Pete McCormack’s documentary I Am Bruce Lee chronicles martial arts legend Bruce Lee life from a troubled youth spent street fighting in Hong Kong to his departure to the United States where he got his first taste of fame that grew in the years that followed. Through it all he devoted himself to martial arts as a form of self-expression, and in so doing he crossed the paths of many fighting legends like Chuck Norris and Gene LeBell and influenced countless others including Gina Carano, Manny Pacquiao, and more. As a documentary, I Am Bruce Lee benefits from numerous family, friends, and acquaintances with anecdotes to share, and frankly, it would have been a wholly enjoyable 94 minutes had it stuck to that. Unfortunately it also gives people like Dana White opportunities to say some really stupid things and features questionable editing and interview footage of people with very little to say.
The legend of Bruce Lee, from childhood to his death, is an inspiring one even if you’re dead-set on writing him off as little more than a film star and not a genuine martial arts innovator. Apart from the establishment of his Jeet Kune Do fighting philosophy and starring in Hollywood and Hong Kong cinema, Lee was a family man and mentor to many aspiring martial artists. Accordingly, I Am Bruce Lee features tons of archive footage and clips from his films intercut with testimonies from modern fighters, actors, and more testifying to Lee’s influence on their own career and the pursuit of their passions. The mix of interviewed subjects has its obvious choices like trainer Gene LeBell and current fighter turned actress Gina Carano, but it also has a few odd ones like Modern Family's Ed O’Neill, who was inspired by Lee to get his black belt.
Where the film trips up is when the interviewees have little to no relevance (like Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo who cites Lee’s bouncing fighting stance as the inspiration for his dancing) or they say something unforgivably stupid like Dana White in the case of “Martial arts has evolved more in the last 10 years than it has in the last 10 thousand years” or “mixed martial art is the purest form of combat that you could possibly have in civilization”. The quotes are more than a little foolish, and his attempts to tie them back to Lee’s legacy are weak and seem more like self-aggrandizement than anything else.
Then you have the poor editing choices where one of Lee’s present-day acolytes says one thing and then archival footage of Lee says the opposite. It’s counterproductive to any kind of point the film could hope to make for Lee’s legacy and it makes it seem as if the production was running short and so McCormack threw footage in to stretch it out without fully thinking through whether the added clips supported his thesis. Even if it’s just a case of someone not fully understanding Lee’s fighting philosophy, choosing to showcase that moment in your film back to back with Lee contradicting them is a rather self-defeating move.
In spite of that, the documentary remains rather engrossing, whether you’re a Bruce Lee fan or not.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Additional archive footage including the full cut of Lee’s Hollywood audition film, his training videos, and a collection of his action scenes supplement the disc’s sole featurette which sums up Lee’s international influence.
"I Am Bruce Lee" is on sale January 15, 2013 and is not rated. Documentary. Directed by Pete Mccormack. Starring Bruce Lee, Ed ONeill, Gina Carano.