Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Brandon Lee (1965-1993)

Martial arts superstar Bruce Lee carved out fame for himself from an early age. = talented  practicing his skills and eventually opening up classes of his own and teaching many. Gradually he moved to acting, and became the icon we all know and love, appearing in films such Fist of Fury, and Enter the Dragon. Tragically, he died at the height of his fame, at far too young an age

Brandon Lee always had a tough act to follow. Comparisons between him and his father would have been as unwelcome as they were inevitable. Thankfully when he began a career in movies he took a cue from Jackie Chan's book and focused on making himself different. This paid off spectacularly, as Brandon is well known for his comedic skills and his charismatic grins, on top of his superb martial arts, in contrast to the more serious action roles his father dominated. Talent and hard work certainly ran in the family, and Brandon was an active and energetic guy with a clear drive to do what he wanted in life.

Lee wanted to be an actor even since his youth on his father's sets. His career began fittingly with a supporting lead role in Kung Fu: The Movie, then as the next generation in the aptly titled Kung Fu: The Next Generation. After Bruce developed the show's concept but wasn't included as the star as he wanted (inadvertently paving the way for his film career in China), it's a = for Brandon to take the reins, even if only briefly. Following this he took part in Legacy of Rage, a Hong Kong production that would be his first time as a leading man. While the title was there to remind audiences who Brandon was, as if they'd forget, he cuts a distinctly different figure already from his father, delivering an effectively emotional performance that's been consistently praised through the years even by those who didn't like the film.

Brandon's career took a global/international detour to Africa where his next film Laser Mission was made. After this, things took root in America, with  such as Showdown in Little Tokyo and Rapid Fire. The first was exactly the film professional critics love to hate, but he shone as a bright point for most, while Rapid Fire was more successful critically, and allowed for Brandon's fame to grow even further, before finally leading to dark superhero film The Crow, and Lee's tragic accidental death on set.

One of the things I like most about Brandon's filmography is how diverse and eclectic it is. You've got cheesy 80s action, over-the-top 90s action that's cheesy in all new ways, dramatic kung fu roles, heroic bloodshed, and superhero fiction! No two of his films are alike, and there's always something new on display.

Lee apparently expressed wishes to pursue more dramatic projects rather than let action dominate his career. While it'd be a bummer for all us action-hounds out there, that would have been an interesting decision I feel. It's always good to branch out, and never remain pigeonholed into one genre. And that ensures you appear in less bad films. Jean-Clause Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren for example, bless them, have appeared in more than a few stinkers. When you're appearing exclusively in one thing for a while, a lack of quality control can occur as you find yourself picking whatever roles are offered, while a broader acting range can keep things perpetually fresher, if done well. And besides, I doubt he would've stopped appearing in action altogether!

It's a real tragedy what befell Lee. Nevermind what kind of career he would've had, I also mourn for him as a person, and what he could have done with his life outside of cinema. Quoted on Brandon's grave is a sweet epitaph, a passage he read during an interview, regarding his stance on the future.

"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless..."

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