They Call ‘Em Bruce: People who played Bruce Lee

They Call Them Bruce People who have played Bruce Lee

The following feature is about the many people who have portrayed Bruce Lee in movies, TV and advertisements. In an effort to put together the most comprehensive list, I’ve also included those who portrayed him in ways that I can’t explain. It should also be noted that the term “biopics” should be taken lightly, as ALL biopics listed are extremely sensationalized. Yes, even the ones endorsed, produced and blessed by The Bruce Lee Estate.

Keep in mind this is NOT a Bruceploitation article; in other words, you won’t see Dragon Lee (aka Moon Kyoung-seok) on the list – why? – well, despite capturing the essence of Bruce Lee (his image, mannerisms, Cheshire Cat-smile, clothes, etc), he never actually played Bruce Lee, unless you count The Clones of Bruce Lee, which is where I draw the line (“clones” being the key word, but Bruce Lee “ghosts” are accepted).

This article is not meant to review or rate any of the titles or performances, but that’s not to say I won’t go off track with some criticism here and there. But I do warn you: If you’re one of those sensitive Bruce Lee nuts who thinks the guy walks on water – or if you have your lips firmly planted on Shannon Lee’s ass – parts of the article may feel like a nunchuck to the face.

Enough chit chat. Let’s not keep our Bruces waiting…

Philip Ng

Philip Ng

PHILIP NG WAN-LUNG

Since Birth of the Dragon is opening this week, we’ll start off the list with Philip Ng Wan-lung, the newest “Bruce Lee” actor to hit the big screen. Born in Hong Kong, with a good portion of his youth spent in America, Ng is an avid practitioner/teacher of various forms of martial arts, including Hung Gar, Wing Chun and Taekwondo. He also founded the Wing Chung Association during his attendance at the University of Illinois. As both an actor and fight choreographer, he’s had a solid film career in his homeland since the early 2000s. If you look at his filmography, you’ll see that he’s already worked with some of the best in the industry, such as Ringo Lam, Donnie Yen, Corey Yuen, Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan.

Birth of the Dragon is a huge turning point in Ng’s career. Not only is it his first Hollywood gig he’s appearing/starring in, but he’s also portraying Bruce Lee, so expectations for his performance are set high (playing Bruce is comparable to playing James Bond for the first time). With that said, my guess is that Shannon Lee – daughter of Bruce, head of The Bruce Lee Estate – and a horde of small-minded, crybabies are probably annoying the shit out of Ng. For Shannon, it’s about money, since she has no direct financial gain from the project; as for the other whiners? They have absolutely no excuse. But let’s not go there. Actually, let’s do…

After Birth of the Dragon made its rounds at early screenings, Shannon, who watched the movie out of necessity, went public and described it as “a travesty on many levels” and “a step backward for Asians in film.” She also said the film’s portrayal of Bruce Lee was “inaccurate and insulting.” Remember her words.

Apparently, many fans shared Shannon’s unfavorable views. They were also upset that the character of Bruce (Ng), the Asian, took a backseat, while the character of Steve (Billy Magnussen), the white guy, was front and center; in other words, they accused the filmmakers of “white washing” the film. Due to the negative backlash, director George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) was forced to recut Birth of the Dragon, so it now focuses more on Bruce, and less on Steve. Re-editing a movie isn’t uncommon after a film’s test screening, but for the reasons stated here, it’s downright ridiculous. Keep in mind that first Trailer for Birth of the Dragon makes it perfectly clear the story is told through Steve’s eyes, so none of this should have been a surprise.

The irony about this alleged “white washing” thing is that Birth of the Dragon (despite its title, it’s NOT a biopic) is centered around Bruce’s legendary fight with Wong Jack Man (Yu Xia). This real-life, controversial bout was initiated due to Lee’s teaching of Chinese martial arts to non-Chinese, which was a big no-no to Chinese traditionalists at the time. The deal behind the fight was simple: if Bruce won, he’d earn the right to teach non-Asians; if he lost, he’d have to give up these teachings. To put it simply, it’s a movie about the right to educate ALL races in complete harmony.

With this perspective, all this white washing nonsense (“step backward for Asians in film”) are some of the most idiotic allegations I’ve ever heard. One has every right to dislike a film because the acting is bad, or the writing sucks, or because it’s generally not a great movie – that’s called an opinion – but accusing the filmmakers of being racist? Totally absurd.

If Birth of the Dragon ends up being a let down, I think I’ll pretend to like it based on principle alone.

Alright. Time to stay focused…

Jason Scott Lee

Jason Scott Lee

JASON SCOTT LEE

To mainstream audiences, Chinese/Hawaiian actor Jason Scott Lee (no relation) is the most widely recognized person to ever portray Bruce. In 1993, he starred in Rob Cohen’s Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, which was the first Hollywood project to explore Bruce’s life.

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is based on the 1975 book, Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew, by Bruce’s widow, Linda Lee, who gave the film her complete blessing (at the time, she was head of The Bruce Lee Estate). If the book’s title is an indication of truth, then Bruce’s blood parents, blood brothers and blood sisters have no idea who the hell Bruce ever was, despite living with him during his most crucial years in Hong Kong. In fact, it’s open for debate if the demonic samurai appearing in Bruce’s nightmares really happened, but only Linda would know that – after all – she’s the only one who knew Bruce. Heck, not even Shannon knew him (she thinks her daddy loved to drink whiskey, but we’ll get back to that later). Anyway, back to Jason…

To prepare for the role, Jason trained in Jeet Kune Do under the late, white Jerry Poteet (Why didn’t they get Danny Inosanto or Taky Kimura? Is this called behind-the-scenes white washing?), who was one of Bruce’s actual students. Poteet would go on to become Jason’s personal fight choreographer again for both 1998’s Solider and 2003’s Timecop 2: The Berlin Decision (Asian guy to replace a white guy? Straight up racist.).

