History Channel // 2009 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // August 27th, 2009
"Empty your mind, be formless...shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend." -- Bruce Lee
My earliest memory of martial arts dates back to my childhood, when one of my older brothers introduced me to "Kung Fu Fighting," a funky little song by Jamaican-born disco artist Carl Douglas. Around the same time, my brother, like much of the rest of the world, was caught up in the international sensation known as Bruce Lee. By association, I was swept up in that craze, cementing my fascination with Lee at just five or six years old.
At first read, the title How Bruce Lee Changed the World may seem cocky, but when you consider how much he accomplished during his relatively short life and the fact that his legend and influence continue to grow more than 35 years after his death, the title becomes more than appropriate. Born in San Francisco in 1940, somewhat ironically in the Chinese zodiac Year of the Dragon, Bruce Lee accompanied his parents back to China as an infant. The child of famous and wealthy Chinese parents, Lee left all that behind when he returned to the U.S. Clichés aside, the rest is literally history, as Bruce Lee went on to become known as the father of martial arts films and the sport of mixed martial arts, the founder of jeet kune do and perhaps the greatest martial artist of all time; high praise indeed, but well deserved.
Lee is best known for his martial arts skill, unique approach to philosophy, and film career, but the feature also professes that his influence spread to a wide variety of other disciplines. Athletes, artists, actors, authors, movie executives and musicians all site Lee as their inspiration and How Bruce Lee Changed the World addresses these influences by breaking them down into eight sections: Philosophy, Breaking Stereotypes, Martial Arts, Physical Fitness, Attitudes in China, Action Movies, Music, and Branding.
As each topic area is covered, famous people share personal experiences and stories about Lee's particular influence on their lives and careers. Viewers are treated to interviews with directors Brett Rattner and John Woo; athletes Flex Wheeler and Sugar Ray Leonard; actors LL Cool J, John Saxon and Donny Yen; and musicians RZA (a.k.a. Robert Diggs of the Wu-Tang Clan) and Lalo Schiffrin. Lee's widow Linda Lee Cadwell, his daughter Shannon and long-time family friend and film producer Raymond Chowalso offer more personal perspectives on the man behind the myth. There's a wealth of archival footage woven throughout the feature, including clips that show Lee's legendary two-fingered pushup and one-inch punch, behind the scenes footage from a variety of sources and excerpts from one of Lee's only TV interviews given in English, with Canadian author and broadcaster Pierre Burton.
Let's be up front, this is a documentary and isn't the type of content that you're going to be using to wow your friends with your home theater set-up. That said, the visual presentation may vary depending on the source material, but viewers are treated to a nice blend of contemporary interviews, archival footage, and film clips that do an excellent job of keeping your interest over the 90 minute run time. Actor Charles Parnell ("All My Children") narrates the feature, creating a coherent flow between the broad range of topics, while keeping the viewer engaged. Similar to the video content, the audio quality varies a bit throughout but never drops far below average. The only extra feature is a brief and exceedingly redundant featurette called "Need to Know" that covers the highlights of Lee's birth, legacy, and death.
Now that I have become a martial arts student myself, my fascination for Bruce Lee has been renewed and I am re-experiencing my early interest and enthusiasm with the benefit of an adult lens; having Enter the Dragon on Blu-ray doesn't hurt either! How Bruce Lee changed the World takes an in-depth look at the life of cultural phenomenon Bruce Lee that will entertain fans, while doing a solid job of exposing new audiences to his accomplishments and legacy.
Ultimately, each viewer will have to judge for themselves whether or not Bruce Lee's influence was as significant as the feature suggests. There's no denying Lee changed racial stereotypes, introduced the world to an unprecedented new level of skill in martial arts, physical conditioning and filmmaking, and spawned a new approach to philosophy, but inspired break dancers!? Ummmm...not so sure about that one. Not to disparage Bruce Lee's impact on sport, pop culture or filmmaking, but I tend to assign my "world changer" status to people like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi. Maybe that's just me.
Review content copyright © 2009 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* The Bruce Lee Foundation