Bruce Lee inspires New York film series

Updated: 2013-08-27 10:49

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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Bruce Lee inspires New York film series

Chinese American martial artist Bruce Lee appeared in five feature films in three years before his premature death at the age of 32. Starting this week, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York will honor his legend with a special kung fu film series.

As part of BAMcinmatek, which presents classic films, premieres, festivals and retrospectives, and in conjunction with the release of Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai's biopic, The Grandmaster, about Lee's mentor Ip Man, BAM will present a week run of Lee's Enter the Dragon in a new restoration.

The film will be accompanied by screenings of other great cinematic displays of wing chun, the legendary kung fu style Ip Man passed on to generations of martial artists. Film icons including Lee and Sammo Hung helped make the wing chun style - also known as the Snake-Crane style - become an action-movie staple.

"I feel like there's a lot of programming of Chinese genre films and martial arts films in New York, so we wanted to show the breadth of the genre and have wing chun be the through line," said Nellie Killian, BAMcinmatek programmer who organized the series with BAMcinmatek marketing officer Andrew Chan. "We wanted to explore all the different ways that wing chun has been displayed onscreen," Killian told China Daily.

Killian said that Bruce Lee is the most famous martial arts star, at least in the US, and popularized the genre. "He was one of those few figures in Chinese American history that was really able to bridge the gap between the old and the new world."

Lee was born in San Francisco's Chinatown and raised in Hong Kong before he returned to the US at age 18 to pursue his higher education. He held a dual Hong Kong and US citizenship. He died on July 20, 1973.

"I think Bruce Lee appeared at a time in American culture after the Civil Rights movement, after a very turbulent decade for American society and Asian men in American culture," Killian said. "He broke down the stereotype of 'the sick man of the Orient.' He was virile, strong, exciting, and that was the sort of underdog figure that not only Asian Americans gravitated to, but also other minorities and other people who felt disenfranchised."

In addition to Enter the Dragon (1973), which is celebrating its 40th cinematic anniversary, five other wing chun classics will be screened between Thursday, Aug 29, and Thursday, Sept 5.

Donnie Yen's rendition of the Ip Man story will show on Thursday, Aug 29, at 4:30 pm, 7 pm and 9:30 pm. The eponymous biopic released in 2008 takes "more than a few liberties for the sake of some killer action", according to the BAM website.

Lee's 1972 film The Way of the Dragon, which he wrote, produced and directed, will be shown at 2 pm and 7 pm on Saturday, Aug 31. The film includes an epic showdown with the iconic American martial artist and actor Chuck Norris in Rome's Coliseum.

Hung's humorous Enter the Fat Dragon (1978), in which he plays a pudgy pig farmer who does dead-on impersonations of Lee's facial contortions and poses to parody Lee's The Way of the Dragon, will run Sunday, Sept 1, at 9:30 pm.

Another kung fu comedy by Hung, The Prodigal Son (1981), based on the life of wing chun legend Leung Chan in which breathless fight choreography is balanced with slapstick humor will be featured on Monday, Sept 2, at 2 pm and 7 pm.

The Shaw Brothers Studio's classic Invincible Shaolin (1978), in which rival Shaolin masters from the North and South must join forces in order to rid their empire of an evil Qing dynasty general, will be shown on Tuesday, Sept 3 at 7 pm.

All screenings will be held at BAM Rose Cinemas. General admission is $13, $8 for BAM cinema-club members and $9 for seniors or students age 29 and under with a valid ID for screenings held between Monday and Thursday. All films are in Mandarin or Cantonese with English subtitles.

(China Daily USA 08/27/2013 page2)