Bruce Lee is possibly the most notable name in Kung Fu movies in America. While his career was cut short by hypersensitivity to a muscle relaxant, which caused his brain to swell and killed him at the age of 32. Lee was mourned world wide and his loss was a great blow to his promising career. People don’t know a lot about Lee’s real life. His life was shrouded in mystery that was, in part, made up by the movie studios and Lee, himself. After doing some research, we found five best things you might not have known about this athletic actor.
BRUCE LEE: THE AMERICAN
I always thought Bruce Lee was Chinese. He is of Chinese ancestry, but he was born in the United States. The city of his birth was San Francisco, but his family moved to Hong Kong soon after. His parents named him Lee Jun-fan, which means “return again”. His mother always thought that he would come back to the United States again, after they made their move to Hong Kong. She was right. His father was 100% Chinese, but his mother was a mix of Chinese and German. This would cause Bruce Lee problems when he first started taking martial arts because it was frowned upon to teach “non-Chinese” these skills. Luckily, his teacher, Yip Man, liked Lee and taught him anyway.
When his parents moved to Hong Kong, they didn’t plan for a World War. The Japanese had invaded China and taken over the port city of Hong Kong. When they first moved to the city, they spent nearly four years under the terror of the Japanese Imperial Army rule. Luckily, Lee’s father, Lee Hoi-Cheung, was a pretty famous actor and his mother, Grace Ho, came from a very wealthy family who was able to protect the young family. It was a pretty serious thing, though. The Japanese were not known for being very nice to the Chinese. In Nanking, three years before Bruce Lee’s birth, hundreds of thousands of Chinese were killed and between 20,000-80,000 women were raped over a six week siege by the Japanese. Why Lee’s father wanted to go back to Hong Kong with his family in these troubling times is anyone’s guess.
TRAINING & OTHER SPORTS
Lee began training in a martial art, called Wing Chun, at the age of 13. If he hadn’t gone on to be a famed Hollywood actor, he probably would have been – a boxing champion. Bruce Lee loved boxing. For a short period of time in his teen years, Lee was getting into a lot of trouble. His parents switched him to a Catholic school (his mother was Catholic) and he studied boxing under a priest named, Brother Edward. He was his high school boxing champion and had another award. A trophy for being a Cha-Cha star. He also loved to dance. The fighting kept following him, though. After Lee got in a fight and severely beat up a Triad gang leader’s son, his parents thought it was time for him to leave. They sent him back to the United States to live with an older sister. He continued to box in the U.S.
EDUCATION & FIRST JOBS
After high school, Lee worked as a waiter for room and board. He enrolled in the University of Washington to study drama. Lee and others would later say that he was a Philosophy major in college, but this is just a story to add to his mystique. It was in college that he met his wife, Linda Emery, who was studying Education. They would have two children: Brandon and Shannon. By 1959, Lee also started teaching martial arts in the Seattle area. This was long before you had a Karate studio on every street corner, so his studio was sort of an oddity. He called his style, Jun Fan Gung Fu, which literally means “Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu“. He hooked up with another martial artist named James Yimm Lee (no relation) and they started teaching in Oakland. It was here that Bruce Lee was “discovered” by Hollywood. He is best known for his martial arts style known as Jeet Kune Do (Way of the Intercepting Fist).
Bruce Lee’s father was a pretty famous actor and opera star in China. The Lee that we are talking about first appeared on screen as a baby and would later make some guest appearances in about 20 of his father’s films. In 1966, he was cast in the role of Kato in television’s Green Hornet. The show only lasted one season, yet it made Lee a star here in the U.S. He would reprise the role in three guest appearances on Batman. Not happy with being a supporting actor, Lee returned to Hong Kong to find out they considered him a star. They called the Green Hornet “The Kato Show” in China and he was lauded as crossing over to American cinema. It was here that Bruce Lee started making movies. He only made five films before his death: The Big Boss (1971), Fists of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972), Game of Death (1973), and Enter the Dragon (1973). The latter film was released just three days before his death and became a mega-hit on both sides of the Pacific. As an interesting side note, Lee had been in talks with Warner Brothers at the time of his death for a television series named, The Warrior. It was about a Shaolin Monk living in the Wild West. After his death, Warner Brothers took the idea and cast David Carradine in the role as Cain in the series, Kung Fu. Bruce Lee is responsible for an entire genre of martial arts films and his contribution to American-Chinese cinema is incalculable.