Archive for the Brandon Lee Category

Review: I Am Bruce Lee (2012)

Posted in Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee, Cung Le, Dan Inosanto, Diana Lee Inosanto, Gina Carano, Robert Wall with tags , on February 12, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee, Shannon Lee, Linda Lee Cadwell, Dan Inosanto, Diana Lee Inosanto, Cung Le, Gina Carano, Manny Pacquiao, Robert Wall, Gene LeBell, Ed O’Neill, Mickey Rourke, Taboo, Kobe Bryant, Reginald Hudlin, Teri Tom, Jon Jones, Ray “Boom Boom Mancini”, Daniele Bolelli, Dana White, David Tadman, Dr. Paul Bowman. Richard Bustillo, Paul Rodriguez, Stephan Bonnar

Directed by Pete McCormack

“Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

-Bruce Lee

I Am Bruce Lee is a documentary that follows the life–and death–of Bruce Lee, cinema’s greatest martial arts star, and one of the greatest martial artists who ever lived. There have been other documentaries done over the years about Bruce, so how does this one stack up?

I’ll say it’s probably the best one yet, with one slight problem I’ll touch on shortly. The film really starts with slam bang intro that mixes scenes from Bruce’s films along with sound bytes from some of the stars being interviewed, and it will really get one salivating to see Bruce Lee’s films brought back to the big screen (you listening, whomever holds those rights? If Blade Runner and Star Wars can get rereleased in theaters, why not Bruce?). Then we go into Bruce’s life, and the film does a great job of going step by step through Bruce’s tumultuous time in China to his difficulties in America to when he met Linda and things started falling into place, but not without hard work and sacrifice.

The film then traces the TV shows he was a part of, some of which I had never heard of and wall thrilled to see scenes of, to his departure to China and his surprise at how popular the Green Hornet (or the Kato Show, as it was called there.) was, to his involvement–and problems–with Lo Wei (Jackie Chan would have his own set of problems with Lo Wei years later), to the success of The Big Boss, his other films in China, his matchup with Chuck Norris (I wonder why he wasn’t interviewed for this?) and his eventual death, which becomes the most affecting moments in the film as we see, maybe for the first time, what it meant to not just the fans, but to the people who were closest to Bruce.

Pete McCormack does a great job conducting the interviews and getting the maximum affect interspersing them among footage of Bruce Lee’s screen test, and his only real interview on the Pierre Berton Show, along with video footage in Bruce’s backyard to just pictures from his life before stardom hit. The scenes from all of Bruce’s films are done just right, and are fantastic to see and make perfect sense regarding the discussion or comment at that moment. The interviewees are people who are really Bruce Lee fans, and most are martial artists themselves, and they do a great job.

The only part of the film that rubbed me the wrong way came at about the midpoint of the film. A semi-debate started about whether Bruce was the Father of MMA or not. One side, notably those close to Bruce, are iffy and don’t seem to be comfortable even talking about it, but aren’t really convinced that he is. Dana White and the UFC group profess that he is, Gene LeBell definitely believes in fact that HE is the father of MMA rather than Bruce, and a lot of UFC fight footage is shown. This is a jarring moment that really pulled me out of the film, wondering why this was there. I then remembered that Spike TV helped produce this, and they promote many UFC events, so that explains that, but that is a discussion/debate that needed to be elsewhere, not in a documentary about Bruce Lee, regardless of how popular the MMA style is to today’s fight fans. Maybe MMA fans like it, but I found myself checking my watch at that point. When the film returns to Bruce’s life, it felt like coming back from a commercial break.

For those who are well-versed in Bruce Lee’s life there isn’t anything here that may be new to them, but to those who don’t know as much will find it a rich and exhilarating film. There were things I didn’t know, like the fact that Bruce and James Coburn had tried to location scout for The Silent Flute, eventually to be made by David Carradine, but the film was dropped because no locations could be found, and it was great to see the photos of Coburn and Bruce scouting the locales. I also didn’t know that Bruce had become a big child star in Hong Kong before he was forced to leave to America because of his problems after beating up the son of a police chief. I was aware he had made films as a child, but I didn’t know that he was a very famous child star, so there was an extra treat when the Kato Show came out and people could see the grown up Bruce Lee. I was also unaware of just how much the Manson murder spree affected him.

My personal, most affected moment of the film was after Bruce Lee’s death, and when Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo starting talking about it, you could really feel the shock and pain as they recount when they had heard about it and their feelings that day and both men looked as if they went right back to that moment and the hard days afterward. You may as well have tossed them both into a time machine and dated it July 20th, 1973. That is the moment that was driven home to me that while we think of Bruce Lee the martial arts savant, his family and friends were utterly crushed as they lost a husband, father, friend, and master.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

Final Grade: (9) Overall, I am Bruce Lee delivers on its title. It is hard-hitting, philosophical, excellent even in its imperfections, emotional in its punches and always dancing around, and is fantastic fun to watch on the big screen, just as the man himself.

The film will have selected showings again on February 15th. You can check the listings of their showtimes here:


Review: Rapid Fire (1992)

Posted in Al Leong, Brandon Lee, Reviews with tags , on June 9, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Brandon Lee, Powers Boothe, Al Leong

Directed by Dwight H. Little

Fight Choreography by Jeff Imada and Brandon Lee

In between Showdown in Little Toyko and The Crow, Brandon Lee released his starring vehicle, a film that showcases a talent taken far too soon, and also pays a loving of tribute/homage to many things, from Jackie Chan to his father Bruce Lee.

The film opens with Italian mafia boss Tony Serrano arriving in some nameless country, Thailand, perhaps? Maybe it’s one of those ‘leave it to your imagination’ kind of things. If you think it’s China, great! Taiwan, better still! I hate it when a writer or director gets lazy like that. Nick Mancuso plays Serrano, and chews up every scene he’s in. Anyway, Serrano came to meet his old friend Tommy , an Asian drug lord who has been providing Serrrano the drugs he sells. Well, with the economy being as crappy as it is, a mafioso just can’t sell drugs like they used to, so he want Tommy to pay him back for favors done long ago by giving him a good percentage of the drug sales. While all this is going on we are witness a staff fighting scene that was done very well. Tommy isn’t too keen on Serrano’s way of asking for help, and proves his point by beating down the two staff fighters in front of him, just to let the audience know that yeah, he ain’t gonna get Seagaled (Seagaled is a term I invented for whenever Seagal would meet any bad guy at the end of his films, they would be clearly no match for him, and he would toss them around before breaking a bone painfully and then killing said bad guy with absolute ease. They posed no threat whatsoever), so after dropping a few Sicilian proverbs Serrano bids Tommy a very nice mob way of saying goodbye.

We then move to a college campus in California where Paul Yang conducts a demonstration for Chinese rights after the Tiananmen Square incident. He is played by Dustin Nguyen (he who was one of Johnny Depp’s partners in 21 Jumpstreet, and has since become a new voice in martial arts films, having just directed and co-starred in the hit Vietnamese martial arts hit The Rebel.) Jake Lo (Lee) shows up, and due to things that happened during Tiananmen Square, he wants nothing to do with the demonstration and turns down Paul when invited to a fundraiser. So Paul gets Jake there using the tried and true method-a beautiful woman. They arrive at the fundraiser, which is at an art museum run by one of Tommy’s guys, so of course Serrano happens to be waiting in his office already, like some sort of Italian Ninjitsu. Immediately afterward in a move decidedly NOT ninjitsu Serrano shotguns the art curator out of the office window, the first of many, many stupid things Serrano does in this film, making one wonder how the hell his dumb ass became a mob boss in the first place. You know his ass lucked into it. So of course, folks have to start shooting shit up Yakuza style. They aren’t in this film, but I’m sure they appreciated the hundreds of wayward bullets and innocent bystanders killed in the cross fire. Unfortunately for Serrano Jake sees him kill the curator, and in his attempted escape Brandon gets to show off some great moves, and hops onto a motorcycle, and in a tribute (or ripoff depending on how you feel) to Jackie Chan’s Police Story Jake jumps on a motorcycle and since Serrano is in the streets shooting like a 60’s Batman villain, rides back into the museum and hits a guy, sending him through a bunch of glass. Jake soon gets arrested after fall off of said bike.

Soon Jake gets interrogated by that Black dude that played the Jamaican Screwface in Seagal’s Marked for Death. The FBI blackmail Jake into flying to Chicago to testify against Serrano before a Grand Jury. Jake goes along with it because he has no choice, and is scared of Screwface.

We then meet-and I kid you not- a Chicago cop named Mace Ryan, played by Powers Boothe, one of the manliest men ever, and this film knows it. Hell, look at his character’s name! He’s so macho his police squad has their headquarters in a functioning bowling alley. Does that make any sense? Hell no, but shit that’s manly. Screw Bruce Willis and Eastwood, they never had that. Powers. Boothe. He and his cohorts decide to follow Jake, which is a good thing, as the safe house he’s taken to isn’t very safe, as the FBI agents assigned to him work for Serrano, and once again, how does this moron get these guys? I wouldn’t trust his ass to count cola in a six pack. Jake pwns the feds pretty good in a decent fight scene, before he gets away. (Note to self: the angrier Brandon gets on screen, the more he looks like his Dad.)