Since then, Jason has become a certified Jeet Kune Do instructor himself. Til this very day, he still uses his JKD skills, but now, they’re laced with computer enhancements, as recently noted in 2016’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. Hey, just like Bruce says,”There are no limits!”

Danny Lee

Danny Lee

DANNY LEE SAU YIN

Hong Kong director/producer/star Danny Lee Sau Yin (again, no relation) is perhaps best known for starring in John Woo’s 1989 ultra-violent masterpiece, The Killer, opposite Chow Yun-fat. But if you dig deeper into his decades-long career, you’ll eventually come across a sleazy, Shaw Brothers-produced oddity that goes by a number of sexy titles like: 1) Bruce Lee: His Last Days, His Last Nights2) I Love You, Bruce Lee, 3) Bruce Lee & I and my personal favorite, 4) Sex Life of Bruce Lee.

This biopic centers on Bruce’s final days, as told through the eyes of Betty Ting Pei, who reenacts her slutty ways. Here’s a little background info on her so you have a clear understanding: In the late 60s/early 70s, Betty was a Taiwanese actress who was known for appearing in sleazy films, often as a sex symbol, seductress, or some sort of bad girl. Her popularity grew when she became romantically linked with Bruce towards the tail end of his film career. She became notorious to the public and Hong Kong press for being the last person to talk to – and see – Bruce just hours before his death, as he was found unconscious in her apartment, in her bedroom and on her bed. Somehow I doubt they were having a conversation about puppy dogs and ice cream. But let’s get back on topic…

In the film, Danny’s portrayal of Bruce involves smoking lots of weed, getting drunk, picking fights with white people, swallowing mysterious prescription drugs and having sex, lots of it, but not with Linda. At this point, if you’re not interested in seeing this movie out of sheer curiosity, your name is either Linda or Shannon.

Danny Chan

Danny Chan

DANNY CHAN KWOK-KWAN

Stephen Chow’s 2001 Blockbuster hit, Shaolin Soccer, featured a Bruce Lee-wannabe played by newcomer Danny Chan Kwok-kwan. His breakout performance in the film earned him steady work in a number of movies, most notably 2004’s Kung Fu Hustle, which became another box office smash for Chow, in turn, giving Danny yet another career boost. But regardless of the characters Danny played, he was stuck as the “Bruce Lee dude in Shaolin Soccer.” Film producers took note of this and Danny became the go-to guy when a “Bruce Lee” was needed for a project.

His first real portrayal as Bruce Lee came in the form of 2008’s The Legend of Bruce Lee, a 50-episode series that centered on Bruce’s life starting from his early Hong Kong years to his untimely death. Although the series was executively produced by Shannon, it’s embellished with so much melodrama and historical inaccuracies that it makes Dragon: The Bruce Lee story look like Das Boot. Seriously, if Shannon thinks Birth of the Dragon is “inaccurate” she needs to go back and watch the stuff she actually produced – but hey – the check cleared, right? Back to Danny…

Danny’s next gig as Bruce came in the form of a 90-second television commercial for Johnnie Walker Blue Label whiskey. For the advertisement, Danny’s face was digitally altered to resemble Bruce as accurately as possible (the final product resembles a PS3-era video game with no evidence of Danny being present). As for Bruce’s connection with whiskey? Let’s ask Shannon…

Shannon says that the reason she agreed to take money from work with Johnnie Walker was because their “Keep Walking” campaign so closely reflected Bruce’s own “Walk On” philosophy (is this the best answer she was able to come up with?). Little did Shannon realize, Bruce, a known health enthusiast, was quoted as saying: “No, I don’t drink coffee or alcohol… They’re bad for my body.” Ouch. Using Bruce’s face as a logo for a marijuana dispensary company would make sense, but whiskey? So, anyway…

Danny’s assistance was once again needed for 2015’s Ip Man 3, starring Donnie Yen. Originally, the plan was for Ip Man 3 to feature a computer generated version of Bruce (over a real guy, laced with CGI, just like they did for his favorite beverage), but due to a last minute legal threat from The Bruce Lee Estate, the CGI idea was ditched. Note: The Bruce Lee Estate owns Bruce’s likeness, image, name, persona, voice, signature, DNA and the air he used to breathe.

Eventually, an agreement was made between Ip Man 3 producers and The Bruce Lee Estate to bring Danny back as Bruce. Perhaps it was Danny’s association with Shannon’s The Legend of Bruce Lee and Johnnie Walker that saved Ip Man 3 from scrapping Bruce from the storyline completely? Make sense.

Aarif Rahman

Aarif Rahman

AARIF RAHMAN

In 2010, a rising heartthrob named Aarif Rahman (aka Aarif Lee, no relation) – who is of mixed Arab, Malay and Chinese descent – portrayed Bruce in Raymond Yip and Manfred Wong’s Bruce Lee, My Brother (aka The Young Bruce Lee), a Bruce Lee biopic that takes place between 1940 and 1959.

Bruce Lee, My Brother is noted for being produced by Robert Lee, Bruce’s younger brother (the film even opens with an introduction by him and his older sister, Phoebe Lee), which gives the movie a sense of credibility, hence the film’s title. Unfortunately, the film has yet to see an official release in the U.S., due to legal clashes with The Bruce Lee Estate. Okay, so let me get this straight, Shannon’s an advocate for making sure something is not “a step backward for Asians in film” yet she’s stopping Bruce Lee, My Brother from getting a wider audience?

