Bruce Lee who died 33 years ago hardly get a mention in our local papers now. The odd times that he would make the news would normally be on the anniversary of his death on July 20 when a feature on him would be published in his memory. That is also getting less and less frequent.
On Monday, however, I was pleasantly surprised to see Bruce Lee get a mention in the Star. In a story titled 'Milky Way, Bruce Lee very much on his mind', it is about Malaysian student Ng Jin Aun who considers Lee as his role model.
Ng, 22, has always been fascinated by space and he now has an opportunity to know more about its limitless possibilities after beating more than 40 applicants for a scholarship to study for a Masters degree in space studies at the prestigious International Space University in Strasbourg, France.
But despite his interest in the Milky Way and beyond, Ng, a University of Sydney science graduate in physics and mathematics, has martial arts icon Bruce Lee for a role model. Not an astronaut or a scientist.
"Like Bruce Lee, we live by Eastern philosophies," Ng told the Star.
Lee died in 1973 at the young age of 32. I recall it was a very sad time for me and for the millions of his fans around the world. Lee was at the prime of his movie career. Had he lived, he would be 65 years old today.
I must admit that I am a die-hard fan of Bruce Lee, or better known as Lee Hsiao Loong or Little Dragon. That is why whenever I come across any articles in the media about him, I would read it word for word. I am not sure I would do that for any other movie star, except perhaps on the sex exploits of Angelina Jolie or Pamela Lee Anderson. But that is another story for another day.
I think there is only one word that can best describe why Bruce Lee will always be my favourite kung fu star – Originality.
Yes, Bruce Lee was original. As an exceptional martial artist, Lee's ability to synthesize various martial techniques sparked a new trend in unarmed combat martial arts films.
All his moves in combat, with or without weapons, were his own creations. Bruce Lee’s tenacity and gift of mastering physical culture and combat both onscreen and off opened a new chapter in the world of martial arts – a chapter that would always remained in his memory. It is his and his alone.
I suppose Bruce Lee, my schoolboy hero, will always be my hero in a lot of funny ways. Otherwise, why would I still be interested in reading about his life and writing about him, more than three decades after he is gone.
I recall I watched Bruce Lee’s first movie, The Big Boss, a couple of times. In the early 70’s, the Miramar cinema in Palm Road in Kuching was my favourite entertainment haunt. It was also nearer my home and where all of Bruce Lee’s movies were shown. Needless to say, I had seen them all.
Since 1973, the year Bruce Lee died and his famous motion picture Enter The Dragon was released, his movies have been the single most influential factor behind the growing popularity of martial arts.
The Bruce Lee era
Lee’s cinematic success spawned a global industry of the martial arts, and schools opened and flourished worldwide. It is believed that during the 1970s, more students took up the study of martial arts than at any time before or since. To those involved in martial arts, the years from 1972 to 1975 - the height of Lee’s popularity - are often cited as the Bruce Lee era.
I must confess that I was also influenced by the Bruce Lee enigma. Although I was tall, skinny and not much of a muscle man at that time, I began to show interest in martial arts, more so on Bruce Lee’s techniques than anything else.
So a few classmates and myself then began building muscles (we got no where near our idol’s shape, of course) by pumping iron and punching sandbags. We would also attempt to follow Bruce Lee’s spin-kicks and flying leaps.
I recall that my younger brother was particularly adept at the nintoku, a two-set wooden attacker joined by a chain. He would imitate Lee’s moves with the weapon plus his famous grunts ‘ah-cha..ah-chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...’ whenever he toyed around with the nintoku.
Of course, I can laugh at myself now for trying to imitate Bruce Lee in those days. But really, Lee was a great influence to boys my age at that time.
I think Bruce Lee would be more remembered as an exceptionally good martial arts exponent rather than a movie star. He introduced a product – he later called it Jeet Kung Do – and this was what influenced so many.
Although Lee only managed to act in five films in his short life, he had helped many of his co-stars to establish their movie careers. American actors Chuck Norris and John Saxon were among the many who had benefitted from their link to Lee’s movies. Of the two, Norris was the more successful and he went on to establish a name as a martial artist in his own right. I have seen some of Norris’ movies and they were pretty good.
Brandon died at 28
The adage that ‘Great men die young’ couldn’t be more true than for the Lee family. Twenty years after losing her husband, Linda Lee (Bruce’s American-born wife) lost her only son, Brandon.
Brandon, born in 1965, was killed in a freak accident on the set of The Crow, his last movie in 1993. He was only 28 years old.
Brandon Bruce Lee was buried next to his father in Lake View Cemetery, Capitol Hill, Seattle.
Later that year, the California-based Black Belt magazine selected Brandon as their Man of the Year.
Strangely, an early death was a conceivability that Bruce Lee had contemplated with surprising frequency. According to Linda, he had no wish to live to a ripe old age because he could not stand the idea of losing the physical abilities he had strived so hard to achieve.
"If I should die tomorrow," he used to say, "I will have no regrets. I did what I wanted to do. You can't expect more from life."
Today, the memory of the father and son lives on in the Bruce and Brandon Lee Association, set up by their fans in Leeds, England.
On Monday evening, I went to buy a DVD of Bruce Lee’s third movie, The Way of the Dragon. The highlight of the movie was the memorable fight sequence between Lee and Chuck Norris at the Coliseum in Rome. I sat throughout the length of the movie and enjoyed it just as much as I did when I first watched it more than 30 years ago.
Thanks for the memories of an exciting world of kung fu, Mr Lee Hsiao Loong.
To me, you are the best little dragon to have walked the surface of this earth