Watching Enter The Dragon was bittersweet as I knew I would never see anyone like Bruce Lee ever again inhabit this planet again. He was an Asian actor who refused to be defined by his ethnicity and more like a human being with insane martial arts skill and business acumen. A fascination has resurfaced with the asian superstar due to a brief reference to him in the Oscar nominated Quentin Tarantino film “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.”
In 1971, Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong to obtain lead actor opportunities to be a lead actor that eluded him in America. In the two years before his untimely death, Lee completed four films two years before his death changing the history of film making him a household name. Through rare archival footage, family, friends, and his own words we are privy to a first row seat his story of that time of his life.
Lee’s racist experience from the American film industry only seeing Asians as subservient and man was ahead of his time in thinking about the transnational audience. He realized early on that he’d have to tell his own stories to escape it. the recollection of how Hollywood would and still hires white actors to play Asians (John Wayne, Mickey Rooney, Tilda Swinton) instead of reaching within the wealth of talent available in their own culture. The film speaks to how Asians were not even allowed to kiss others on screen.
The best lesson learned is that Lee’s words still resonated today about how people of ethnicity can’t run away from who we are. Embrace what is uniquely you and make others see the beauty in that. It’s like water. Lee says, “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. Put water into a cup it becomes the cup. Put water into a teapot it becomes the teapot. Water can flow or creep or drip or crash. Be Water My Friend.” He speaks about being at the nature of water and how it is the essence of Kung Fu – being impenetrable.
Director Bao Nguyen elegantly weaves Lee’s personal struggle for visibility and reminds up that Bruce Lee’s star burned so brightly we still see it today. Nguyen educates the audience on the history of how Chinese were seen as “other” and how the political state in America resonates eerily similar to the current climate where we have officials building walls and making laws. to keep other ethnicities out of American because somehow ‘these people’ will somehow make our country less than great.
Bruce Lee was Chinese, but born in San Francisco as an American citizen, who ultimately married a white woman and had children (Brandon and Shannon) who are bi-racial. His sheer existence is proof that the human race is just that human. Be Water is produced by ESPN films and is currently playing at the Sundance Film Festival.