Back Add a Comment Share:

Feature


I Am Bruce Lee tells the amazing story of one of the most iconic human beings ever to enter the public consciousness. Voted as one of the most important people of the 20th century in Time Magazine's Time 100, as well as one of the Greatest Pop Culture Icons by People Magazine, Bruce Lee continues to be honoured and remembered for his enduring legacy. Bruce Lee's often revolutionary and sometimes controversial thinking on a multitude of planes has become a source of inspiration and debate for a generation of philosophers, actors, filmmakers and athletes. The film is a compelling and visually stunning uncovering of Bruce's life, his enormous impact, and his ever-expanding legacy in the world of martial arts, entertainment, and beyond – despite his tragic and sudden death at the age of 32. (From Shout Factory’s official synopsis)

 I Am Bruce Lee
If you do an internet search you'll find that there is something like twenty documentaries of varying length and quality on the subject of Bruce Lee, not including the dozens of documentaries and DVD extras on the subject of martial arts cinema that feature a required chapter on the man. These include Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend, Bruce Lee: The Curse of the Dragon, and A Warrior's Journey. For the most part, these movies tend to fall into one of two categories – slap-dash cash-ins on Lee's death, and celebrations of his work so vehement that they paint him as a saint. The first brand of 'documentary' was made mostly in the early years following his mysterious death and they belong to a subset of shrewd cinema known as 'Brucesploitation.' Brucesploitation is otherwise defined by the films that star a long line of pretenders to Lee's throne like Bruce Li and Bruce Le. The cheap, sensationalistic nature of these 'documentaries' seem to have led to a lot of copyright issues, so these tend to be readily available on budget DVD release collections. They are informative in their way, I suppose, and amusing as part of the follow-up to the Mondo tradition of exploitation documentation. The second brand of Bruce Lee documentary follows years of building legend, not to mention a popular, but largely inaccurate bio-pic directed by Rob Cohen ( Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story). These films tend to be the better explorations of the man's life and career, but their celebration tends to overtake the tone and leave the story feeling patently one-sided. These movies, though pleasant, also tend to be interchangeable in terms of content, footage, and even interview subjects.

Directed by Pete McCormack ( Facing Ali) for a premiere on the male-centric Spike channel, I Am Bruce Lee belongs in the former category. It fills out the basics of the man’s life history at a speedy clip without forgetting to put things into the appropriate historical context. Focus is lost in philosophically-laced talk of the technical aspects of martial arts and how they align Lee with the modern MMA tradition. This stuff feels tacked-on and breaks the momentum of the historical storytelling just when it’s picking up steam. I do recognize that I’m more interested in Lee’s film work than his historical place as a martial artist, so this could be a case of taste over critical fairness. I’m sure other viewers will find that the movie stuff gets in the way of the interesting discussions of what historical/famous fighter could hypothetically defeat Lee in combat. All of the important archive imagery is here, including an early casting reel, the famous Pierre Berton interview, funeral footage, and 8mm black & white training and demonstration reels. The training reels are the only thing I don’t recall ever seeing before, specifically the ones featuring Hollywood types practicing in the Lee family’s backyard.

 I Am Bruce Lee
The film stands apart from other worship festivals in its poppy look, its occasionally and surprising criticisms of Lee’s attitude (these are usually taken back by changing the context of the story being told), and the interview subjects. Some of the interviewees are definitively valuable, bringing unique and informed perspectives to the story. These include Lee’s widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, his daughter, Shannon Lee, JKD teachers/martial artists Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo, Bruce Lee historian Dave Tadman, authors Dr. Paul Bowman and Daniele Bolelli, House Party director Reginald Hudlin, and, where the martial arts stuff is concerned, various UFC/MMA types and professional boxers. The other interviewees are basically stunt-cast for their fame and are only here to throw a recognizable face in the mix, including actors, Kobe Bryant, Taboo (the guy from Black Eyed Peas). Most of the stunt cast is at least charming and help to maintain the entertaining tone of the piece.

 I Am Bruce Lee

Video


Like any documentary feature about filmmaking, I Am Bruce Lee is a mixed format affair, including shot-on-film footage from the films and digital HD-shot modern interview footage. This 1.78:1, 1080p transfer runs hot and cold in this respect. The interview footage is sharp and clean with smooth black, gold, and red backdrops. The foreground facial close-ups are brimming with facial and hair texture you’d expect from a high-budget narrative film. The archive footage is rough, featuring different artefacts depending on type – black & white TV footage blooms and cracks with interlacing effects, 8mm is overrun with burnouts, and the film footage is quite grainy (though some of it appears to have been taken from interlaced digital transfers). The film footage generally looks like what you’d expect re-mastered 35mm to look like. The colours are vibrant and the details far crisper than the crummy budget DVDs I’m used to seeing. The only problem is that everything has been adjusted to fit the 1.78:1 frame, even though some of them are originally 2.35:1.

Audio


This documentary feature comes fitted with an occasionally overly aggressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The punchy (literally) sound design is understandable and generally well-placed in terms of directional momentum, but the way the rear channel effects are added to the punches and shots of the film footage is downright goofy, not to mention oddly stricken by echo. Schaun Tozer’s score is made to sound like period-appropriate pop songs in most cases. It sort of hides behind the discussion in the stereo channels, emerging only to set up a montage or a new chapter in the story.

 I Am Bruce Lee

Extras


The extras begin with Backyard Training (11:30, HD) – a collection of the training and demonstration footage already available in the film proper (including more or less the same interview pieces), but in an uncut form, so you can hear the voices of the participants, including Kareem Abdul Jabbar and James Coburn. These are more like deleted and extended scenes showcases, rather than standalone featurettes, and followed by more of the same under the title Inspiration: Bruce Lee’s Global Impact (3:10, HD). The disc ends with Bruce Lee in Action (4:50, HD), a montage of his movie work, a trailer, and his complete, unabridged Hollywood screen test (9:00, HD).

 I Am Bruce Lee

Overall


If you’ve never seen a documentary on Bruce Lee, I Am Bruce Lee is certainly a good place to start. It might be the best film on the subject of Lee as a martial artist, but John Little’s Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey is probably the better exploration of his films and personal story. The image quality of this disc is all over the place due to the quality of some of the original footage the sound quality is fine, if not occasionally overly aggressive, and the extras are made up mostly of deleted/extended material.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: