Forty-five years since his death on July 20, 1973, under mysterious circumstances, martial arts icon Bruce Lee continues to thrill and amaze with his prowess.
Born Lee Jun-fan in Chinatown, San Francisco, in 1940, Lee would rewrite the action genre and redefine the way Asians were represented in American films.
The biggest influence on Lee’s martial arts development was his study of Wing Chun (a traditional sout-hern Chinese kung fu with special focus on close combat) when he was 16 under Ip Man after losing fights to gang members. He would later combine kung fu with the grace of a ballet dancer — a philosophy called Jeet Kune Do or the Way of the Intercepting Fist.
Lee was spotted showing off his two-finger press ups and legendary one-inch punch at a karate event in Long Beach when a producer approached him and arranged a screen test. This earned him the role of Kato in the television series Green Hornet.
Son of Cantonese opera star Lee Hoi-chuen, Lee took to films naturally, starting with A Beginning of a Boy.
His first lead role in The Big Boss (1971) set cash registers ringing across Asia and became a surprise hit in Beirut in 1972. People from across the world arrived in Hong Kong to buy the film, which was opening in new markets for Chinese films such as South America, Africa and southern Europe.
♦ The Big Boss (1971): Compelled by a family promise, Cheng Chao-an (Lee) joins his cousins to work at an ice factory. When his family members begin to disappear mysteriously, he is forced to break his vow of not fighting in order to solve the mystery
♦ Fist of Fury (1972): Lee as Chen Zhen returns to his former school to learn of his instructor’s murder. He seeks vengeance and finds that drug smuggling, a rival school, and racial tension between the Chinese and the Japanese as reasons
♦ Way of the Dragon (1972): Lee’s only complete directorial venture. Tang Lung (Lee) decides to help his relatives, who are being forced by a syndicate to sell their restaurant. The syndicate assigns a martial artist to defeat Tang. The film also starred Chuck Norris and Robert Wall
♦ Enter the Dragon (1973): The cult classic gained Lee legions of fans and made him the legend he remains to this day. He plays a martial-arts expert, also called Lee, determined to help capture a narcotics dealer whose gang was responsible for his sister’s death. He enters a kung fu competition to fight his way to the dealer’s HQ with help from friends. One of the greatest martial arts films, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” in 2004
♦ The Game of Death (1978): An incomplete martial arts film directed, written, produced by and starring Lee. A martial arts (Lee) teacher fakes his own death after unknown assailants try to kill him to trace the culprits. It features the cult showdown between Lee and 7’2” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Hakim
• Uma Thurman’s yellow jumpsuit in Kill Bill: Volume 1 was Quentin Tarantino’s tribute to the legend
• Uma Thurman uses her fingers to break out of a coffin in Kill Bill: Volume 2, said to have been inspired from Lee’s fabled one-inch punch
• Time magazine named Lee as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century
• In April 2014, EA Sports announced that Lee would be a featured character in the UFC video game
• Men’s Health named him the second Fittest Man of All Time
• Lee has been immortalised with statues in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina)