Film: Young Bruce Lee ***
Release date: 30th May 2011
Running time: 129 mins
Director: Raymond Yip, Manfred Wong
Starring: Tony Leung Ka Fai, Christy Chung, Aarif Rahman, Jennifer Tse, Michelle Ye
Genre: Biography/Drama/Martial arts
Young Bruce Lee takes us back to the early days of a martial arts legend, seen through the eyes of his younger brother Robert. Produced by Manfred Wong (The Storm Riders) who also co-directed with Raymond Yip, Young Bruce Lee casts Aarif Lee as the legend-to-be. Aarif is no stranger to success either, having taken home the Hong Kong Film Award for Best New Performer for his scene-stealing debut in the period drama Echoes of the Rainbow. He is joined by the likes of Tony Leung, Christy Chung and Jennifer Tse (Nicholas Tse's sister), appearing in her big screen debut...
He said: Bruce Lee was still a baby when his famous father, Cantonese opera artist Lee Hoi Chuen (Tony Leung), took their family back to Hong Kong in order to live near his mother (Lee Heung Kam) and sister (Michelle Ye). Bruce’s movie career started earlier than most people realise, and he made several appearances as a child actor, the first of which being The Kid at just nine years of age.
She said: Young Bruce Lee is a two-hour drama with very little of the essential ingredient. On paper it’s big on ideas but, disappointingly, thin on conflict – a flimsy love triangle with Lee torn between two beautiful sweethearts, a boxing champ looking for revenge tagged on at the end, a family coping with the fall of Hong Kong, a young man battling his drug addiction, and Lee embarking on a movie career that will inevitably lead to stardom suggests great things. It doesn’t deliver.
He said: His connection to cinema led to romance with both Man Yee (Jennifer Tse) and Man Lan (Gong Mi), daughters of well-known stars in Asian cinema. These events are depicted at great length in Young Bruce Lee, so anyone expecting a kick-ass tribute has got a lot of waiting to do. The first fight sequence takes place over 70 minutes into the film, before that we are witness to layers of drama and sentiment, and several ‘key moments’ that shaped the future of action cinema.
She said: The real distinction of the film is that it crumbles under the weight of expectancy, with the final act the only thing that will please fans of Bruce Lee, the legend, rather than Phoenix Lee, the ordinary kid whose years growing up were at the very best, dull.
He said: The young Bruce hangs out with his friends, wins a dance competition, falls in love with the wrong girl, gets into fights we don’t actually see, and stars in several home grown movies. As a human drama it works really well, up to point.
She said: Skipping many years in the process, ditching action sequences just as the audience shift forward onto the edge of their seats, the two auteurs replace friction with birthday buns, a game of marbles an dancing the cha cha. Until the last half hour, the latter is easily the most exciting scene, choreographed and filmed in a surprisingly breathtaking manner.
He said: I was hoping to discover what made the man tick, an indication as to what drove Bruce to physical perfection, an insight into the man behind the myth - I wasn’t expecting to see school boy crushes and well-choreographed dance sequences. The cinematography is splendid, as are most of the performances, but the insights we’re longing for are strangely absent.
She said: It doesn’t really justify a lengthy running time that sugarcoats his family before bombarding us with some sensational action sequences that somehow sit out of place. This, coming from a Bruce Lee movie, is astonishing.
He said: His time studying Wing Chun under the tutelage of Master Ip Man is well documented - but not so here. It’s hard to imagine a year going by these days without a cinematic depiction of Ip Man, such is the influence he had on the world of martial arts, but in Young Bruce Lee we don’t even get to see his face - Donnie must’ve been waxing his chest that day. We do catch a glimpse of him in a photograph but that’s about it, then it’s back to the soap-style romance and family domestics.
She said: With its decent location and believable setting, one of the other notable pleasures is the performances. The characterizations may be pretty standard, they all emerge as too similar, but the casting is spot-on, even if Rahman’s Lee is at times too cocky, a bit smug, and less likeable because of it. The true winner in this movie, however, is the traitor who invades their home when Lee is barely old enough to walk, and who then appears at various points in an all too brief but brilliantly sleazy turn as the cartoonish villain of the piece, pushing the film towards it more satisfying action-packed conclusion.
He said: An attempt to add excitement arrives in the final act, with the introduction of British boxing champion Charlie Owen (Alex Yen), not to mention run-ins with drug dealers and evil henchmen. Charlie’s arrival is what prompts Bruce to visit Ip Man, but it’s not until he steps inside the ring that things step up a gear - from an action junkie’s point of view at least. The fight scenes are choreographed incredibly well, adding a touch of much needed flair to proceedings.
She said: They are reward for observing such a damp squid of a film. With the help of slick cinematography, the scenes have a sleek, shadowy look that owes as much to Lee’s famous flicks from yesteryear as much to Stallone’s Rocky franchise. A strange score during the frantic no-holds-barred rematch between Lee and Owen is slightly distracting, but this is the best moment of the film, with the drug house rooftop climax a close second, and oddly, the cha cha competition in which Lee performs with his younger brother, more thrilling than you could probably imagine.
He said: The action sequences are pleasant enough, but it’s the lack of true insight that hits the hardest. Young Bruce Lee is a wasted opportunity to show the true face of a fighting legend, and if a sequel surfaces in which he takes on the Russians, I’m out of here.
She said: Young Bruce Lee indulges in a bizarre tonal shift from dire drama to an action-packed finale bordering on thrilling. It’s hard work getting there, and fans of Lee will hate how such an icon has been made to look so ordinary, but skip to the end and enjoy some truly entertaining set-pieces that question the matter-of-factness of its opening two acts.