Eighty years ago, on the 27th of November, 1940, Lee Jun-fan was born. The world didn’t know it then, but a legend had graced the Earth. ‘Legend’, a word I’m not very keen on using myself, as I often find it is over and very much misused by so many…
Still, when talking about Bruce Lee, legend is the absolute perfect descriptive to use. Today marks, what would’ve been, Bruce Lee’s 80th birthday. Now, there’s pretty much nothing I can write that hasn’t already been written and said about the Little Phoenix a hundred times over already. I see little point in writing up a mini-biography to remember someone who’ll never be forgotten. So what to write about? Well, seeing as this is a movie and gaming blog… that’s exactly what I’ll look at. Bruce’s legacy on both the silver screen and in digital form too. So here it is, Bruce Lee’s legacy on film and in gaming.
Okay, so I’m not going to get into Bruce’s very early career. He was in quite a few films as a child actor in China before becoming world-famous. Bruce also featured in several T.V. shows when he continued his acting career in the U.S. Most notably, playing Kato, the sidekick to The Green Hornet, which featured an awesome intro tune. Lee’s role may have been relatively small, but it made a hell of an impact. In fact, when shown in Hong Kong, the series was retitled The Kato Show. Lee struggled to find main acting roles in the U.S., so he returned to Hong Kong in the early seventies to star in his first ‘proper’ feature film, The Big Boss.
Now, I can’t remember exactly how or when I was first introduced to Bruce Lee as an actor. My dad used to be big on martial arts and my middle name is Lee, named after Bruce. I’m sure he must’ve watched Bruce Lee films a lot and I most probably watched them with him when I was a toddler. No idea what was going on or who that Bruce Lee fella was at the time. Still, I most definitely became a fan as I got older. Anyway, in The Big Boss, Bruce played Cheng Chao-an, a young Chinese man who moves to Thailand to live with his extended family. Cheng gets a job at an ice factory and when an ice block is accidently broken, Cheng’s cousins discovers drugs hidden within. The Big Boss of the factory wants to keep his drug smuggling ring quiet, so he has Cheng’s cousins killed. When Cheng learns about all that has happened, he goes out for revenge.
Next, Bruce starred in Fist of Fury, and right now, I’m just going to say that this is my favourite Bruce Lee flick, I’m watching it as I write this article. Bruce plays Chen Zhen, who upon returning to his old martial arts school, learns that his master has died. During the funeral, Japanese students taunt Chen Zhen and the others. Not wanting to disrespect his recently deceased teacher and under the scrutiny on the school’s most senior student, Chen does not retaliate… yet. After the funeral, Chen goes to the school of the Japanese students and gives all of them a damn good kicking. This starts a war between the two schools that leads to more violence and Chen Zhen learns exactly what happened to his master.
Way of the Dragon was Lee’s third major film… and the last released while he was still alive. Bruce Lee as Tang Lung travels to Rome to help out his relatives, who are being harassed by a local crime boss. Tang, who has lived in China all his life, is very much a ‘fish out of water’ in Rome. His family that he has been sent to help think he’s next to useless. But when the gangsters turn up to cause some trouble at the family restaurant, Tang Lung sends them packing. Of course, this just annoys the crime boss who hires a world renowned martial artist, Colt (Chuck Norris) to take Tang out.
Finally, we have Bruce’s most famous picture, Enter the Dragon. Bruce plays Mr. Lee, a Shaolin martial artist who is asked to take part in a high-profile martial arts tournament by a British intelligence agent. Crime lord, Han is the person holding said tournament and Lee is tasked to find evidence that Han is involved in drug trafficking and prostitution. He also learns that one of Han’s henchmen was responsible for his sister’s death. Which sloppy synopsis does a bad job of describing one of the most important films ever made. Enter the Dragon premiered in Los Angeles just one moth after Bruce’s untimely death in July of 1973.