Even before Bruce Lee, My Brother went into production, Robert approached Shannon about the details of the film’s investors: “Then she didn’t want to work with me. She wanted the whole deal to herself,” he said. “We don’t talk as much as I would like to. They don’t want to collaborate with us. We are one family. There is no reason why we shouldn’t collaborate. We share different parts of Bruce’s life.” (via SCMP)

Shame on you Shannon. You have offended your family. You have offended the Shaolin Temple.

Aarif never portrayed Bruce or played Bruce Lee-like characters again, but his singing and acting career continues to flourish in a number of high profile projects. He recently co-starred with Jackie Chan in 2017’s Kung Fu Yoga, where he was able to show more of his fighting skills. Come to think of it, he had more action scenes than Jackie himself.

Ho Chung-tao

Ho Chung-tao

HO CHUNG-TAO

Ho Chung-tao, a Taiwanese actor/martial artist who goes by the screen name, Bruce Li, has played Bruce so many times, that it’s nearly impossible to give you an accurate list of his Bruce-related titles.

Although he’s not not the first person to play Bruce (technically, some dude’s sweaty back in 1972’s Fist of Unicorn gets that honor), he was the first to portray him in the first ever biopic, Bruce Lee: A Dragon Story, which was a cheaply produced, 1974 Chinese production filmed months after Bruce’s death. Ho would go on to play Bruce again in a handful of biopics such as 1975’s Super Dragon, 1976’s Story of the Dragon and 1978’s The Dragon Lives.

Of all Ho’s biopics, the one that’s considered the most legitimate was 1976’s Bruce Lee: The Man, The MythIt had a big budget, was shot on location in Hong Kong, USA, Korea and Rome, and it had one hell of a director, Ng See Yuen (The Secret Rivals), whose Seasonal Films Corporation would skyrocket both Yuen Woo-ping and Jackie Chan – with 1978’s Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master – into a new level stardom.

It was because of Ho’s biopic output that a planned 1975 Hollywood movie titled Bruce Lee: His Life and Legend never saw the light of day. The film was to be directed by Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon), in association with Linda Lee. Producers had even found their “Bruce” with Alex Kwok (aka Alex Kwon). Ultimately, the project was shelved due to the oversaturated market of Chinese-made biopics. So because of Ho, Alex Kwok isn’t on this list.

Ho would go on to star in a number of acclaimed projects that had little or nothing to do with Bruce. Films like 1977’s Last Strike, 1979’s The Golden Connection and 1981’s The Chinese Stuntman, which he also directed, proved that Ho could stand on his own, without the help of his marketable idol. By mid-late 80s, Ho semi-retired from film industry, before completely quitting the scene by 1990.

Huang Chien Lung

Huang Chien Lung

HUANG CHIEN LUNG

If Ho Chung-tao is the “Walmart” of Bruce Lee-inspired actors, then Huang Chien Lung was the “Walmart Bargain Bin” of Bruce Lee-inspired actors. Ho had some oddballs in his filmography, but Huang takes the cake for making movies that resembled the cheapest Filipino exploitation films – in fact, a handful of them were actually made in the Philippines.

Better known as Bruce Le this Chinese-Burmese native, and avid martial artist, got his start as taking minor roles in a number of films produced by the famous Shaw Brothers studios.

When Bruceploitation-era was taking shape in the 70s, Huang’s likeness to Bruce Lee caught the eye of producers, and he was eventually cast as Cheng Chao-an’s brother in 1976’s The Big Boss Part II (Bruce Lee played Cheng Chao-an in the 1971 original). The same year came Bruce’s Deadly Fingers, starring Huang as a very Bruce-like character, where he teamed up with frequent Bruce Lee co-star, Nora Miao (Way of the Dragon).

From this point forward, Huang would churn out titles like 1978’s Enter the Game of Death (it was Fist of Fury meets Game of Death), 1980’s Clones of Bruce Lee (with Dragon Lee, Bruce Lai and Bruce Thai), 1982’s Bruce Strikes Back (with Hwang Jang Lee, Casanova Wong, Harold Sakata) and 1986’s Future Hunters (starring Terminator 2’s Robert Patrick and directed by Filipino film legend Cirio H. Santiago).

But the reason why Huang is even on this list is because he actually plays Bruce Lee in 1980s King of Kung Fu, a highly fabricated biopic he also directed. The film features main Enter the Dragon villain, Sek Kin, as well as Bolo Yeung (which is really nothing special, since he’s in everything).

Today, Huang is still going at it, but mainly behind the camera as a director. One of his recent projects include 2014’s Eyes of Dawn (a redux of his 1992 film, Comfort Women) and he has just wrapped up the war movie, Bloody Hero. He’s also keen on going back to martial arts movies with a dream project that would be a worthy successor to Enter the Dragon.

Kim Tai-chung

Kim Tai-chung

KIM TAI-CHUNG

If there’s one guy that qualifies as a certified “Bruce Lee” actor, it’s Korean martial arts star, Kim Tai-chung, who also goes by his Chinese screen name, Tong Lung.

A few years after the death of Bruce Lee in 1973, Golden Harvest Studios (the company behind all of Bruce’s films) started pre-production on Bruce’s incomplete film, Game of Death. Bruce had already shot the film’s action finale, which meant that all that was left to shoot was… well… the rest of the damn movie. This meant they needed someone who could not only fight like Bruce, but also walk, move, and capture his overall essence.

After an exhaustive search, producers finally found their leading man in Kim Tai-chung. With the help of some cardboard cut outs, sunglasses, a prosthetic beard, Bruce’s actual corpse, two or three other body doubles and footage from Bruce’s other completed films, they were able to finally complete 1978’s Game of Death, which was directed by Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon). The film features a cast consisting of so many white people that’s probably the most white washed movie ever made. They even threw in clips of Chuck Norris to give it a little financial boost.

