I’m willing to bet that no matter who you are, you know who Bruce Lee was. The very fact that a single half-hour interview with him warrants the release of a DVD on its own is testament to his popularity. Just in case, though, I’ll give a brief rundown of his career. Born in 1940, Bruce Lee grew up in Hong Kong (and acted in several films as a child) before moving to the USA at age eighteen. In 1971, he made The Big Boss, which catapulted him to stardom as a martial arts actor. In Hong Kong, he also made Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon (with Warner Brothers) and the unfinished Game of Death. As he was working on the latter, he passed away in circumstances that are still the subject of controversy — officially, he’s said to have had an allergic reaction to a painkiller tablet.
Bruce Lee’s films hugely influenced Hong Kong’s martial arts film industry, bringing a strong emphasis on real martial arts and Lee’s iconic cocky hero. He also brought Chinese kung fu to the attention of the West, with several appearances on American television (such as the role of Kato in Green Hornet) and the first American-Chinese film co-production (Enter the Dragon).
This DVD contains the only surviving ‘on camera’ interview with Bruce Lee, conducted by Pierre Berton for Canadian TV network CTV and broadcast in January 1972. It was recorded just after the release of The Big Boss, the film that made him a superstar across Asia, and it’s fascinating to watch Bruce answer questions about what he wants to do next. Berton covers quite a range of topics, from martial arts and philosophy through to racial stereotypes in the film and TV industry, and it makes for interesting viewing. Two other interviews, both in audio only, are also present on the disc. It’s a pity the interview is so short, but we’re lucky to have it at all given Lee’s untimely death.
I felt that the real highlight of the DVD is an interview with Grandmaster William Cheung, one of Bruce Lee’s instructors (himself a well-known Wing Chun sifu) and also a childhood friend of his. Clocking in at about an hour long, this is one of the best extras I have ever seen on a DVD — it actually interested me much more than the interview with Lee himself. Cheung knew Bruce when they were both growing up in Hong Kong, and was a student of legendary sifu Yip Man. When Bruce decided to learn Wing Chun (in part to protect himself from bullying), he came to Cheung and also became a student of Yip Man’s, though it was Cheung and another two senior students that did most of the instruction. Cheung talks candidly in excellent English about the history of Wing Chun, his relationship with Bruce and his memories of Bruce’s death, and he tells a fascinating story, including a lot of details I’d not heard before in documentaries.
In addition to the interviews, there’s also a photo gallery on the disc and a copy of Lee’s original screen test in the USA, where he demonstrates some kung fu movements to a group of studio execs. All in all, not a bad disc to pick up for fans of Lee’s work or for people interested in Wing Chun — Grandmaster Cheung gives an excellent overview of the art and its history.