – Lee was seeking to illustrate the differences between Eastern and Western philosophies
- Game of Death II (1981) – directed by Ng See-yuen – aka 死亡塔, Sǐwáng Tǎ, Tower of Death, & New Game of Death – Unrelated to the first Game of Death, it was marketed as a sequel in the U.S. Lee appears in stock footage from Enter the Dragon and other films