Despite its sloppy finished product, Game of Death was a box office smash. The demand for more Bruce Lee was obviously evident, so Golden Harvest called Kim called back for 1981’s Tower of Death (aka Game of Death II). This time around, Kim was able to fully sell himself, as he was playing his own character (let’s just say he’s supposed to be Bruce’s brother). Together with director Corey Yuen (Raging Thunder), choreographer Yuen Woo Ping (Dance of the Drunken Mantis) and the perfect villain in Hwang Jang LeeTower of Death is considered one of the greatest Brucepoitation movies ever made. There was even a Korean cut of the film, which proved that Kim was becoming a star in his homeland.

After Tower of Death, Kim returned to Korea where he immediately began work on 1981’s Miss, Please Be Patient (our very own yellow washed Paul Bramhall premiered the film at the Korean Culture Office in Sydney) and then came 1982’s Jackie vs. Bruce to the Rescue, where Kim, as a Bruce-like character starred alongside a Jackie Chan-like character, played by Lee Siu-Ming.

Even though I just went through a bunch of paragraphs regarding Kim’s Bruceploiation output, the main reason he makes this list is because of his role as Bruce Lee’s ghost in 1985’s No Retreat, No Surrender. The film, which reunites Kim with Corey Yuen, follows the Karate Kid mold, only instead of Pat Morita, we get the ghost of Bruce Lee and better fight choreography. Above of all, No Retreat, No Surrender is predominantly remembered for launching the career of Jean-Claude Van Damme (who is now doing shit like Kill ’em All).

Shortly after the release of No Retreat, No Surrender, Kim retired from acting to pursue a successful career in business. Sadly, Kim passed away in 2011, due to a stomach hemorrhage.

Leung Siu-lung

Leung Siu-lung

LEUNG SIU-LUNG

Just as producers did with Ho Chung-tao (Bruce Li) and Huang Chien Lung (Bruce Le), Leung Siu-lung was given the name Bruce Leung to help market his movies as Bruce Lee products. But unlike Li and Le, only a couple of Bruce-centric titles made their way into Leung’s 65+ filmography.

Legend has it that Leung once took on 13 armed attackers and defeated them single-handedly (too bad Smartphones and YouTube didn’t exist back then), which eventually led to his film career. Trained in the Cantonese Opera, as well as various forms of karate and kung fu, Leung spent the most of the early 70s taking minor roles or action directing in a number of movies. It wasn’t until Ng See Yuen’s 1975 film, Little Superman, that Leung finally gained momentum as a kung fu star.

In 1978, Leung co-starred in Magnificent Bodyguards with Jackie Chan (who was only months away from becoming an overnight sensation). Directed by Lo Wei (The Big Boss), the film is groundbreaking for being Hong Kong’s first ever 3D film (it’s also infamously known for ripping off John Williams’ Star Wars score). Then in 1979, Leung teamed up with Ho Chung-tao (Bruce Li) in Bruce and the Iron Finger. Although neither of the two technically connected to Bruce Lee, the “Bruce” the title is referring to is for Ho, since he’s the first-billed star (makes sense to me).

But let’s jump back to 1976’s Dragon Lives Again, which is one of the reasons Leung is qualified for this list. Taking place after Bruce Lee’s passing in 1973, this over-the-top flick starts with “Bruce Lee” (Leung) rising from his death and waking up in a mysterious after-life universe where people like James Bond, The Godfather, The Blind Swordsman, The One Armed Swordsman, Clint Eastwood, Dracula, Emmanuelle (yes, you guessed right), Zombies, Mummies and Popeye (played by Eric Tsang) roam the streets. Bruce takes on most of these guys (sometimes, in his Kato outfit).

Leung played Bruce again in the 2010 TV series, Jeet Kune Do. This time around, he portrays an elderly version of Bruce who mentors a character played by Chen Tian Xing (Nunchucks), who actually happens to be one of the newest additions of Bruceploitation era.

For the most part, Leung has had a steady career that still goes strong, but it was his memorable role as “The Beast” in Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle that gave him a second wind of success not seen since his 70s glory days.

Stephen Au

Stephen Au

STEPHEN AU KAM-TONG

In 1999, rising Hong Kong actor Stephen Au Kam-Tong directed, starred-in and wrote What You Gonna Do, Sai Fung?, which focused on Bruce Lee’s turbulent years in Hong Kong during the late 1950s.

If you’re wondering who the film’s title is referring to, here’s the explanation: In the film, Stephen’s character doesn’t go by the name Bruce, he goes by the name Sau Fung (or Sai Fon), which was Bruce’s childhood name that meant Little Unicorn.

It was said that Bruce’s family gave him this nick name (a substitute for his real name, Lee Jun-fan) which was actually a girl’s name. They believed that evil spirits did not like boys in the family (their firstborn was a son who died in infancy). So, by calling him Sau Fung, they were able to trick demonic spells into thinking Bruce was female. Come to think it, maybe Linda was right about that demonic samurai in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story? Hmmm.

I’ve never seen What You Gonna Do, Sai Fung?, but judging from the footage, Stephen is almost a spitting image of a late 1950s-era Bruce Lee. Since Stephen holds a Black Belt in Karate, he’s probably not too shabby in the action department either.

Prior to What You Gonna Do, Sai Fung?, Stephen appeared in yet another 1992 Bruce Lee biopic (not as Bruce), which is the subject of our next Bruce Lee actor.

Today, Stephen is still very active in the industry. Some of his film’s include 2000’s The Blood Rules, 2009’s Overheard, 2014’s That Demon Within and just recently, 2016’s Three.

