First, I should confess to being something of a Bruce Lee virgin. I have not read any other books or articles on him, nor owned a poster of his famous, glistening, muscle-happy torso. Indeed, I hadn’t even seen one of his movies until, in 1996, I finally saw Enter the Dragon. I counted my ignorance a huge advantage in appraising this labor of quite obsessive love by the ubiquitous pop guitarist and dedicated Bruce Lee apologist Bruce Thomas, even as I found my frail sensibility freezing under his unnecessarily repetitive bludgeoning with an overpowering surfeit of insistent adoration.
Certain “wise” lessons and speculations as to Bruce Lee’s motives are clumsily repeated and paraphrased over and over again, in a flawed and ungainly attempt to direct the reader’s opinion. One feels sure that Bruce Thomas wrote and rewrote certain key paragraphs, initially intending to use the best and most flowing (ironically, just like Lee’s jeet kune do) but that in the end he used all of them without discernment, either because he could not honestly select the most effective or because he was too indecisive to act.
Undisciplined writing style aside, the reader is vividly presented with a churlish and rather brutal Bruce Lee who revels in violent street fights and the physical dominance of any and all peers. A pragmatic misfit whose initial attraction to the more formal wing chun system seems to have been primarily to improve his ability in order to beat more rivals into bloody submission, in many ways Lee is a classic “nasty piece of work.”
He was a narcissistically motivated man whose fanatacism grew exponentially to the point of him becoming completely devoid of any socially or self-imposed boundaries as to what he could achieve. Such ambitious amorality resonates throughout this revealing book alongside Lee’s increasingly contradictory but refreshingly clear comprehension of the poetic and mystical implications of his extraordinary martial skills.
There is a feeling that his entire career became a synthetic metaphor for a modern cultural collision: Chinese tradition focused by mercurial American commercialism and the fervor of notoriety induced by Hollywood fame, counterbalanced by the deceptiveness of his Asian blend of joviality and occasional obsequiousness. Yes, this guy was a compelling mess: a stunningly balletic thug with an inferiority complex so voracious and gross that his insatiable ego seems to have expired from the sheer shock of realizing that all media projections are entirely vacuous.
As Bruce Lee’s nature unfolds, he is revealed as a psychotically driven victim of his own ambitious, greedy fantasy, a disintegrating genius who, despite his credulous confusion over the altruism of fame, still remained one hell of a sight in those fight scenes and, apparently, a truly inspiring asshole of a teacher.
Was he that good? That fast? Thomas quotes director Robert Clouse: “All I can say is, he had the fastest reflexes I’ve ever seen. In one shot… In order to see his hand lash out and hit… we had to speed the camera up to 30 frames a second. At normal speed it didn’t show on film.” So there you have it. Oh, and yes, drugs were involved in his death. A rare “allergy” to hashish in his brain was the discreet source of his demise.
As to his legacy. Well, thousands of martial arts teachers all over the world with a thousand names and variations of mind-body discipline are making a decent enough living, which is probably no bad thing. Although it remains a truism and a practical reservation to ask what good is any of this when one is faced with a nervous idiot with a gun? His other surprising legacy? Well, I would suggest that more than anything else, Bruce Lee legitimized for the first time the phenomenon of “normal” hetero “real” men drooling and fawning over the compact and perfected physique of another male without phobic guilt, even to the extreme of it being OK to grow up with pin-up posters of that stripped-to-the-waist icon on their bedroom door.
Paperback: 329 pages