What’s the difference between replicating a Hollywood Icon and resurrecting him?
Bruce Lee was and is still an icon. Not just a martial artist, not just an action hero, not just a philosopher. Bruce Lee’s legacy stands next to Muhammed Ali, Elvis Presley, Superman, and Rosie the Riveter. His films represented more than roundhouse kicks, and colossal thwacks from his nunchaku. Bruce Lee took his skill in Gung Fu, adapted it into the more personalized fighting style of Jeet Kune Do, and applied it to a life philosophy that saw humanity as one tribe under the sun. Through total devotion to self, he found a path of connectivity to others.
The actor-ideologist was struck down too early, and in that passing, his reputation as an idol only grew. He made four and a half films (we don’t have the time to get into the tragedy that is Game of Death, but if you’re looking for a good cry, click on its Wikipedia page), but their impact had a lasting effect throughout the industry and on the talent that rose after him. Few have attempted to replicate Lee onscreen, but those that do often fall into laughable imitation. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story sought to educate, while Birth of the Dragon threw out history for spectacle; both proved that there was only one Bruce Lee.
Now, it seems that we’re due for a few more takes on the champion. As reported by The Wrap, Street Fighter: Assassins Fist actor Mike Moh will be striving to recreate Lee for Quentin Tarantino in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. This film has packed its runtime to the limits with celebrities of yesteryear, and it’s hard to imagine there will be much room for Bruce Lee to make an impact. Will Moh have more to do than simply act as window-dressing for the era?
With Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, Tarantino is looking to restore 1969 and how the Charles Manson murders infiltrated the glitz and the glam. Bruce Lee was a close friend of hairstylist and ex-Sharon Tate-boyfriend Jay Sebring (played by Emile Hirsch). Their friendship led to Lee meeting with producer William Dozier and his eventual casting as Kato in The Green Hornet television series. The house in which Tate and Sebring were eventually slain was not too far from Lee’s own residence. Moh will undoubtedly brush up against these events, but will not gain significant screentime.
Moh appears to be committed and enthused by the opportunity. Tweeting back in July, he recognized the gargantuan responsibility of inhabiting the icon. No one wants to do the man injustice.
While I am certainly curious to see Moh’s take on the character, the real Bruce Lee challenge won’t occur until David Leitch remakes Enter the Dragon next year. That film needs to achieve more than a suitable face. The 1973 film was the closest Lee came to mixing action movie demands with Jeet Kune Do philosophy. “The art of fighting without fighting.” To successfully translate the original, you cannot extract the dogma.
At the very least, as contemporary filmmakers look back on the man and the legend, new audiences have the opportunity to join them. The tragedy will occur if Tarantino and Leitch ignore the soul behind the fist. I’m not sure Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has much time to render the deeper aspects of Bruce Lee, and I’m equally unsure if Leitch cares to spend energy beyond the one-inch punch and other fighting stances. As a fan, I’m cautious, a little apprehensive, and a touch excited.