We Can All Agree On Bruce Lee

The Cinemasia Festival opens with a mockumentary that goes in search of the new Bruce Lee — while sending up Hollywood stereotyping in the process.

By Steve Korver, 27-03-2008, Amsterdam Weekly



In 2005, a life-size bronze statue of Chinese-American martial arts star Bruce Lee was unveiled in the Bosnian city of Mostar. It was meant to unify a city fractured by the wars in former Yugoslavia. One of the organisers stated: ‘We will always be Muslims, Serbs or Croats. But one thing we all have in common is Bruce Lee.’

So true. Lee could pop a 100-kilo opponent back almost five metres with a one-inch punch, and he could throw grains of rice in the air and catch them with chopsticks while in mid-flip. Bruce Lee was the most influential martial artist of the 20th century. In the early ’70s, his starring roles in films like Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon made him a cultural icon. His status only increased when he died under mysterious circumstances in 1973 at age 32, leaving just 12 minutes of footage behind for what would have been his last film, Game of Death.

This year’s CinemAsia film festival, along with some 70 other Asian-rooted films never before shown in the Netherlands, is screening as its opening film the Hollywood production Finishing the Game: The Search for a New Bruce Lee. This ‘mockumentary’ by director Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow, Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift) begins in the aftermath of Lee’s death, when the studio is scrambling to find a suitable substitute so they can finish Game of Death. In fact, the studio did exactly that: Robert Clouse, the director of Enter the Dragon, ‘finished’ the film in 1978 with the use of body doubles and a new script and cast.

But Finishing the Game is not that story. Instead, it’s a Spinal Tap-style ‘behind-the-scenes’ parody of Hollywood’s first flirtation with martial arts films. It follows a series of Lee-wannabes as they go through the casting process. There’s Breeze Loo, a minor kung fu star who denies being a Lee-rip off: ‘That cat was always wearing a yellow jumpsuit. I wear a blue one.’ There’s a slightly cross-eyed Indian doctor who dreams of being a martial arts legend. There’s Tarrick Tyler, who rants about his exploitation as a ‘yellow man’ but is actually very, very Caucasian. And then there’s Troy Poon, a vacuum cleaner salesman who has a lot of experience playing ‘Chinese food delivery boys’ and had a brief moment of fame as a TV cop with the catchphrase: ‘I ain’t gonna do your laundry.’

Yes, it’s all quite corny. But the excellent, albeit over-the-top, art direction does suggest that the film was actually made right after Lee’s death, and the film also does a great job of capturing the B-movie business and its unorthodox casting process. Plus, the parodies of 1970s TV shows and chop-socky films — Fists of Führer, for example — are hilarious.

The lampooning of Asian stereotypes in Hollywood is probably the film’s strongest point, and one that echoes parts of Lee’s own life. Lee was the one who came up with a TV show in which a Shaolin monk would wander the Wild West. But the studio cast not him but white actor David Carradine in Kung Fu, claiming that audiences were not ready for a Chinese leading man. And that can be regarded as a universal shame. Who would you want to be: Carradine or Lee?