Christopher Bray

The amazing grace of Bruce Lee’s fight scenes

As Lee whirls round Chuck Norris or back-flips while kicking Bob Wall, you might fancy yourself watching Fred and Ginger at work

Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in Fury of the Dragon, 1972. [Alamy]

Early on in Enter the Dragon our hero, the acrobatic Kung Fu fighter Bruce Lee, tells a young pupil to kick him. Needless to say, the kid’s kick comes a cropper. ‘What was that?’, Lee sneers, clipping the lad’s ear. ‘An exhibition? We need emotional content, not anger.’

Even at 12, when I first read about this scene (in the poster magazine Kung Fu Monthly, whose first 26 issues are handsomely reproduced in Volume I of Carl Fox’s Archive Series), I thought it sounded like a load of chop suey hooey. An exhibition is precisely what I’d have wanted, if by some miracle I could have wise-guyed my way into seeing Lee’s X-rated picture. Anyway, if anger isn’t an emotion, what is it? And if I’d needed any cod philosophising, I could have got it from my elder brother’s NME, thank you very much.

For a man who liked to break bricks with his bonce, Bruce Lee was no bonehead

But here we are, coming up to half a century since Lee’s early death (at 32 – from drugs, heatstroke, extra-marital nooky etc), and Daryl Joji Maeda, a professor of ethnic studies at Boulder University, Colorado, wants us to know that this guy was a thinker who ‘embraced Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian philosophies’. That’s right: Lee’s legacy isn’t just a handful of dopey fight flicks. The Little Dragon was as much a Heidegger as a high-kicker.

Then again, for a man who liked to break bricks with his bonce, Lee was no bonehead. Maeda has been through the notebooks Lee kept as a philosophy student at the University of Washington, and they’re not unimpressive. If Lee’s dismissal of Descartes isn’t quite final, nor is it merely fatuous. Lee had no time for dualism.

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