David Wu

David Wu

DAVID WU DAI-WAI

I’m going to struggle with this one. All I have to say is thank God for Wikipedia…

David Wu Dai-Wai (aka Wu-Man) is Chinese-American actor and TV personality. In 1992, he took a stab at playing Bruce Lee in the ATV series, Spirit of the Dragon.

I’ve never seen the series, but there is a character named Linda, played by Gwennie Tam (reverse white washing, right? Okay, maybe it’s not Linda Lee, but a random character named Linda, but I couldn’t resist). Of special note, the series features Lau Kar-leung, Nick Cheung, Eddy Ko Hung and of course the guy you just read about, Stephen Au.

Since 1985, David has had a solid career as he’s appeared in a number of films, including 1990’s Tiger Gage 2, 1991’s Robotrix, 1995’s Full Throttle and 1996’s Temptress Moon.

I’m telling you, those white/Asian half-breeds are good looking. A little white skin always makes things better.

Jiang Dai-Yan

Jiang Dai-Yan

JIANG DAI-YAN 

There have been many of child actors – some infants, possibly some fetuses – who have played Bruce, but I’m excluding them because their roles weren’t substantial enough (even if they were included, we wouldn’t be able to properly identity them).

When the original Ip Man movie came out in 2008, its trailers, posters, TV spots and other advertising material were branded with the words “Mentor of Iconic Legend Bruce Lee” – it was as if both Ip Man, the master of Wing Chun, and Donnie Yen, a top martial arts action star, were living in the shadow of Bruce Lee (even Donnie himself has had his share of Bruce-like performances in the 1995 Fist of Fury TV series, as well as 2010’s Legend of the Fist). If anything, it was proof that the words “Bruce Lee” were a powerful marketing tool.

Ip Man would go on to become a box office smash and its leading man, Donnie Yen, went from star to international superstar (for more on this, read How ‘Ip Man’ made Donnie Yen ‘The Man’). Instantly, the public wanted more Ip Man. They also wondered if a Bruce Lee character would be making an appearance in future Ip Man sequels. Let’s face it, most of the general public wouldn’t even know who Ip man was if it weren’t for Bruce’s close association with him. Besides, the two names were practically synonymous with each other (imagine making a John Woo biopic without the appearance of a Chow Yun-fat character).

When Ip Man 2 finally made its way to theaters in 2010, the audience was treated to a nice surprise during the last few minutes of the movie: A digit old version of Bruce, played by Jiang Dai-Yan. Depending on how big of a Bruce Lee fan you are – and depending if you were expecting him or not – the cameo is worthy of goose bumps.

To date, Ip Man 2 was the first and only acting gig for Jiang. There are a number of premier/press conference photos of him performing kung fu stances in front of cast and crew, so this establishes that he’s had some martial arts training. What’s next for him? Only time will tell.

I managed to not bash Shannon for the last several Bruces, so let me get back to that…

Johnny Walker

Johnny Walker

Walk on…

Despite criticizing Shannon Lee, there’s a part of me that can’t blame her for running the The Bruce Lee Estate with an iron fist. After all, you have to protect your brand. If someone or some company is selling unlicensed Bruce Lee products, by all means, put your foot down.

And if you own the license, use it. Go ahead and make all the Bruce Lee video games, watches, clothes, comic books, action figures and dildos you want. While you’re at it, slap Bruce’s face on bottles of whiskey, cans of soda and packs of cigarettes and enjoy the royalties. Make Bruce Lee the digitized spokesperson for Walmart if you have to. That’s perfectly fine.

But here’s what’s not fine about Shannon:

If her name isn’t attached to a Bruce Lee-related product, it’s automatically a disgrace to her father’s legacy. Plain and simple. She doesn’t even try to be slick about it. So I’m basically calling her out on her bullshit.

Shannon is currently in process of producing her own biopic (read about it here, because regardless of how I feel about her, I don’t discriminate). At time of writing this article, a “Bruce Lee” hasn’t been casted for her film, or at least officially announced. When the movie comes out, Shannon has my money, but I’ll be watching it very closely.

Johnny Saxon

Johnny Saxon

About the white washing thing…

Now that we’ve established Shannon Lee’s nonsensical/hypocritical ways, I’m going to focus on the other people who think Birth of the Dragon (or any other Hollywood movie) is racist, white washed, or whatever dumb word that was popularized out of someone’s social media shit hole.

I haven’t seen Birth of the Dragon. It might be good, it might be bad, maybe it’s accurate, maybe it’s way off. Whatever. It’s a fucking movie. But I can assure you that it doesn’t hate Asians. I can also assure you that it doesn’t think white people are better than Asians. Let me tell you why…

Sure, racism does exist in every aspect of our lives, but Hollywood (and the entire entertainment industry in general) isn’t driven by race, it’s driven by money. It’s a business. They don’t care if you’re black, yellow, white or green – you can even be a pudgy rapper from South Korea or an Olympic athlete-turned-transgender celebrity – but once you generate enough money, you’ll be famous, you’ll be all over the tube, and you’ll be on a pedestal until your time is up (just ask Macaulay Culkin or Gary Coleman).

Pissed off about Scarlett Johansson appearing as the lead in Ghost in the Shell? Too bad, because investors wanted their money back and then some (in this case, their forecasting was off). Sorry, but casting an unknown Asian wouldn’t have driven ticket sales. If there was a leading female Asian star who was a proven box office success globally, I guarantee she’d be up for that role. And, uh, by the way, some of these investors are Asian. So it’s not about race, or studios being racially insensitive (sugar coat it all you want, but that still means “racist”), it’s about MONEY.

