The Lee Family ‘Curse’

Movie curses and the stories behind them fascinate me – call it morbid curiosity if you will. There are quite a few ‘curses’ I want to take a look at from those linked to movies, characters and even actors. Now I did take a look at a supposed curse connected to a film script that still has never been made a while back. I really enjoyed researching and writing that one up. So I plan on writing more articles connected to curses over the next few months.

Full disclosure. While I enjoy reading and writing about these things, I wish to make it perfectly clear that I personally do not believe in curses. I believe in unfortunate accidents and eerie coincidence. No matter how bizarre or macabre a situation may seem, to me it’s an accident/coincidence with a possible and reasonable explanation.

So with that out of the way, on with the article.

Today (1st of February) would have been Brandon Lee’s 53rd birthday. Yeah its kind of hard to imagine a half century old Brandon Lee isn’t it? Brandon was a charismatic and charming man, not that I ever met him, I’m just going off interviews I have seen and so on. I still remember the day I picked up a newspaper on 1st of April 1993 to be met with a front page headline that read: “SON OF BRUCE LEE DEAD AT 28”. Given the date of the news, I was expecting it to be some kind of sick April Fools joke – sadly, it wasn’t. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. In order to get into this curse, I need to go back to his father and where the curse was supposedly born.

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee

A man who really needs little to no introduction. Bruce Lee changed martial arts/Kung-fu cinema forever. Born in San Francisco on the 27th of November, 1940 while his father was there touring with the Cantonese opera as an actor. Bruce was originally given the name Sai-fon which was a feminine name meaning ‘small phoenix’ by his mother. She chose to give her son a female name due to the fact she had previously given birth to a son who died, Bruce’s mother was deeply superstitious so gave Bruce a girls name in an attempt to fool any evil spirits into thinking her son was actually a daughter. This is pretty much the origin of the whole ‘Lee family curse’ thing. More on that later…

His parents moved back to Hong Kong when Bruce was around three months old. As a teenager, Bruce often found himself involved in numerous street fights – so his father  decided that he should to be trained in the martial arts. This is when Bruce was first introduced to Wing Chun and the legendary Yip Man. He also started to feature in several Chinese films as a child and in his teenage years following in his father’s acting footsteps.

Bruce Lee 18.jpg

But his street fighting ways would still follow him and after a particularly violent fight where Bruce was said to have viciously beaten the son of a feared Triad family boss, the police were called in. Bruce’s father believed his son’s life was in danger so sent his then eighteen year old son back to his place of birth, San Francisco to stay with his older sister Agnes Lee who was already living out there. While in America, Bruce began teaching martial arts to Americans. He also met and later married Linda Emery and they had two children, Brandon and Shannon Lee.

One Inch Punch

While taking part in several demonstrations at numerous karate championships, Bruce caught the attention of TV producers and landed a role in the show The Green Hornet. This lead to more roles in TV shows including Marlowe and Ironside among others. Bruce became frustrated with only getting small TV roles so returned to Hong Kong where he got his first leading role in The Big Boss. The film was a huge success that catapulted Bruce into super-stardom in China and several more film roles came along.

Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon were his next two films and they both became huge hits. In 1972, Bruce began work on his next film, Game of Death a film he envisioned would offer viewers a deep and meaningful look into the world of martial arts. He filmed scenes and had several minutes of footage ready for editing, but before he could complete work on the film Bruce was approached by Warner Brothers who offered him a chance to make a big American film – something Bruce had previously been chasing for years. He returned to America once more to work on this new film putting Game of Death on hold. This big American movie was Enter the Dragon which began filming in early 1973. Enter the Dragon was completed and Bruce decided to go back to Hong Kong and take some time off before returning to work on Game of Death.

Bruce and Brandon 2.jpg

Sadly, Bruce never got to finish his opus, Game of Death, nor did he ever see the release of his big American flick Enter the Dragon as shortly before the film was due to be released – Bruce Lee unexpectedly died.

Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee

Born 1st of February, 1965 in Oakland, California. Brandon was the first of two children of Bruce Lee and Linda Lee Cadwell. Between the years of 1971-1973, the Lee family lived in Hong Kong. But Linda moved the family back to California following the sad death of her husband. Brandon attended Chadwick School in Los Angeles but was forced to leave due to insubordination. He then went to Bishop Montgomery High School and when Brandon turned eighteen, he attended Emerson College in Boston where he majored in theater. Brandon sought acting lessons the famous Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York. As a child and through his teenage years, he was being taught martial arts by close, personal friend of his father – Dan Inosanto.

In 1985, Brandon returned to Los Angeles and began working as a script reader for low budget film company Ruddy Morgan Productions where he also landed his first on screen appearance as an uncredited cameo in the film Crime Killer. His first credited role came rather ironically in the TV movie Kung Fu: The Movie, which was based on the TV show of the same name. If you know the history of how the TV show Kung Fu the show came about, then you’d understand the irony – even more so seeing as Brandon was playing the son of the lead character. The movie that gave Brandon his first real leading role was Legacy of Rage the only film he made in Hong Kong. The flick also featured iconic martial arts movie actor Bolo Yeung, who also appeared in Enter the Dragon alongside his father, Bruce.

Brandon Lee 2.jpg

Brandon returned to TV in America with Kung Fu: The Next Generation a pilot made as another followup to the original TV show. Brandon appeared in other TV shows and low budget films through the late 80s but it was in 1991 when he starred in the action film Showdown in Little Tokyo alongside Dolph Lundgren that Brandon got his big break and signed a multi-picture deal with 20th Century Fox. Rapid Fire was his next film released in 1992, also in 92 Brandon landed the lead role in the film adaption of the cult, underground comic book series – The Crow. It was while filming The Crow in 1993 that Brandon Lee was killed on set via a tragic accident.

Brandon Lee Look.gif

Brandon’s heartbreaking death and the unexpected death of his father almost twenty years earlier is what helpt cement the idea of a ‘Lee family curse’.

The Curse

Lee Curse Newspaper

The deaths of both father and son has raised many questions over the years. With Bruce it was mainly how could a young man as physically fit as he was just die so suddenly? With Brandon, the questions were related to the safety (or lack of) during a film’s production. These questions have been answered, but many people refuse to accept them and instead try to look for alternate reasons for their deaths and creating a puzzle they can’t solve. Conspiracy theories that include both Bruce and Brandon being killed by Triads due to the actions of Bruce when he was a teenager are also mentioned. Perhaps the biggest theory is known as the ‘Lee Family Curse’ or ‘Bruce Lee Curse’.

Bruce Lee Family

As I mentioned earlier, the idea of this curse seems to come from the fact that Bruce had an older brother who died as a baby before Bruce was even born. It has been said that Bruce’s family were deeply superstitious and believed an evil spirit was following them and targeting their children. But if this is true, then why is Shannon Lee alive while her brother Brandon is not? Well its also said that the evil spirit only targets the males in the family. But this theory hardly holds water itself, if an evil spirit really is killing the males of the Lee family…then why is Bruce’s younger brother Robert Lee still very much alive and will turn seventy years old later this year (as of writing) and why did his older brother, Peter Lee live until 2008 when he passed away at sixty nine? Is it an incredibly slow moving curse?

Another reason why some people believe there is a curse on the family is due to the eerie similarities between Bruce Lee’s final film, Game of Death and the tragic accident that killed Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow. For those not in the know, after Bruce died it became popular knowledge that he was working on another film and that he had already filmed several scenes for it. Fans wanted to see his final film brought to the big screen. So a team of film-makers were assembled to piece together Game of Death and finish the work Bruce started. If you have ever seen the film, then you know what a shameless and insulting mess of a movie it is. From using actual footage of Bruce’s real funeral complete with Bruce Lee himself dead in his casket to completely ignoring his original vision and message he wanted to convey just to make a bog-standard, cookie-cutter Kung-fu flick to cash in on the superstar’s popularity. Anyway, in the butchered Game of Death flick – there is a scene where Bruce Lee’s character is shot and (supposedly) killed while making a film. Something that would very sadly become true for his son Brandon Lee.

