The Work and Life of Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee (born Lee Jun-fan, 1940-1973) was a Chinese American and Hong Kong martial arts actor, martial arts coach, philosopher, and film director. He was born in November 27, 1940 in San Francisco, California, United States to parents of Hong Kong origin. His father was a singer and Lee was born while his father was on tour in the US.

Lee and his parents returned to Hong Kong in 1941, he appeared in his first movie at the age of three, and altogether appeared in an estimated 20 movies as a child actor. Besides acting, Bruce studied dance and later became a member of a Hong Kong Street gang. In 1953, he started learning kung fu. Bruce Lee moved in to the US at the age of 18 to claim his citizenship by virtue of birth, and to further his education. He completed his high school in Edison, Washington and consequently joined the University of Washington, majoring in philosophy (Bio, para. 2).

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It is while he was in university that he began his martial arts job, coaching fellow students and teachers on the Wing Chun technique of martial arts that he had studied in Hong Kong. It is also through the teaching job that he met Linda Emery, whom he married in 1964 (Thomas, pp. 57). By then, he had established his own martial arts schools in California, Los Angeles, and Oakland.

In these schools, Bruce Lee mainly taught the Jeet Kune Do technique (Tagliafero, pp. 17). Lee became widely known in the US when he was chosen to play a role in the television show The Green Hornet, which was televised between 1966 and 1967. The show was adopted from an earlier radio show and the small and slender Lee showed his athletic and theatric fighting technique as the Hornet’s faithful assistant, Kato. He also made cameo appearances in other TV shows such as Ironside and Longstreet, his most noteworthy role came in the 1969 movie Marlowe, in which the main actor was James Garner (Thomas, pp.

116). However, with the reduction in major film roles and the commonness of stereotypes aimed at actors of Asian descent, Lee left Los Angeles and returned to Hong Kong in 1971, together with his wife, Linda Lee Cadwell, and two children, Brandon Lee (1965-1993) and Shannon Lee (born 1967). Unknown to Lee, The Green Hornet had been aired in Hong Kong and was widely received, he was surprised to be identified on the streets upon his return to Hong Kong. He signed a contact with Raymond Chow to release two movies with the Golden Harvest Company. Lee had his first leading role in The Big Boss (1971) which was a huge success across Asia, and propelled him to prominence. He shortly followed this with Fist of Fury (1972) which was even more successful than its predecessor, The Big Boss.

In Fists of Fury, Lee was presented as a fighter on a mission to revenge the killing of his master, the film set new box office records in Hong Kong. After finishing his two-movie contract, Lee discussed another contact with Golden Harvest. He later formed his own film company, Concord Production Inc. He released another film, The Chinese Connection (1972) which broke previous records held by Fists of Fury, however, the film, just like Fists of Fury, received widely negative reviews from critics when released in the US. Lee starred in yet another movie; Way of the Dragon (1972), he was offered full control of the movie’s writing and directing. In Way of the Dragon, Lee brought in Chuck Norris, whom he had earlier met in California, as his challenger in the last death fight at the Colosseum in Rome, this is today considered as one of Lee’s most famous fight scenes and one of the most brilliant fights in the history of martial arts (Tagliafero, pp. 52). In the late 1972, Lee started working on another film, Game of Death, to be produced by his production firm.

He began shooting some scenes including his fight progression with the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, his old student and an American athlete. However, production was halted when Warner Brothers gave Lee the chance to star in Enter the Dragon. The film would later thrust Lee into the US and Europe. However, a few months after production was completed and six days to its release (July 26, 1973), Lee died at the age of 32. Enter the Dragon became one of the year’s top grossing films and reinforced Lee as a martial arts superstar.

The film cost $850,000 to make in 1974, this is today equal to $4 million. Since its release, the movie has grossed more than $0.2 billion globally. The film ignited a short trend in martial arts, seen in songs such as Kung Fu Fighting and television broadcast such as Kung Fu. Robert Clouse, the director of Enter the Dragon, and Chow tried to complete the Game of Death as Lee had made more than 100 shots before he was stopped for the Enter the Dragon role.

Fight History

Besides starring in films, Lee also participated in some competitive fights. He beat Gary Elms,a British fighter and three-time champion, by knockout, in the 1958 Hong Kong Inter-School Amateur Boxing Championships. He made use of Wing Chun traps and upper and lower straight blows. In fact, it was said that had he ventured into professional boxing, he could perhaps have been a champion in the junior-welterweight category. In 1959, he became a member of a street gang and participated in numerous of their fights.

During one of the fights, he broke the arm of an opponent and police were later called in. It is at this moment that his parents decided he ought to be trained in martial arts. His father was his main teacher and gave him the fundamentals of the tai chi technique. In 1962, he took 10 seconds to defeat Uechi, a Japanese karate expert, and in 1964 he had a private match with Wong Jack Man, a student of the Ma Kin Fung who was known for his mastery of many martial arts techniques. Lee once stated that the Chinese had asked him to stop teaching martial arts to Americans, and when he defied the order, he was challenged for a fight with Wong.

The agreement was that if he lost the fight, he would close down his school, but when he won, he would have the freedom of teaching martial arts to anyone. However, Wong denies this, saying that the fight had been due to Lee’s direct request, and that Wong did not show favoritism for the Chinese, nor hatred against Caucasians or any other persons. The fight went Lee’s way, with conflicting statements on the duration of the fight, Bruce Lee and Linda Lee Cadwell indicated that the fight went for 3 minutes with a big win for Lee, however, Wong and a few others say the fight lasted almost 25 minutes. Lee’s celebrity status put him in the path of several individuals who wanted to become famous by facing Lee.