Jake calls the head of the agents, and yes, this douche works for Serrano too. Jake goes to meet him in a dark alley, and so does Mace, since he and his men had the agent’s phone tapped. The Fed almost gets Jake to come with him when Mace appears and tells him to get into the car, and a bunch of Serrano’s men arrive and start shooting, but dammit they shot at the wrong dude. At this moment Mace goes all Tombstone on them, and his sheer level of manliness alone (he has a +10 charisma for this, D&D fans) keeps the bullets from hitting him as he stands straight up and returns fire.

After saving Jake and leaving lots of property damage and the burning bodies of about 3 mafioso’s in a flaming car in the middle of the street, Mace has Jake agree to help him take Tommy Tau down, because even he knows Serrano is a doofus.

Soon Jake and the Fed they blackmail in a reversal go to see Serrano at his restaurant/base of operations, with Mace and his team waiting outside ready to shoot shit up. Soon Serrano, idiot though he is, figures out the Fed is wearing a wire, and blows him away, and Mace goes ‘oh well’ and orders his men to shoot at-well everything. Wanting to match manliness with insanity Serrano orders the same thing to his guys, and Jake dives off down to the first floor and we get a terrific one against-a-dozen-dudes-who-don’t-know-anything fight. Brandon does a great job selling the physicality of his movement, and there were parts of it where he seemed so natural, like Papa Lee. Amid all the gunfire the fighting is well done, and before long they capture Serrano.

Soon after we are treated to the thankful death of Serrano as Tommy has him killed by his lead henchman played by the great Al Leong intercut with Jake getting to have sex with the only female cop in Mace’s squad, Whithers. After Mace does the manly thing and shoots the 1 pin his bowling ball can’t touch Jake shows up and agrees to go undercover to the factory Tommy owns to find out where he keep his drugs at. It is here that Brandon wears a costume not unlike what Bruce wore for his disguise in Fists of Fury and sneaks in, not knowing that Mace and the Whithers get captured by Tommy outside, and it’s up to Jake to save them in a great series of final fights, and yes, they reference Police Story again when Jake fights with a clothing rack, fending off the bad guys the same way Jackie did.

We are then treated to the best fight in the film, Brandon Lee vs Al Leong, and the two have a memorable if short fight, and as he always does, Al dies incredibly well. Jake then chases down Tommy to a subway station, and the two fight, and Tommy gets what he deserves in true 80’s fashion, which means he had to die multiple deaths, by being electrocuted and then run over by a train. Jake kills the bad guy and gets the girl, and Mace lives after being shot like 10 times. He’s the man. Really.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) Jeff Imada does a pretty good job staging the fights, and the execution is very well done. A little American 80’s style with a bit more HK influence than most. The fight between Brandon and Al was great.

STUNTS: (8) Good job from all of the stuntmen involved. They all sold it well, and Al was the cream of the crop as always.

DIRECTION: (7) Dwight did a good job of keeping the camera at good angles to follow the fighting. The dialogue was well done and the story was actually a bit different than most.

STAR POWER: (8) Brandon Lee. Powers Boothe. Toss in a good heap of Al Leong, and that’s all you need to see. Lee had the makings of a great star, but alas that wasn’t meant to be.

FINAL GRADE: (8) A great first film for Brandon, showcasing his skills. This is really his only mainstream pure martial arts film in which he was the star, and that alone makes this film special, if a bit sad.

Review: Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)

Posted in Al Leong, Brandon Lee, Dolph Lundgren, James Lew, Reviews with tags , on May 19, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Tia Carrere

Directed By Mark Lester

Fight Choreography by Pat Johnson

Fresh off of a string of flops (one could contend that though a flop, he did the best Punisher movie) Dolph Lundgren made this little film with then unknown but about to be famous Brandon Lee. The testosterone and kicks run high in Showdown, but does it amount to anything?

The film opens with Detective Kenner (Dolph Lundgren) busting up an illegal kickboxing operation single-handedly. Cops in the 80’s used to do stuff like that, because back-up means they can’t kill as many people, and usually wind up as random cannon fodder anyway. In the middle of this a group of Yakuza show up for what seems to be the express purpose of killing indiscriminately. Kenner whips out a giant magnum, and starts shooting Yakuza indiscriminately. If they can do it, so can he! And he does so, even leaping over the escape vehicle just as it’s about to cut him down.