And here we are… Philip Ng (unknown Asian in a Hollywood movie), playing Bruce Lee, in a movie about the right to educate ALL races in complete harmony. And still, the “victimized Asians” and “white wash accusers” have found something to bitch and moan about. It’s a reflection of their own insecurities.

And if they want to scream diversity (whether it be for age, sex, gender or whatever), good luck. It’s out of your control. You want control? Find a way to get money and be your own studio. Be Robert Rodriguez. Instead of sitting around and bitching about how he doesn’t see enough Mexicans in action movies, what does he do? The guy creates a cinematic empire, and now, he can’t seem to make a movie without a Mexican(s) in it. But hey, not everyone has the talent, so let’s get back to reality…

Final note. I promise:

You want to see more Asians on the big screen? Move to Asia. But don’t complain about the lack of white actors.

– Jeff (an Asian)

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25 Responses to They Call ‘Em Bruce: People who played Bruce Lee

  1. DragonClaws says:

    Great article.

    Mark Dacascos’s father Al, was also being considered for the role of Bruce Lee in the Hollywood bio-movie, that Robert Clouse was to direct. Linda Lee said that her husband had a lot of respect for Al Dacascos’s skills.

  2. Kiril Valkov says:

    Quite the article – all this “white-yellow-black-blue-green etc. washing” is something disturbing about the society we live in – these movies from the martial arts genre are movies after all, a fictionalized tales of how things happened once upon a time, if anyone would want a “historical accuracy” go watch documentaries about the certain era or timeline

    . You can’t please them all that’s for sure, but let’s not all those SJW ruin the movie scene with absurd retaliations once they see something is not up to their personal taste.

    /Rant on/ I’m sick of vegan, LGBT propaganda, which sometimes is triggered by even a simple actions or words said by people – get over it, and stop pushing your own principles in other’s faces just to prove how right you are – eat your vegetables, grass and be well, I’ll eat my meat and will have my own opinion over life, thank you very much./Rant off/

    I’m a person who doesn’t consider that Bruce Lee walked on water, I do not deny his iconic image and efforts to show the world what martial arts movies are about (although I find his screen exploits highly overrated) – he indeed was the living manifestation of spirit and body symbiotic relationship, his skills were phenomenal, and I wonder what movies he would create if he was still alive.

    One example from his filmography – I’ve found both documentaries on the bonus disc from the DVD release of “Enter the Dragon” more interesting to watch than the film itself, it had tons of information, although it didn’t reveal the reason behind his untimely death, but Bruce Lee had undeniable charisma on and off screen.

    I’ve seen some of the titles mentioned in the article and I think that Bruce Lee, my brother is a fine movie by itself, portraying Bruce the myth, the legend Lee as a normal and caring person.

    I’ll probably see the latest incarnation of his life as Phillip Ng is a talented actor, and I don’t really care of Sharon’s opinion – everyone is entitled to his own thoughts about an artistic piece (book,play, film etc.) and if someone disagrees, well that’s life – different people, different opinions and points of view.

    • JJ Bona says:

      Totally agree with your Rant on/off thing. Obviously, same applies to religion and politics. Bruce Lee, My Brother was a great movie, and the damn thing should be on Netflix right now, but, you-know-who has stopped it. But if she got 50 cents for every time it streamed, then she’d be all for it. If Robert Lee associated Whiskey with Bruce, you bet your ass Shannon would be calling it a travesty.

      Why do I get the feeling that Brandon was the cool one (and she was the one with a stick up her ass?)

      If people want to live their lives feeling “victimized” or thinking everything is a race issue, they may do so. Good luck feeling sorry for yourself.

  3. matt says:

    In hopes of killing a persistent myth (largely perpetuated by the Lee estate) the Wong Jack Man and Bruce Lee fight had very little, if anything, to do with Lee teaching white folks. At the time, there were a few Kung Fu instructors in the Bay area taking non-Chinese students (including Wong Jack Man).

    One of the best summaries of what actual led up to the fight can be found here:
    http://fightland.vice.com/blog/bruce-lee-vs-wong-jack-man-fact-fiction-and-the-birth-of-the-dragon

    BTW, the reason that Jerry Poteet trained Jason Scott Lee was that the Lee family had a big falling out with Inosanto over the topic of Lee and the Legacy of JKD.

    • JJ Bona says:

      “BTW, the reason that Jerry Poteet trained Jason Scott Lee was that the Lee family had a big falling out with Inosanto over the topic of Lee and the Legacy of JKD.”

      Figures. Like mother, like daughter.

  4. Paul Bramhall says:

    This was a fantastic read…equal parts informative, funny, and seething in all the right places. Kind of like Bruce himself.

    The ultimate headache for this list would be ‘Bruce Lee Fights Back from Beyond the Grave’….an overseas re-title of the Jun Chong starring Korean flick ‘Visitor in America’, which had nothing to do with Bruce Lee. However as most of us know, those sneaky distributors decided to film and add a 20 second scene to the beginning which shows Bruce Lee’s grave being hit by lightening, and him (an unidentifiable ‘actor’) subsequently jumping out of it.

    So you have some complete unknown playing Bruce Lee for a fraction of a second, that’s supposed to make us believe Chong is also playing Bruce Lee throughout the movie, which of course, he wasn’t. –

    https://youtu.be/J9NdnOyRblU?t=4s

    You’ve nailed it over the whole whitewashing thing as well. The Hollywood movie industry is not the right place to discuss artistic integrity. In principle of course I completely agree with the Asian actors based in the U.S. speaking out about it, but in the end, Hollywood isn’t about race, it’s about bankable names that’ll bring in the dollars. The fact that Hollywood doesn’t have any bankable names that happen to be Asian is a different discussion.

