Before Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme, there was Bruce Lee. In a way, it is a real shame that many of today’s generation of action film fans have never been exposed to Bruce Lee because he was perhaps the greatest martial arts action hero of all time. His martial arts on film may not have been as fancy as say Jackie Chan’s or Jet Li’s but his on screen ferocity and charisma are unequalled. Even more important was the impact on martial arts that Bruce Lee had which still endures today even over 30 years since his passing.
Bruce Lee always considered himself a martial artist first and an actor second. As a martial artist, he was way ahead of his time in developing his own style of martial arts he called jeet kune do. His martial arts incorporated the most practical techniques from various combative disciplines as he moved away from the traditional and classical techniques. His martial arts abilities were real and
respected by other prominent martial artists like Jhoon Rhee, Chuck Norris, Ed Parker and Joe Lewis. His name was inducted into the prestigious Black Belt Hall of Fame twice, once while he was alive and the other after his death. These are honors that no other martial arts action hero has ever come close to. Martial arts schools in North America enjoyed a huge growth in enrollment because of Bruce Lee.
North America got an early glimpse of Bruce Lee when he played Kato in the Green Hornet television series and a bit role in the movie Marlowe. He went to Hong Kong and made a few films like Fists of Fury (called the Big Boss in the Asia market) and the Chinese Connection which made him a huge star in Asia. Bruce Lee also wrote, directed and starred in his own movie production called the Way of the Dragon which featured perhaps one of the greatest martial arts fight scenes ever. This scene took place in the Roman Coliseum and was with Chuck Norris which gave Norris his first film start. It was Enter the Dragon that broke him to North America. Unfortunately, he died tragically at the age of 32 in 1973 before he was able to witness the success of that movie. At the time of Lee’s death, he had completed the fight scenes for another movie called Game of Death which featured basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabar, who was actually one of his martial arts students. Other students of Bruce Lee included actors Steve McQueen and James Coburn. Game of Death was completed with look-alike actors later on.
One of the most significant contributions Bruce Lee made is that he opened the door for other Asians in the entertainment industry worldwide. He was the first Asian to achieve any significant success in the North American entertainment scene. He became a star in North America and the rest of the world by playing heroes rather than past stereotype roles for Asians such as like servants, gangsters, laundry workers or other ‘pigtail coolie’ characters. On an even greater scale, Bruce Lee gave Asians, particularly the Chinese people worldwide, a reason to be proud. Bruce Lee influenced them to be confident in pushing forward to achieve their goals no matter what field they were in.