He’s pretty pissed about it, but what the hell, he’ll find them the next day when his psychic powers compel him to have coffee in a random Japanese cafe where those same exact guys show up. They arrive to shake the cafe down for protection money. Between the night before and right at that moment, that shows that yes, even Yakuza have to pull down double shifts once in a while. What can you say? The economy sucks for everyone. Kenner of course has to stop them with the SLOWEST KICKS EVER, and I actually don’t blame Dolph for this, ’cause everyone is slow in this film. Thankfully the fight is brief as Johnny Murata (Brandon Lee, who is NOT Japanese) shows up, mistaking Kenner for beating up a bunch of Japanese dudes, and he runs in to fight him, and lo and behold brings a little thing like speed and agility that had just been missing. Brandon vs Dolph went about how you think it would, with Brandon showcasing good martial arts mixed with a little acrobatic flair, and Dolph doing everything big and slowly. Of course they discover that they are both cops just in time for the rest of the Yakuza to arrive and do what they did so well in the 80’s: shoot shit up. What kills me is that the cafe owner, a little Japanese lady, just kinda brushes the whole thing off like it happens a lot. Her insurance must offer Yakuza coverage as well, which is something we should all have. You never know when those a-holes can show up and ruin a good couch.

We are then introduced to the Yakuza lord Yoshida played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (CHT) , the preeminent go-to guy whenever Hollywood needed an Asian bad guy leader-dude in the 80’s and early 90’s. The guy just looks evil. In real life he’s probably the nicest dude in the world. He runs around for a few minutes doing Random Evil Things, such as crushing a guy in a car for really no reason, and chopping the head off of a girl who wants to have sex with him in front of his boys. I mean, you don’t need to kill her. You need to call Vivid Video and run Ron Jeremy over there.

We are then subjected to poorly scripted banter between Kenner and Murata to show us the differences between the two, the japanese guy who is more of a surfer-dude, and the tall blonde guy who is more Japanese than his partner. Soon they arrive at a Yakuza bar and start beating up Yakuza guards quickly, and with poor choreography, which accounts for the entire film. They meet Minako (Tia Carrere) the friend of the girl who lost her head to see what she knows, and then the rest of the Yakuza boys show up, leading to yet another fight-with basically Kenner throwing people and slow punching them, and Brandon gets the best moment in the film to show off a little of his stuff here, but it isn’t long nor particularly well done, though he has one good line during the fight: “Down MF!” Gotta love that. Once trip to Dolph and one strike from behind to Murata by the great asian henchman-guy played by Al Leong (He defined the 80’s for henchmen. He took it to a whole new level. Exhibit 1: the candy bar scene in Die Hard) They are brought before Yoshida, and here we find the connection between Yoshida and Kenner.

After Yoshida has them leave peaceably, they stake out his new brewery, which is a front for smuggling drugs. Yoshida then decides he has some time on his hands and tries to woo Minako-by scaring the crap out of her by showing her the video of her friend getting her head cut off. Kenner, with psychic powers working well, stakes out Yoshida’s house just as Minako is about to commit seppuku (ritual suicide), and in true 80’s action hero form goes in to save her, shooting men with pinpoint accuracy and even turning over a car in true Hulk fashion.

After Yoshida kills the guy in charge of protecting his house, another tried and true evil thing to do, killing your own man to show the audience how evil you are, he decides he needs to relax at the local bathhouse, and with powers in full effect Kenner and Murata go there too, resulting in another badly done fight scene that a 4-year-old would’ve come up with.

After Kenner has the requisite 80’s sex montage scene with body doubles and everything ending with a groaner one-liner, the bad guys show that they too have mental abilities, and show up at Kenner secret hideout and start-you guessed it-shooting shit up. They capture our intrepid heroes, and burn his house down.

After escaping from two Yoshida Traps of Death he found in the James Bond Book of Villany, even to the point of walking away to assume their deaths will go according to plan, they go to the brewery for the final fight-with guns blazing and poorly choreographed fight scenes, with soon to be standard MTV movie editing. Yoshida and Kenner then have what I suppose you can call a sword fight in a Japanese festival, and of course Kenner wins, and with nary a police car in sight the heroes and the girl walk away, laughing, while the festival goers, with horrified children in the crowd, just watched a white dude staple a Japanese guy to a wooden board with a sword and then watched the guy fry when a thousand firecrackers go off all over him. The end.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (2) Sweet lord was this dreadful. I think Dolemite did better fight scenes.  James Lew was in the film, but he couldn’t do a damn thing to save this dreadful choreography.

STUNTS: (3) Meh. They collected their paychecks, except for Al Leong. He always brings it, even if for one scene.

DIRECTION: (2) Mark Lester, like most American directors really hasn’t seen an HK film to see how they do things. But nothing gets him off for a crappy script and poorly acted scenes. You can tell the actors had no help from him.

STAR POWER: (5) Dolph’s star was fading after a string of flops (His last major hit after this would be Universal Soldier)  and Brandon was just getting his career started, and Tia Carrere would fade away until Wayne’s World. CHT is as reliable as always, as is Al Leong.

FINAL GRADE: (3) One of the worst Martial arts films (if you choose to call it that) I have ever seen. Except for one or two lines the acting was dreadful, and the fights were embarrassing. Avoid this one, unless you’re using it to play some sort of drinking game.