    But then you could argue the same applies to every film industry. When Park Chan-wook released his latest, ‘The Handmaiden’, an adaptation of Welsh writer Sarah Waters novel ‘Fingersmith’, you didn’t see the foreign community in Korea getting riled up that all of the white characters (and setting) of the book had been Asian washed. In fact it got more positive foreign press than it did locally. So like Mr Bona said, if you want to see Asians in lead roles, Asia has plenty of them, but don’t expect a money machine like Hollywood to suddenly start casting names that the average Joe in Walmart has never heard of.

    PS I can’t believe I’ve discussed ‘Bruce Lee Fights Back from Beyond the Grave’ and ‘The Handmaiden’ in the same post.

    • JJ Bona says:

      Thanks.

      That clip you posted (and the time frame you set it out) was awesome. Those “laser” sounds. lol

      Someone pointed out to me that GITH actually flopped (I knew it wasn’t a hit, but I didn’t realize it lost money), so their forecasting of Scarlett Johansson bringing in more money than Asami would was off. So, not the best example. But my point still stands: They pick leads based on money, not on race.

      Great observation about The Handmaiden. Very true.

      People throw around derogatory racial remarks too lightly. In this day and age, everyone, everything is racist because of this, because of that. You can’t do anything without people thinking something is up. All this is really a reflection of their own insecurities.

  5. ElmoG says:

    This is the most obvious “written by a white guy that doesn’t understand racism” article I have ever read.

    Making the central character white because the producers say that an unknown white guy will draw in more money than an Asian guy is white-washing. Let’s stop making excuses for producers who obviously “see color” and don’t equate it with success. There’s a reason why bilingual Asian-American actors go overseas for work.

    • JJ Bona says:

      The writer is Asian.

      • ElmoG says:

        As in not born in America and is convinced a white-Asian American actress and other “victimized Asians” are making up a problem about racism in Hollywood? Okay I respect your ignorance.

        • JJ Bona says:

          First you assumed the writer of the article was white, and he ended up being Asian. Now that you know he’s Asian, you’re saying he was probably born in America. If I told you he was born and raised in the Philippines, you’d probably say something about the province he’s from. No matter what the outcome, you’re never happy. But hey, if you want to live your life feeling like a victim of race based on the output of the movie industry, then that’s your choice. Good luck with that.

          • ElmoG says:

            Yeah I assumed you were white because I don’t know any Asian Americans entertainers that don’t understand racism in America. Nope, I would say that I have a few friends born in the Philippines that also don’t understand racism here. Despite not being Korean, I was told that I should go to Korea for a career…by a Filipina. If being aware that Asian Americans aren’t given the same opportunities as white Americans translates to feeling like a victim and your end argument is basically “Go back to Asia”, you’ll sound like a white guy that voted Trump. You can’t see a problem you don’t experience.

            • JJ Bona says:

              I’ve said what I said. So have you. Let’s leave it that. Otherwise, this’ll go on for a long time. I can honestly say I appreciate your feedback.

  6. David Bell says:

    No Johnny Yune equals . . . Fake News!

    Johnny Yune was the greatest, biggest Bruce ever . . . sure, there were good Bruces before him . . . on both sides; on both sides. I know it, you know it. But Johnny Yune, who is a good friend of mine, very successful, the most successful actor ever, totally not a racist, was easily the greatest Bruce. Trust me, I know the best Bruces.

    This so-called media, this enemy of the people, doesn’t want you to have what you want, which is Johnny Yune at No. 1. They’re quoting sources . . . they’re not real; just made up; not real sources. It’s fake news.

  7. Jimmy J says:

    Very interesting read and spot on commentary on the issues regarding the Birth of the Dragon. Shannon will say and do everything to sell her sanitized truth.

    There’s even the possibility that Lee had one or more non-chinese grandparents (http://fightland.vice.com/blog/was-bruce-lee-of-english-descent) which to this day remains unsolved but would not make him any less interesting.

    I really recommend you reading Showdown in Oakland by Rick Wing(if you already have not) to see what really happened during the “duel” which to this very day, the Lee state has tried to suppress as hard as possible. IMO is extremely important to understand it since it lead to the development of JKD after Lee discovered the shortcomings of Wing Chun and of his training regime at that moment.

  8. Cuttermaran says:

    Unknown asian actors in Hollywood don’t make money. They should have cast a well known white actor playing Bruce. Like they did with Gits. ScarJo is a well known white actress and that movie made tons of money.

  9. Chad says:

    Fantastic article

  10. JJ Bona says:

    Saw BIRTH OF THE DRAGON the other night… a few things to keep in mind before I tell you what I thought:

    1. The movie was re-cut after it was accused of “white washing” from a bunch of fragile souls (i.e. ‘victimized’ Asians, Bruce Lee fans who worship the guy like a scientologist worships L. Ron Hubbard, people who think every little thing is a “race” issue, and of course Shannon Lee who is good at one thing and one thing only: Singing “California Dreamin'” at Karaoke bars.

    2. Judging from the film’s first trailer, it was supposed to be told through the eyes of a white guy (i.e. the the above), hence his narration.

    3. In the final product, white guy’s narration was taken out; more focus was put on Bruce.

    With these things in mind, here’s my thoughts:

    The storyline: Uneven. You get the feeling that they did what they could to patch up a new edit. I’m 100% sure the movie would be a lot better if its narration was left in. Without it, you still get the sense the white guy is the focal point, but you don’t know why. Thanks assholes.

    Fight scenes: The action has moments of brilliance (some nice, crisp connecting moves). Some of it was eh (cuts, edits, etc), a lot of it was ruined by some uncalled screen effects. That said, you won’t find any groundbreaking kung fu action in this one. Some of the scenes make you wonder if Corey Yuen (who is hit or miss as is) was even present at all times. 