Once, a man broke into his compound and challenged him to a fight. Bruce Lee finished off the fight with a brutal kick, angered by the man’s invasion of his private home.

Acting Career

Lee’s father, Lee Hoi-Chuen, was a renowned opera singer, because of this, Bruce Lee began his acting career at a very tender age. Lee had acted in twenty movies at the time he was 18. During his stay in the US, Lee discarded the notions of a film career, instead opting to take up martial arts.

However, a martial arts show on Long Beach in 1964 led to the invitation of Lee to for a trial for Number One Son, the show was no successful, but this led to him obtaining the role of Kato in The Green Hornet, playing a supporting role for Van Williams. The show aired for a single season. Lee also appeared in 3 episodes of Batman and later made cameo appearances in a few other shows such as Ironside (1967) and Here Comes the Bride (1969). During this time, two of Lee’s learners were Hollywood scriptwriters, and in 1969, the three came up with a script for a movie known as The Silent Flute, and went to search of a suitable location in India.

The mission was not achieved, but the 1978 movie, The Circle of Iron was based on the script. In 1969, Lee made a short-lived appearance in Marlowe in which he took part as a villain hired to frighten private investigator Philip Marlowe by crashing his office with flying kicks and fast punches, only to fall of a building while attempting to kick Marlowe. He also directed fight scenes for The Wrecking Crew (1969). He again directed fight scenes for A Walk in the Rain. He played the role of a martial arts trainer in the TV series, Longstreet, vital facets of his martial arts philosophy were exposed on the show. On his return to Hong Kong, he was given leading roles inn several high-profile movies, as earlier mentioned.

These include The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972), Game of Death, and finally Enter the Dragon.


Although mainly known as a martial arts professional, Bruce Lee studied drama and Philosophy while staying in the US. His martial arts books contain many philosophical statements both within and out of the sphere of martial arts. His diverse philosophy often reflected his fighting principles, though he never hesitated to declare that his martial arts were merely a symbol for the teachings. Bruce Lee asserted that acquiring any information eventually led to self-knowledge, and that his preferred mode of communication was martial arts. In contrast, his philosophy was greatly in resistance to the conservative world outlook pushed by Confucianism. It is claimed that Lee did not believe in God’s existence.

When questioned on his religious beliefs in 1972, he answered “none whatsoever”, again in the same year, when questioned whether he believed in God, he replied “To be perfectly frank, I really do not” (HubPages, para. 5).

July 26, 1973

On may 10, 1973, Lee became unconscious at the Golden Harvest studios while working on the movie Enter the Dragon, he was instantly taken to the Hong Kong Baptist Hospital and was diagnosed with cerebral edema. The doctors lessened the swelling and he was given a mannitol prescription. These symptoms later were later repeated during his death. Lee had travelled to Hong Kong, to have dinner with George Lazenby, a fellow actor with whom he had planned to release a movie.

According to Linda, her husband met Raymond Chow at 2pm at the house to talk about the shooting of the film, Game of Death that he had earlier halted. The meeting lasted until 4 pm and then went to the home of Betty Ting, Lee’s associate and a Taiwanese actress, Chow left them for a dinner meeting. Later, Lee had a mild headache, and was given Equagesic, a painkiller, which had Aspirin and Meprobamate.

Just about 7:30 in the evening, he went to have some light sleep. When he did not show up for dinner, Chow came looking but could not awaken him from the sleep. He immediately called for a doctor, who spent ten minutes trying to resuscitate him before putting moving him Queen Elizabeth Hospital. However, he was declared dead on reaching the hospital. There were no observable external injuries, however, according to the autopsy details, his brain had distended significantly, from 1,400 to 1,575 g, a 13% rise. He was 32 at the time of his death.

The only material found in his body was the painkillers he had been given by Ting. On October 15, 2005, Chow stated during an interview that Lee had died from a hypersensitivity to meprobamate that was present in the Equagesic. However, the doctors had ruled Lee’s death to be due to a “death by adventure”. An argument ensued when Lee’s personal physician, Don Langford, who had attended to Lee when he had first become unconscious, stated that Lee’s death had not been the cause of Lee’s first attack. However, it was later concluded that the death had been as a result of acute cerebral edema because of a reaction to the substances contained in the prescription drug, Equagesic. Lee was buried at Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle, Washington.

Lee’s status and early death led to many theories about the cause of his demise, including murder and curse. However, Black Belt magazine claimed that Lee’s death had been as a result of “delayed reaction to a dim mark strike he received several weeks before becoming unconscious” (World Black Belt Bureau, para. 3).

Others said he had died because of a “Vibrating Palm Technique” (World Black Belt Bureau, para. 2).

Works Cited

Bio. Bruce Lee Biography, 2010. Retrieved November 28, 2010, fromhttp://www. HubPages. Legend of Bruce Lee, 2010. Retrieved November 28, 2010, from Tagliafero, Linda.

Bruce Lee. 2000. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company Thomas, Bruce. Bruce Lee: fighting spirit, 1994. California: Frog Publishers World Black Belt Bureau. Dim Mark, (No date). Retrieved November 28, 2010, from


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