Studio: Shout! Factory
Packaging/Materials: Blu-ray keepcase
Running Time: 1:34:05
|THE FEATURE||SPECIAL FEATURES|
|Video||AVC: 1080p high definition 1.78:1||High definition|
|Audio||DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1, English 2.0||Same|
The Feature: 4.5/5Most of Pete McCormack’s Bruce Lee documentary “I Am Bruce Lee” feels like an impressively long movie trailer or promotional spot, with its high energy editing style that never lingers on one topic or interview subject for too long. For some this will make for an exhausting experience, but it’s a clever nod to its legendary subject, whose philosophy in both art and life was to be like water – dynamic and adaptable.
For the most part, the embracing of Lee’s “philosophy of fluidity” works to the film’s advantage, allowing it to include a whole host of interviews that a more traditional documentary structure would be hard pressed to accommodate. Appropriately, those closest to Lee – including his widow Linda Lee Cadwell, his daughter Shannon, his best friends and students Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo, and his god daughter Diana Inosanto – get the most screen time with their intimate reflections on the man they knew and loved. Somewhat surprising, but indicative of Lee’s far reaching influence, are reflections by “Modern Family” actor Ed O’Neil, L.A. Laker Kobe Bryant, and actor Mickey Rourke, each of whom practice some form of martial art, be it Jiu-Jitsu, Lee’s own Jeet Kune Do, or American boxing. Mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters also make a showing, most notably Gina Carano, Jon Jones, and Cung Le. In fact if the documentary lingers longer on one non-biographical topic, it’s whether Lee is the father of modern MMA, given his multi-disciplinary approach. After some back and forth between both sides of the issue, the verdict seems to be a “no,” with that honor going to stuntman and wrestler Gene LeBell, who also shows up to talk about his professional relationship with Lee working on the “Green Hornet” TV show.
Even with the film’s panoply of interviews, no one really does better than Lee himself, who is a constant presence through archival materials like the Hollywood screen test that led to his role as Kato in “The Green Hornet” and an extensive TV studio interview with Canadian journalist Pierre Berton. Incorporation of numerous clips from Lee’s films and TV appearances lend some added visual excitement and punctuation, but also provide some insight into his thoughts, as the movies in the latter part of his career integrated major aspects of his philosophy.
It’s with this phase of Lee’s career, when he moved back to Hong Kong and became an international star, that the documentary adheres to a noticeable structure, working chronologically through each movie until 1973’s “Enter the Dragon.” When it inevitably reaches the events surrounding his death that same year, the film also slows its pace, paying respect to its subject by setting the record straight about what happened. Not surprisingly, a number of rumors and myths sprang up from the moment Lee was pronounced dead from cerebral edema, brought on by an allergic reaction to prescription pain medication. Though the continuing beliefs about his manner of death are a bit silly, it also shows how legendary a figure he became, that only something as dramatic or fantastical as Chinese triads or supernatural curses would be able to claim a man so overflowing with life. Though Lee never considered himself immortal or even invincible, there’s no denying his life was cut way too short. The voids he left in both martial arts and martial arts filmmaking continue to be felt today, a point the documentary makes convincingly, but also deftly; yet another way in which the piece successfully emulates its charismatic subject.
So is “I Am Bruce Lee” the “best Bruce Lee documentary ever,” as its promotional materials proclaim? Given that its competition is limited to the staid, 90-minute film “A Warrior’s Journey,” an extra found on the “Enter the Dragon” Blu-ray release from Warner Home Video, the answer would have to be “yes.” But even without dealing in comparisons, the film stands on its own as a great piece of documentary filmmaking, if only for its canny incorporation of Lee’s central philosophies in its editing style and narrative structure. That it also pays proper tribute to the legend, without caving to hyperbole, tabloid rumors or urban legend, makes it all the more recommended as both a comprehensive and definitive biography of the man.
Video Quality: 4/5Framed at 1.78:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the interview segments, which were shot on Red digital cinema cameras, feature nice inky blacks, great looking contrast, and richly saturated color. Detail is also excellent, especially in a few pore-revealing close ups. The archival material, drawn from various sources ranging from 8mm film to black and white broadcast video, are more of a mixed bag, but leave the impression they look the best they could given the material. Clips from Lee’s various Hong Kong productions also vary in quality, but considering they’re included more for illustrative than reference purposes, any shortcomings are easy to overlook. Still, it’s made this reviewer wonder when we’re going to see a definitive Blu-ray collection of Lee’s films.
Audio Quality: 4/5Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently clear, detailed, and intelligible. Surround channels provide some atmospheric effects that are mostly tied to the cutaways to Lee's action scenes, with low frequencies following a similar pattern to emphasize the punches, kicks, and crashes. Generally speaking, though, it’s a front stage affair given the interview-based content that dominates the production.
Special Features: 2/5The highlight of the bonus material is the Hollywood screen test filmed when Lee was only 24. A couple of deleted scenes, a trailer and an action montage fill out the package, but don’t ultimately provide much depth.
Backyard Training – Bruce Lee’s Personal Films (11:27, HD, 5.1 DTS-HD MA): Really more of an extended or deleted scene from the film, the segment focuses on Lee’s home training sessions with the likes of James Coburn and Steve McQueen, using material from his 8mm home movie camera.
Inspiration – Bruce Lee’s Global Impact (3:11, HD, 2.0 DTS-HD MA): Another deleted scene, this one highlights his philosophical legacy, with Lee Cadwell sharing an amusing anecdote from one of their public martial arts demonstrations.
Bruce Lee in Action (4:51, HD, 2.0 DTS-HD MA): The edited montage pulls scenes from “Fist of Fury,” “Game of Death,” “Way of the Dragon,” and “The Big Boss.”
Theatrical Trailer (1:41, HD, 2.0 DTS-HD MA)
Bruce Lee’s Hollywood Audition (9:03, HD, 2.0 DTS-HD MA): The 1965 Hollywood screen test that led to Lee’s casting as Kato in “The Green Hornet” is presented in its entirety, with Lee talking about his martial arts philosophy and providing a demonstration of his striking speed and flexibility.
RecapThe Film: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 2/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5
Shout! Factory delivers a great high definition presentation for its slick and engaging documentary on legendary martial artist Bruce Lee. The special features don’t provide much of depth, but the thorough documentary feature will definitely appeal to fans of martial arts, martial arts films, and of course Lee himself.