Bruce Lee, My Brother (Hong Kong, 2010)
- Starring Aarif Rahman (AKA Aarif Lee), Tony Leung Kar Fai, Christy Chung, MC Jin, Hanjin Tan, Jennifer Tse, etc.
- Raymond Yip and Manfred Wong, co-directors
At this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival, there was a special tribute programme of nine Bruce Lee films that drew attention to the martial arts legend having acted in Hong Kong films as a child as well as adult -- and it being so that, had he lived, he would have had his 70th birthday in 2010. Then, this past Saturday, as I viewed a newly released Bruce Lee bio-pic that appears to be based on a book written by Bruce's younger brother, Robert*, along with the memories of their two sisters, Phoebe and Agnes, I discovered that the late martial artist turned actor would have turned 70 on November 27th, 2010.
Starring 23-year-old singer-actor Aarif Rahman (who was credited as Aarif Lee in his debut film, Echoes of the Rainbow), Bruce Lee, My Brother begins with an interesting note cum disclaimer to the effect that "This production is a dramatized story of Bruce Lee's early life, based substantially on the recollections of the siblings of Bruce Lee. This production is in no way connected to, or associated with, BRUCE LEE ENTERPRISES LLC, the widow, children and estate of Bruce Lee, and the materials used in connection with this production, or the matters depicted in it, have not been provided by same."
Then, two Bruce Lee siblings appear on screen -- one speaking in English, the other in Cantonese -- to stress that this film tells the fact-based story of the young Bruce Lee and his family... as in father Lee Hoi-chuen (played by Tony Leung Kar Fai in the film), mother Grace Ho (portrayed by Christy Chung), his siblings, aunt, grandmother and the rest of her extended family rather than Bruce's wife Linda and children, Brandon and Shannon.
Right from the get-go then, it's emphasized that this is a family saga -- and one that will be told from a distinctively Hong Kong point of view. And while the dramatic section of this movie does begin in San Francisco (where the man whose Chinese stage name translates into Little Dragon Lee was born), it soon quickly moves to Hong Kong, where Bruce Lee spent the bulk of his growing years (and would return after a spell back in the USA).
Additionally, while there is no doubt that this film is about Bruce Lee, it actually is a while before his character takes center-stage. Instead, the production focuses for a time early on on Bruce's parents -- and goes to quite a bit of effort to show that his father was actually a prominent Cantonese opera star turned film actor (whose social as well as professional circle included such luminaries as actor-director-scriptwriter Fung Fung and actor Walter Tso) and his mother was someone who could speak English as well as Cantonese fluently (Grace Ho actually was the niece of prominent Eurasian businessman-philanthropist Sir Robert Hotung.).
Very early on, Bruce Lee gets sucked into the Hong Kong movie world. At the same time, however, those were the days when actors -- adult or child -- weren't paid that much and thus didn't seem to live a world apart from ordinary folks. So the young Bruce gets shown making friends with such as a maid's son (played by composer-singer Hanjin Tan as a young adult) and getting into all sorts of antics in the neighborhood and on the streets of Hong Kong.
Particular attention is paid to Bruce Lee's final high school years -- during which he falls in love, enters a cha-cha competition and comes to learn martial arts (wing chun at Ip Man's school -- if you didn't know already!). And it's during this section of the film where events portrayed can seem too dramatic to have been true. And yet, the records do show that Bruce Lee was a cha-cha champion as well as high school boxing competition winner! So I'm quite willing to take quite a bit of the story in the movie on trust (even while also throwing in a pinch of salt here and there)!!
All in all, I like how Bruce Lee, My Brother is more of a family drama than an action work -- and that its makers flesh out the world in which the young Bruce and his family lived, worked and played. (Among the nice and fun touches here involved not only referencing many a star name of yesteryear -- in particular, I appreciated the scene featuring Shek Kin (as Wong Fei Hung's adversary) and Walter Tso (as Wong Fei Hung's chief disciple, Leung Foon) -- but having them been played by contemporary familiar faces such as Cheung Tat Ming, Chin Kar Lok and Lawrence Cheng.)
The way the movie ends, you know that the filmmakers are hoping that the work will prove to be enough of a commercial success to make a strong case for a sequel to be made. And I, for one, most definitely do hope that this will indeed be the case.
My rating for this film: 8.0
*Link corrected: Thanks, Phil (AKA orientalsweetlips)! :)