Bruce and Brandon 3

Then of course there are the other bizarre coincidences while Brandon was shooting The Crow too. You see, Brandon was engaged and due to marry his fiancée Eliza Hutton after filming had finished on The Crow and they were in the final week of the film when the tragedy happened too. Eric Draven, the character Brandon played in the film was set to marry his fiancée within the film too – but was killed before that could happen. Its this kind of food that feeds the conspiracy and ‘curse’ theorists.

For me, there is no ‘curse’ and never was. We have just sadly been robbed of two amazingly talented and charismatic people during the prime of their lives. Two people who were both on the cusp of becoming the movie stars they so badly wanted to be.

The best way to sum all of this up is by using a quote Bruce’s wife, Linda used to describe her late husband. A quote that I feel can now be used for both father and son:

“All these years later, people still wonder about how Bruce died. I prefer to remember how he lived.”

I could not agree more.

For Bruce and Brandon…

Bruce and Brandon 4

Bruce Lee: “The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.”

Brandon Lee: “Immortality is to live your life doing good things, and leaving your mark behind.”

Birth Of The Dragon

Birth of the Dragon

Just as a little bonus, my mini-review of the latest ‘Bruce Lee film’ Birth of the Dragon.

For those not in the know this flick is getting slated by Bruce Lee fans for being an insult to the man himself. Look, I’m a huge Bruce Lee fan, my middle name is Lee named after the great man himself. I grew up watching his movies and still massively enjoy them today. I read and listen to his philosophical teachings – I try to “be like water my friend”. But I wish to offer an alternate view of this film.

Okay so one of the main reasons the picture is getting slated is because pretty much everyone is saying how its not an accurate biopic. I can’t argue against this – most probably because its not meant to be a biopic. Birth of the Dragon is a fictional film inspired by true events…not based on true events and there is a big difference between ‘inspired by’ and ‘based on’. This film was shot in the same style of movies that Bruce was making in his heyday – its made as a love letter to that genre of film. Its not meant to be a biopic at all. Once you get that into your head and view it as an action/Kung-fu flick…there’s a lot of fun to be had with this one.

Birth of the Dragon 2

Quick synopsis. The film tells the story of a younger Bruce Lee before he became a worldwide phenomenon, before he created Jeet Kune Do and concentrates his infamous fight with Kung-fu master Wong Jack Man and their relationship after the fight. As previously mentioned, the film is inspired by real events – but not based on them so there is a lot of fiction in this one.

I enjoyed it for what it is. A throwback to Kung-fu flicks of the 70s a genre that really is  hardly made anymore. The direction is solid throughout, the action scenes are well shot as is the big fight between Bruce and Wong Jack Man. There are fun nods and references to some of Bruce’s work to spot along the way.

Philip Ng who plays Bruce Lee is pretty good in the role bearing in mind that is a fictional Bruce Lee being depicted before he became the Bruce Lee the world would come to know. The film spends a lot of time following a student a of Bruce – Billy Magnussen as Steve McKee (inspired by Steve McQueen) and most of these scenes tend to drag as he’s just not as interesting a character as Bruce. But overall, its a good Kung-fu flick worth watching…as long as you know what it is and don’t go into it believing that its a biopic.

Birth of the Dragon 3

I find it hard to argue against a lot of the criticism this film has been generating because the negative comments do ring true. But if you do read reviews of this, then you’ll find pretty much everyone is calling it a biopic when its not. Their displeasure of the film is coming from the fact they are viewing the flick in the wrong light. Sit down and watch this one knowing you are going to see a fictional, 70s style Kung-fu flick and I think you’ll enjoy it. Look at it this way, it a hell of a lot better and far less insulting than Game of Death was and still is.

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