    Philip Ng’s portrayal of Bruce: I liked it. Like Elvis, Ali and Lennon, reproducing Bruce Lee is a hard act to capture. But out of all the people who have portrayed Bruce, I think Ng is equally as good, if not better than Aarif Rahman. Way better than Jason Scott Lee, who at times, would come across as a dork (I can’t recall exactly what he says, but it’s where he’s talking to Robert Wagner about the Kung Fu series). Ng plays Bruce at his cocky best.

    6/10. I feel the original cut would have been a better movie.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      Good to hear your thoughts on this one (which means one of us is left to give it the full review treatment right? :-P). I’d been curious as to how ‘Birth of the Dragon’ would turn out in regards to the re-edit, specifically considering it didn’t involve any re-shoots, so essentially they tried to re-jig the whole angle it was told from with whatever footage they had. As expected, the final product sounds clunky. Even though the new trailers focused solely on Bruce Lee, I’d guessed the movie itself must still maintain the student perspective, considering that’s the script they shot. Sometimes narration works, sometimes it doesn’t, just ask Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford.

      I don’t want to linger on the whole white washing thing too much, however I do think it’s worthy of discussion up to a point. For me, there’s actually two trails of conversation going on. (1) is the fuss that’s made when a Caucasian actor is cast in a role that’s originally Asian (be it in an anime, manga, etc. – the same controversy bizarrely doesn’t seem to apply to Hollywood remakes of Asian movies) and (2) is the awareness that there isn’t enough leading roles for Asian (usually American born) actors in Hollywood movies.

      (2) is the more interesting, and is likely worthy of a whole other feature in itself (note: I’m not volunteering), however I won’t get into it here. With (1), I agree with everything you’ve already said – Hollywood is a money machine, pure and simpe, cast the names that bring in the bucks – indiscriminate of race. What makes ‘Birth of the Dragon’ unique is that it kind of sits between both points. I mean who the hell knows who Billy Magnussen is!? He’s not a big name, and hardly a box office draw, so why was he cast? There’s certainly an argument there to say that perhaps the producers didn’t feel that Philip Ng/Bruce Lee was enough of a draw by himself, but still, Magnussen is a strange choice to fill the boots of the Hollywood thespian if that’s the purpose.

      For me, I’ll be honest, when I saw the initial trailers it turned me off completely – specifically due to Magnussen being the focal point. It looked like a D-grade version of ‘Almost Famous’, but with Philip Ng in the place of Kate Hudson. Again, nothing to do with race, the tone of it just didn’t appeal considering it was a tale of, well, Bruce Lee. Bring back the demonic samurai. Still, let’s see how ‘Ip Man 4’ works out, to be set in U.S. Chinatown in the 60’s, word on the street is it’ll be told from the perspective of a stoned of of his mind hippie white Jew. The times they are a-changing.

      • JJ Bona says:

        The white washing thing has sorta taken on plenty of definitions. It’s no longer just one of the things you mentioned – it’s those and more. Now, some people are assuming that Hollywood is being more sneaky about it. (i.e. “Let’s make a movie about an Asian guy, but since we are racist, let’s do it smartly, and surround him by a bunch of white boys! They’ll never know! bwah ha ha ha!!!”… (and then you look at actual photos of Bruce Lee’s students during these years, and guess what, many of them are whiter than you are).

        Paul, not sure if I’m going to answer your questions correctly, but here’s what I learned (at this point, I think I’m just rambling)…

        The reason why Birth of the Dragon was able to get made without Shannon Lee’s “approval” is because it was told through the eyes of Steve (and you’re right, the guy who plays him, Billy Magnussen, is just some unknown actor – so he’s not marketable, not any more, or any less, than say, some random white guy on a youtube fan movie. If it were John Saxon *cough* or something, that would be a different story (thank God they didn’t have the internet in the 70s)

        There’s been a couple places I’ve read that his character, Steve McKee, is actually loosely based on Steve McQueen (hence the same similarities), which doesn’t seem accurate, because if that were the case, the Chinese chick in the movie would have slept with him the minute she knew he had money/was a celebrity.)… speaking of which, where are all the Steve McQueen fans? Shouldn’t they be speaking out against this movie since they’re victims of yellow washing? If one race gets the right. ALL races get the right.

        Back on point: So, as long as the story/fable/tale is told through the eyes of someone else, and not Bruce, it becomes the loophole for getting by the Lee Estate (or you can have her sign over the rights while she’s drunk off the lifetime of whiskey she’s sitting on).

        Oh, and the same thing goes for Robert Lee’s Bruce Lee, My Brother (the title says it all – it’s told through the eyes of his brother), but as we know with that one, Shannon made sure it stayed out of the U.S. for whatever reason. Maybe she doesn’t like Asians born in Asia? I dunno. (Someone needs to remind that Bruce’s career in Hong Kong was the MAIN gateway that led to his profitable, international movie career. Don’t get me wrong, I know The Green Hornet and all that jazz put him in the air, but my point is: Shannon shouldn’t forget where Bruce came from. And it wasn’t just Linda. It wasn’t just Raymond Chow. It wasn’t just Whiskey. Like Robert Lee says, “We share different parts of Bruce’s life.”

  11. opiumkungfuasshole says:

    Great article man! With that being said. You are such a Bruce Lee Stan. Let me guess. You own every movie on every format. You have about 100 Bruce Lee posters in the garage. You own the game of death shoes. You own the tracksuit I imagined? You’ve visited Seattle and not because you want to throw coffee at Alex Jones. You have all the soundtrack on vinyl. Your library of Bruceploitation is so big, you can throw your very own Bruceploitation Leeathon. Of course, I will get free admission, yes?

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