Bruce Lee remembered for more than his movies

Sun Apr 4, 2010 11:40pm EDT
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By Alex Ben Block

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - When a lifelike figure of Bruce Lee was unveiled at Madame Tussaud's wax museum in Hollywood earlier this year, his only surviving child noted that he died shortly before the 1974 premiere of "Enter The Dragon," the movie that made him a global superstar.

"I think my dad definitely dreamed he would make an impact like this," said Shannon Lee, who was three when her father died of a cerebral edema aged just 32. "I'm very sorry he didn't live to see it, but it's nice to see those dreams come true."

Thirty-seven years after his sudden death, Lee's dream has been fulfilled not only in Hollywood but all over the world.

The San Francisco-born, Hong Kong-raised actor has become an iconic figure alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and James Dean. His influence as an actor, fighter and philosopher has been recognized by stars like Jackie Chan and rapper LL Cool J, creators such as Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee, and movie directors John Woo and Brett Ratner.

What is particularly interesting about the posthumous evolution of Bruce Lee is that he is not only remembered for the handful of movies and TV show in which he starred but also for breaking racial barriers, helping erase stereotypes and his contributions in such areas as mixed martial arts, fitness, health and a philosophy that recognized the commonality of all humanity.

While a wax figure of Lee in Hollywood or a memorial in Hong Kong are not big surprises, there is also a life-size statue in Mostar, Bosnia erected in 2005 as a symbol of efforts to heal ethnic tensions in a place that suffered from civil war in the 1990s.

"The reason they chose him is not because he's a martial arts star," said Shannon Lee shortly after the bronze was unveiled, "but he represents somebody who had a lot of ethnic struggle in his lifetime and overcame it. So, to them, he is a unifying force and representative of somebody who overcame that."

In the first years after his death, numerous imitators sprang onto the screen, often with confusingly similar names like Bruce Li (who was really Ho Chung Tao of Taiwan), Bruce Le (a Hong Kong actor) and Dragon Lee (from South Korea). They were part of a movement called Brucexplotation, a reference to the fact they traded on Lee's fame. In reality, the impact of these low budget, action heavy movies was to dilute interest in the entire genre.   Continued...