Special Feature: ‘Bruce Lee, My Brother’

Acclaimed Chinese director Raymond Yip’s Bruce Lee, My Brother (2010) is not the high kicking martial arts amalgamation one might expect from the title, but instead takes a sentimental journey from the renowned actor’s childhood through to his late teen years, and is adapted from a book written by his younger brother, Robert Lee. Told with intimate detail only a family member could recount, we are shown the untold story of Asia’s most cherished martial artist.

Born to a wealthy mother Grace Ho (Christy Chung), and fathered by the famous Chinese opera performer Lee Hoi Cheun (Tony Leung Ka-fai), Bruce Lee – played here by Aarif Lee – grew up under the name “Phoenix”, after his grandmother decided upon a name which would rise out of the fire of war-ravaged Hong Kong.

Constantly in trouble for his confrontational nature and consequently disciplined by his despairing parents, Bruce spent his youth on the perpetual edge of danger. Frustrated in regards to his apparent physical disadvantage, Lee took up boxing before consequently transferring his newly found skills into the martial arts. A new man, Bruce’s grit, determination and righteous nature saw him apply himself with regimented self discipline, at one point competing in the local boxing championships where he defeats a bully who had previously bested him in their last encounter.

After a number of romances, bloody fights and salsa dancing sessions (!?), Bruce Lee, My Brother concludes with the titular lead returning to the US after a brush with drug barons in the slums of Hong Kong while attempting to rescue an old friend. Fearing Bruce would either face a jail sentence or the risk of death if he stayed in the country, his father sent him to the States, praying that his wayward son would prosper in his chosen career.

Set amongst the nostalgic memories and defining moments in Bruce’s short life, Bruce Lee, My Brother’s eclectic musical score – made up of Hong Kong opera, folk music and populist rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s – presents somewhat of a transition between old and new, reflecting Hong Kong’s own shift from past traditions to its present state. The camera work is fluid, matching the gradually unfolding nature of the narrative and the naturalistic cinematography adds a warm tone that successfully complements this nostalgic story of his youth. Also worthy of note for his role in bringing the legendary Bruce Lee to life is fellow Hongkonger and Cantopop star Aarif Lee, fulfilling the smooth charm and physical prowess of the Chinese hero, in addition to a striking resemblance.

Bruce Lee, My Brother has been widely appreciated by its home audience thanks to its engrossing depiction of family values and sensitive portrayal of Hong Kong life, whilst also appealing to the army of Bruce Lee fans as an intimate portrait of the artist as a young man. Ultimately, Bruce Lee, My Brother stands as an informative, though not overly-sentimental dedication to the late, great man. Whether this will be enough to secure western distribution, is yet to be seen.

Clare Bruford