Bruce Lee: Action on Screen

Bruce Lee Foundation

Bruce Lee's journey from unlikely television superhero sidekick, to iconic martial arts movie actor, writer, director and producer.

A Child Actor 
From the tender age of 3 months old, in 1941, until his move to the United States in 1959, Bruce Lee was featured in over 20 films in Hong Kong. Bruce's father, Lee Hoi-chuen, was a well know Cantonese opera singer and film actor. Titles included "Thunderstorm" (1957) and "The Orphan" (1959). Bruce is pictured here in a scene from "The Orphan". 
Bruce never had any intention of making a move into acting in the United States, and was focused on opening Martial Arts schools across the country. However, after his mesmerizing demonstration at Ed Parker's 1964 Long Beach Internationals Karate Tournament caught the attention of celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring, Bruce's path changed dramatically.  

Sebring told his client, and Hollywood producer, William Dozier (pictured here on Bruce's left), about Bruce. After then contacting Ed Parker, and watching footage of Bruce's electrifying performance, Dozier contacted Bruce.

Bruce Lee's Hollywood screen test. Originally intended for William Dozier's never-produced "Number One Son" project, this screen test led to Bruce eventually being cast as sidekick "Kato" in "The Green Hornet" TV show.

Unlikely Superhero
"The Green Hornet" TV show lasted only one season, totaling 26 episodes, including 3 crossover episodes with the wildly successful "Batman" show (pictured). "Batman" was also a William Dozier production. Although short-lived, Bruce's performance in the show introduced him to American audiences, and was a driving force for his eventual popularity in Hong Kong. Audiences in Bruce's home town were quick to refer to the show as "The Kato Show" rather than it's actual title. Bruce was unaware of his growing popularity in Asia, but would soon find out. 

Bruce Lee (Kato) and co-star, Van Williams (Britt Reid/The Green Hornet).

Early Hollywood Roles
A combination of Bruce's performance as "Kato" as well as his growing list of celebrity students, were instrumental in his early film and television roles in Hollywood. Influential figures like Stirling Silliphant and James Coburn both played pivotal roles in Bruce's career. Silliphant wrote Bruce into the 1969 film version of "Marlowe" as a well-spoken, and equally as well-dressed, gangster "Winslow Wong" who is sent by his boss to intimidate detective Marlowe (James Garner, pictured). This role, and others including "Lee" in "Longstreet", gave Bruce a platform to showcase not only his acting skills, but his explosive martial arts moves, and philosophy, to new audiences. Other celebrity students included Steve McQueen, Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate and Kareem Adbul Jabaar.

Bruce (back to camera) was hired to choreograph fight scenes in the 1968 film "The Wrecking Crew" and was listed as Karate Advisor in the credits. Here he can be seen on-set working with the film's lead actor, Dean Martin.

Bruce was cast in the TV show, "Longstreet", as an antiques dealer and Jeet Kune Do instructor who becomes Longstreet's (James Franciscus, pictured) martial arts instructor. One of the more well known episodes was titled, "The Way Of The Intercepting Fist". Translated, Jeet Kune Do means "Way Of The Intercepting Fist".

Bruce discusses the significance of the Longstreet episode with Pierre Berton, and recites his famous "Be Water" philosophy from the show.

On a trip back to Hong Kong to visit family in 1970, with son Brandon (pictured), Bruce discovered that his popularity in Hong Kong had grown exponentially. Because of his role as "Kato", audiences saw Bruce as a home grown child actor who had gone on to make it in America.

The Move
In the late 60's, Bruce found that opportunities in Hollywood for him were few and far between. As well as his work on "Marlowe" and "The Wrecking Crew", bit parts in "Blondie", "Here Come The Brides" and "Ironside", weren't enough to keep Bruce and his young family afloat. After returning to the US from his eye opening visit to Hong Kong, it was friend and student James Coburn (right) who encouraged Bruce to leave the struggles of Hollywood behind him and go to Hong Kong to make movies. Coburn also told Bruce this move could serve as a platform to show Hollywood producers what he could really do. 
Movies Of An Icon
The movies Bruce Lee made while in Hong Kong catapulted him to iconic status. First came "The Big Boss", then "Fist Of Fury", followed by "The Way Of The Dragon" and "Enter The Dragon". These movies shattered box office records, blew audiences away with their thrilling and realistic action sequences and set the bar high for all martial arts movies to come. Audiences connected with Bruce's charm, underdog status, chiseled physique and breathtaking never-before-seen martial arts moves that leapt through the screen. 

Bruce Lee in action. No caption required!

Bruce moved at a pace that was too fast for even the quickest of photographers. Here he is on the set of "Fist Of Fury".

In addition to taking on the lead role (the first ever for an Asian American actor in a Hollywood produced movie), and writing and production duties, on "Enter The Dragon", Bruce also carefully choreographed the fight sequences. Quality and realism were paramount.

When the opportunity to film "Enter The Dragon" came up, filming on Bruce's current project at the time, "Game Of Death", was stopped. Sadly he would pass away before filming could continue. The film was eventually completed in 1978 with doubles standing in for Bruce's role and overdubs, but his ultimate vision for the film never came to fruition. 
Writer, Director, Producer. 
Bruce knew that quality, above everything else, was a crucial ingredient to the film making process, and gave himself to all parts of his projects. He was an established writer, producer and director, as well as an action movie hero on the verge of worldwide acclaim. In 1972, Bruce made his directorial debut on the film "The Way Of The Dragon". He also wrote, produced and starred in the film. In the following panels you will see a selection of Bruce's actual fight sequence notes from that movie. This epic battle is one of the most iconic martial arts fights of all time. Bruce Lee vs Chuck Norris at the Coliseum.

As you read through the sequence, take note of Bruce's changes, written in pencil.

"Chuck's limbering up (more classical)". Bruce made a point to highlight the non-classical elements of his own fighting style as well as the more classical style of his opponent.

Arguably, the cat plays as large a role in Bruce's vision for the fight, as the combatants themselves.

Let the battle begin.

Notice Bruce's use of close-ups and slow motion to enhance the intensity and mood of the sequence.

Bruce takes the upper hand.

Bruce's attention to detail is exceptional.

"Full shot of Chuck as he also bounces." This is a pivotal moment in the fight, as Chuck now attempts to mimic Bruce, hoping to swing the momentum back in his favor.

Chuck's attempt at mimicry fails.

These scene notes highlight the respect Bruce had for his opponent.

Wach the fight, and see how it compares to Bruce's original notes.

"An actor, first of all, is like you and me, a human being..." Bruce Lee.

Actor, writer, director, producer, choreographer and visionary. There will only ever be one Bruce Lee.

Credits: Story

(C) 2017 Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Created by the Bruce Lee Foundation. Thank you to all our donors and supporters. Without you, this exhibit would not be possible.


BRUCE LEE® and the Bruce Lee signature are registered trademarks of Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC.  The Bruce Lee name, image, likeness and all related indicia are intellectual property of Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Footage courtesy of Bruce Lee Enterprises, Golden Harvest, Miramax, Fortune Star Media, American Broadcasting Company, all rights reserved. Used for educational purposes only, in the context of a historical exhibit.

Reference Material: "Bruce Lee: Evolution of a Martial Artist" by Tommy Gong.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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