was a time when Ip Man movies were the closest the Bruce Lee family and estate
would let filmmakers get to the icon. That is why there was such a bumper crop
of films on the grandmaster. Ironically, Master Ip has probably been better
served by Wong Kar Wai, Wilson Yip, and Herman Yau than various portrayals
treated the Jeet Kune Do popularizer himself. The 50-episode Mainland CCTV
series is a case in point. The ratings were sky high, but it takes its sweet
time getting to the heart of the story, which will vex fans hoping to binge The Legend of Bruce Lee, Volume One, executive
produced by his daughter Shannon Lee, now available on DVD from Well Go USA.
always had good footwork, going back to his days as a teenage cha cha champion.
That is where director Li Wen Qi and screenwriters Qian Linsen and Zhang
Jianguang pick up the Lee tory, skipping over his childhood star turn in The Kid. That is about all they leave
out of this conspicuously padded epic. Most of Vol. One dramatizes Lee’s high school years in Hong Kong and his
college days in Seattle, culminating with the establishment of his first Kung
Fu school (technically, we don’t quite make it to opening day, but at least we
see Lee unpacking the wooden practice dummy).
in Hong Kong, Lee was initially bullied by entitled English snob Blair Lewis (played
by a surprisingly good Ted Duran), until he learns boxing and trains under
Master Ye (a.k.a. Ip Man). After ringing Lewis’s bell to become the school
boxing champ, Lee’s former nemesis volunteers to coach the future legend when
he squares off against David Koffer, the dreaded Hong Kong prep school boxing
champ. This pattern will repeat throughout the series.
Lee starts believing his own hype, he takes on the protection gang led by Wang Li
Chao—pretty successfully all things considered, but his family still finds it
prudent to ship him off to Uncle Shao (portrayed with real dignity and pathos
by Wang Luoyong, who also appeared in Dragon:
The Bruce Lee Story) in Seattle, where evidently the clothes and cars
always looked like the mid-2000s. There he meets his first student, Jesse
Glover, wins over former karate master Taky Kimura the hard way, and starts
romancing his future wife Linda. We finally start to get someplace when the
Karate association recruits master Yamamoto (that would be Mark Dacascos), but
episode ten ends before they can properly settle things.
the opening credits are a bit of a bait and switch, promising Gary Daniels and
Michael [Jai] White, as well as Dacascos, even though they never appear in Vol. 1. Previously, the entire series
was cobbled together into a three-hour feature, which sounds like a harsh edit,
but seems reasonable after watching the first ten episodes. It is draggy at
times (episode eight is especially uneventful), but the biggest problem is the
hardcoded English dubbing. Well Go USA usually does a first-rate job with their
releases, but this time they do not allow consumers the option of the original
Mandarin soundtrack with subtitles. Even the English-speaking characters are
overdubbed. As a result, those disembodied voices make everyone sound like they
are possessed by demons.
Danny Chan Kwok-kwan really is a dead ringer for Bruce Lee. He has the Kung Fu moves,
but he sure seems awkward in romantic scenes. There are some decent martial
arts scenes, but both Rob Cohen’s 1992 bio-pic and any and all Ip Man films are
The first ten episodes are entertaining in
patches, but they are way more frustrating than they ought to be. Yet, if given
an opportunity, we would probably keep going to see how they cover all those
classic films, like Way of the Dragon and
Enter the Dragon. It is also rather
bizarre to hear Lee talking about the “Chinese people” in stilted, Mainland propagandistic
terms, when he was about as Hong Kong as you could get, at a time when Hong
Kongers were speaking Cantonese and pretending 1999 would never come.
Regardless, as fans, we have to hope it builds in later episodes. For now, The Bruce Lee Story, Volume One is quite
a mixed bag, now available on DVD, from Well Go USA.
Labels: Bruce Lee, DVD, Well Go USA