In 1958, a Hong Kong teenager named Bruce Lee (played by Ho Chung-tao, credited under the name Bruce Li) is upset that his mother is forcing him to go to college in America. His martial arts instructor assures Bruce that he is meant for great things and encourages him to bring his philosophy of life to all of the people of the world.
In America, Bruce finds fame as a martial arts instructor and he pursues a career as an actor. However, everywhere he goes, he’s told that no major American studio would ever be willing to invest money in an “unknown Chinese actor.” Bruce finds brief fame with a supporting role on The Green Hornet but his Hollywood prospects sputters when he announces that he refuses to play any demeaning stereotypes. Taking control of his own career, Bruce returns to Hong Kong and produces his own films. He becomes an international superstar before dying under mysterious circumstances at the age of 32.
Following the death of the real-life Bruce Lee, there were hundreds of martial arts films released that featured look-alike actors who were credited with names like Bruce Ly, Bruce Lei, Bruce Lai, and Bruce Le. These films often featured Lee either fighting the Tongs or some other sort of international conspiracy. Many of them also speculated about the cause of his death or flat out presented Lee as having faked his death in order to escape from his enemies. (Typically, these films would feature at least some footage of Lee’s funeral and the real Bruce Lee lying in his coffin.) So many of these films were released that they eventually were grouped under their own genre, Bruceploitation.
Of the faux Bruces who appeared in Bruceploitation films, Ho Chung-tao was the most successful. Credited as Bruce Li, he not only bore a strong physical resemblance to Bruce Lee but he was also one of the few Bruce imitators to have any on-screen charisma as well. Bruce Li may not have been Bruce Lee but, of the imitators, he was the best. (He was also one of the most frequently frustrated, retiring from acting at the age of 40 because he was sick of only being allowed to play Bruce Lee.)
Bruce Lee, The Man, The Myth is a generally straight-forward biopic. It covers all of the big events of Lee’s life and, unlike a lot of other Bruceploitation films, it mostly sticks to the facts. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of fights to be found in this film. Lee is constantly getting into fights but, for the most part, they’re just with people who want to challenge the great Bruce Lee and see if he’s really as impressive as everyone says that he is. Other than a strange but fun scene where Bruce is approached by the daughter of a mafia boss, this film does not portray Lee as being a crime fighter or a secret agent. Like many Bruceploitation film, this movie hints that Lee faked his own death but, in the version I saw, a narrator dismisses the reports of Lee’s survival as just being rumors. (The narrator also says that if Bruce is still alive, he’ll emerge from hiding in 1983. Draw your own conclusions.)
Bruce Lee, The Man, The Myth is an entertaining biopic. When it comes to a Bruceploitation flick, all that most people really ask for is that the Bruce imitator be convincing and that the fights be exciting. On both counts, Bruce Lee, The Man, The Myth delivers.