And that was it, no more Bruce Lee starring films were ever released. Well okay, there was one I guess. Honestly, I’ve sat here debating if I should include the atrocity that is 1978’s Game of Death. It’s not that it’s a bad film… more so the fact that it’s just a really fucking disrespectful insult to Bruce Lee fans, his family and even the man himself. For those not in the know, Game of Death was a film that Bruce was working on before he died. In fact, he was working on it before he filmed Enter the Dragon. The film was never finished, but Bruce planned on it being a deep and insightful look into Lee’s beliefs regarding the principles of martial arts. But what happed after Bruce’s death was that people got greedy and wanted to make money. What footage Bruce had shot for the film before his death was heavily cut down to almost nothing. The deep and meaningful plot Bruce wanted was thrown out for a bog-standard kung-fu flick. Actors were hired to replace Bruce to shoot the film. And what we got was a cheap and lousy hack-job of a flick that bared no relation to Bruce’s original script notes and concept. Oh yeah… it also included actual footage from Bruce’s real funeral. That’s how disrespectful this film was.
The only saving grace of Game of Death is the edited footage that Bruce actually shot himself… of which, there really is very little in the final film. Still, a few years back and all the footage Bruce shot was found in archives, restored and shown. It’s available from several places if you look around. Trust me, this raw, unedited footage is far, far superior to the actual released Game of Death film. In fact, the only reason I finally decided to mention this monstrosity of a film was just so I could highlight this footage. It’s very much well worth a view.
Surprisingly , given the man’s massive influence and attraction, Bruce hasn’t been in many video games over the years. The first was the 1984 game, Bruce Lee. A classic action-platformer where you control Bruce who has to navigate the many chambers and obstacles of an evil wizard’s tower. Look, plot-wise, it make no sense (yet still better than Game of Death), but it’s gameplay was top-notch stuff. Fast action and one of the most fondly remembered games of the era.
Next we have Bruce Lee Lives: The Fall of Hong Kong Palace from 1989. Playing as Bruce, you fight various martial arts students and henchmen of the evil Master Po. It’s a one on one fighter that pretty dull to be honest. Interestingly, the game came bundled with the biography book, Dragon’s Tale: The Story of Bruce Lee, which was written by Linda Lee.
Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story from 1994, was a game based on the biographical film of the same name. Another one on one fighter… or more accurately, a one on two fighter. The game follows the main action of the film closely with little snippets of the plot in between fights. It was actually a pretty decent fighter, depending on which version you played. Plus, you got to whip out Bruce’s trademark nunchaku and smack people in the face with them.
2002’s Bruce Lee: Quest of the Dragon was a scrolling beat ’em up that plays out like an unreleased Bruce Lee film. Basically, Bruce has to take on an organized crime organization known as Black Lotus. It’s also pretty damn awful too. Terrible controls, awkward camera angles and more make this a real disappointment.
The last ‘proper’ Bruce Lee game was Bruce Lee: Return of the Legend also from 2002. Again, presented as a movie with Bruce playing a character called Hai Feng. It tells a very basic ‘you killed my teacher’ revenge story that’s rather bland. But the game itself is actually pretty damn great. A side-scrolling, platform, beat ’em up thing that has a lot of character. Bruce, or Hai has loads of moves at his disposal, including iconic Bruce Lee moves. Easily the best Bruce Lee game ever made, as well as being the last one too.
Seriously, that’s it. Only five games based on this legend… five! Though Bruce did feature as a fighter in EA Sports UFC 2 from 2016. But still, only five games starring Bruce Lee? The man needs more games based on him. Well I guess I could just quickly mention a few Bruce Lee-like characters from other games. Fei Long from Super Street Fighter II, Marshall Law in Tekken. There was Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat and Kim Dragon in World Heroes. Oolong from Yie Air Kung Fu, plus Jann Lee from Dead or Alive. The list goes on and on. There are actually more Bruce Lee inspired characters in games than Bruce Lee games. That’s both brilliant and disappointing at the same time.
As a keen gamer and Bruce Lee fan, I want more Bruce Lee games. Here’s an idea off the top of my head. Seeing as every one on one fighter has been inspired by Enter the Dragon, why not an actual Enter the Dragon game? Or maybe a game where you follow Bruce’s film career? A game that actually delivers on Bruce’s original concept for Game of Death? Come on game publishers and developers, give this legend a game worthy of his name.
Anyway, that’s about it for me on what would’ve been Bruce Lee’s 80th birthday. I don’t really have a suitable sign-off or clever, insightful remark to leave you with… so I’ll let Bruce handle that for me.
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
– Bruce Lee