After that little ramble below about being too tired to carry on the blog, the irony I am going to look at a superb film that I have been thirsting to write about is not exactly lost on me. But there you go, life throws us little curveballs at times.
I am not really a fan of Bruce Lee. Shock. Actually, that is me being facetious. It’s more I am not really aware of him. I know nothing of his early Hong Kong film output, and have only seen a couple of his Western films. My real memory of him is as Kato in the TV version of “The Green Hornet”. And even then, that’s a side issue as I only watched re-runs of that as I was addicted to the Old Time Radio recordings of the Radio show. I know broadly about him, and his importance. I know of the conspiracies surrounding his death. I’ve seen a bio-pic or two. The funny thing is, I think this lack of knowledge or deification of the man actually helped me enjoy this film far more than it might appeal to some more hard core fans.
“Bruce Lee, My Brother” is based on the memoirs of Lee’s younger brother Robert. As such it does have a rather episodic feel touching on moments and memories rather than a straightforward and in-depth narrative. There are a few moments that get screen time, but are not explored in any depth. The most annoying of these is the sacrifices the family may have had to make during the Japanese occupation during World War II. Things are hinted at, but never really explored, which I found a little frustrating, but then again I have seen a fair bit of this, at least from a mainland perspective in some other films in the last 12 months. It also has to skirt around the training under Ip Man, just as the Ip Man 2 film had to only briefly reference Lee’s tutelage in it’s epilogue.
But what we do have is a delicious, gorgeously filmed period drama, evoking the time and place perfectly. Lee is part of a big family, obviously rather privileged, all under the auspices of his father a Chinese Opera/Film star. The father is played magnificently by ‘Big’ Tony Leung, and his performance makes some 60% of this movie. He struggles with his career, a complex family and his own opium addiction, but even at his most authoritarian you know this is a man who gives love and is loved in return.
Lee himself doesn’t really get centre stage until we are well into the movie, but Arif Rahman pulls off the difficult role, as the confident and good looking young Bruce Lee. He has both the required charisma to be the leader of his friends, and capture the hearts of the ladies. But there is also a depth to the guy too, as well as a heart.
Much of the central sequences of the film are based around his early film career, and his interaction with the studio system and stars of the day. Now sadly, much of the detail was lost on me, but I think I got the general idea. Films were being made quickly and cheaply, with actors having to jump between sets on different movies during a day.
What will annoy the hard core fans I think is the lack of action for most of the film. There are a couple of little rumbles, but most of it is about family and their relationships. And a little Cha Cha dancing. However, the closing 40 minutes does have both a very well done boxing match, and a rather heavily pastiched fight, with a refreshingly decent Caucasian boxer. We also get a little chase across the rooftops to end with. I do think the trailer and DVD cover do the film a little disservice to be honest, which concentrate on potential action rather than the real content of the film.
I do wonder if a lot of the detail was lost on me – the aforementioned fight scene played on the foreshadowing to another film rather heavily, but I suspect there are a lot of trivial details that will delight the aficionados more.
However, despite these rather minor annoyances, this film is wonderful. It captures a mood and a place perfectly, and gives the viewer a way to examine an undoubted legend in a slightly different light. Highly recommended.