• Born on November 27, 1940, the martial arts icon, while super serious about his acting, had wanted to add more comedy to his films - and shoot period movies
  • And while he preferred to do his own fight choreography, Lee got on well with a young Sammo Hung, then a stuntman, on Enter the Dragon and The Game of Death

To celebrate what would have been Bruce Lee's 82nd birthday on November 27, here are a few things you might not know about the man, the myth and the legend.

1. He planned to make more period films

Bruce Lee planned to make more period films after his 1972 film Fist of Fury. Lee's Way of the Dragon (1972), Game of Death (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973) were all set in the then present day, but Fist of Fury was set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in the early 20th century.

According to Carl Fox, author of The KFM Bruce Lee Society, Lee thought about making more films set in the past while filming Fist of Fury.

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Is Fist of Fury Bruce Lee's best film? The story behind its making

"Lee was planning to make several period films at some point and did some costumed photo shoots on the Fist of Fury set," Fox says.

"These photos show Lee wearing a wig with his hair in a bun. He's wearing brown fur garments in some photos, some blue and white uniforms in others. Several types of weapons, such as axes and swords, also feature in the photos.

"The photo shoot occurred in the alleyway outside the Jingwu School in Fist of Fury, where the translator Mr Wu is found hanging from a lamp post. You know where [the photos] were taken, as the same brick wall in the background is visible in the film."

2. Japanese record labels paired him with a disco hit

In the 1970s, Japanese record labels released "extended play" vinyl records of Bruce Lee film soundtracks backed up by music from The Exorcist, Convoy - a comedy about truckers featuring country music star Kris Kristofferson, who sang the song - and the John Wayne film McQ.

According to a comprehensive article in Eastern Heroes martial arts movie magazine, Japanese fans were so enamoured with Lee they couldn't get enough memorabilia, and happily shelled out for the discs, which came in attractive record sleeves bearing pictures of Lee.

Around 40 discs were released. One EP even featured Carl Douglas' 1974 mega-hit disco record "Kung Fu Fighting" on the "A" side - the sleeve used a picture of Lee rather than Douglas as its selling point. Because of the picture sleeves, all the records are collectors' items today, the article says.

3. His films played at the Cannes Film Festival

The Big Boss (1971) and Fist of Fury were shown at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France, where they went unnoticed by critics and distributors, before their successful releases in the United States.

"It was 1972, and despite the films being shown at the Cannes Film Festival that year, little of [their phenomenal success in Asia] escaped beyond the Mandarin film circuit, even though there were packed houses and near riots in Cannes," British critic Verina Glaessner wrote in 1974.

"The following year, both films had broken decisively into the world market," she added.

4. He wanted to introduce more comedy to his films

Lee had a penchant for comedy. "The telephone-repairman scene in Fist of Fury is quite funny and the only lighthearted moment, although I don't think it works too well in what is a serious film," says Fox.

"The comedy aspect to Bruce's performance is much better used in Way of the Dragon, which calls for it way more than Fist of Fury. The country-bumpkin, fish-out-of-water scenario of Way of the Dragon utilises comedy in a much better fashion and sets the tone right from the start.

"There's something comedic every few minutes in Way of the Dragon, right up to the final half-hour, where all jokes are cast aside for one of the greatest battles ever filmed.

"Even Game of Death had some small moments of comedy, especially between the trio of Lee, Chieh Yuan and James Tien."

Some critics have noted that the serious Lee may have explored comedy in more films had he lived.

5. He liked working with Sammo Hung

Although Lee didn't like working with fight choreographers - he preferred to choreograph his own moves - he enjoyed collaborating with stuntmen Lam Ching-ying and Sammo Hung Kam-bo, who aided him on Enter the Dragon and The Game of Death.

Sammo Hung on fighting Bruce Lee and teasing Jackie Chan

"Both of them were close to Bruce Lee," stuntman Tung Wai told the Hong Kong Film Archive. "In devising action moves, particularly in fist and leg action, they instituted breakthroughs. They changed the rhythms, and the things they did were even different to The Big Boss. Everything after Fist of Fury was brand new."

Hung edited Game of Death - which was never completed - for release after Lee died, hoping to preserve the master's legacy in the fight scenes.

6. He was serious about his acting

Lee had a Zen-like philosophy when it came to acting. "It might sound too philosophical, but it's 'unacting acting' or 'acting unacting'," he said in Bruce Lee: The Lost Interview, a 1971 interview released in 1994.

"Acting is a combination of both natural instinct and control - you combine them in harmony. If you have [the first] to the extreme, you would be very unscientific - if you have the other, you suddenly become a mechanical man.

"Therefore, it's not unnaturalness or naturalness. The idea is to achieve natural unnaturalness or unnatural naturalness."

7. He loved Japanese samurai films

Even though Lee was dismissive of karate, he was a big fan of Japanese samurai films, a genre known as chambara.

Like many Hong Kong filmmakers, Lee was impressed by their production values, which were generally superior to those of Hong Kong sword-fighting films. Lee also tried to emulate the hyper-passionate performances of the on-screen samurai.

However, his do-anything-to-win philosophy of combat did not have much to do with the samurai code of honour.

In this regular feature series on the best of Hong Kong cinema, we examine the legacy of classic films, re-evaluate the careers of its greatest stars, and revisit some of the lesser-known aspects of the beloved industry.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

2022-11-26T21:26:01Z dg43tfdfdgfd