Enter 'I Am Bruce Lee': Documentary shows in Seattle for 2 days
"I Am Bruce Lee," a documentary coproduced by Lee's daughter, Shannon Lee, and directed by Pete McCormack, is playing at Pacific Place in Seattle Feb. 9 and 15. It covers Lee's rise to fame not only in the Pacific Northwest, but in Hong Kong, San Francisco (his birthplace) and Los Angeles.
Special to The Seattle Times
'I Am Bruce Lee'A documentary directed by Pete McCormack. 8 p.m. Thursday and Feb. 15. 94 minutes. Not rated; contains violence, profanity. Pacific Place; $11 (www.iambruceleemovie.com). Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee's daughter, will be present for a Q&A at the 8 p.m. screening Thursday.
Two decades ago, Rob Cohen's "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" didn't make much of Lee's Seattle connection.
"I desperately wanted to shoot in Seattle," said Cohen in a 1993 interview. "But I was not given the cooperation of the University of Washington, which didn't want its football players portrayed as racist." (In the original script, members of the UW varsity football team were shown attacking Lee — most likely a fictional invention.)
But Seattle is back in the picture in "I Am Bruce Lee," a documentary coproduced by Lee's daughter, Shannon Lee, and directed by Pete McCormack. It's playing at Pacific Place Thursday and Feb. 15.
"He loved the time he spent in Seattle," said his widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, who is interviewed in the new film. Her book, "Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew," was the basis for Cohen's popular picture.
"I Am Bruce Lee" covers Lee's rise to fame not only in the Pacific Northwest, but in Hong Kong, San Francisco (his birthplace) and Los Angeles, where he landed the breakthrough role of Kato in "The Green Hornet."
He had been a child star at the age of 6, making 20 films in Hong Kong, but he left all that behind when he enrolled at the UW and became a philosophy student. That's where Linda met him.
"He sure is cute," she admits thinking. "Maybe there could be a connection with us." Soon they were sharing kung-fu lessons as well as daily doses of "General Hospital."
Some of his writings from that period were collected in John Little's 1999 book, "Bruce Lee: Artist of Life," including "Walking Along the Bank of Lake Washington."
In 2008, Shannon was involved in a History Channel special, "How Bruce Lee Changed the World," but she was looking for a different approach when she saw McCormack's previous documentary, "Facing Ali," about Muhammad Ali.
"It's a wonderful film, more film than television," said Shannon. McCormack's movie demonstrated the potential for an in-depth approach to Bruce Lee. Network Entertainment, which produced "Facing Ali," eventually became the first production company to receive the full participation of Lee's family.
Much of "I Am Bruce Lee" is made up of home movies, film clips and interviews with friends and fans who try to define Lee's contribution to mixed martial arts — and the thinking behind it.
In what McCormack calls the only extensive interview with Lee, Lee talks about his belief in "the art of expressing the human body."
But Lee felt shame and anger when Linda had to support them, and he admitted to "a temper, a violent temper." He rarely felt he was in control of filmmakers who made a fortune on movies that cost as little as $15,000 to produce.
Much of this distress came from his disdain for Caucasians playing Asian characters in Hollywood movies. McCormack includes a visual reference to Mickey Rooney's Asian stereotype in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" — which is also the basis for a devastating scene in Cohen's "Dragon."
Lee died young (32) and so did his athletic son, Brandon (28). It's clear that the remaining members of the family are tired of hearing about conspiracy theories and a "curse" that is supposed to have afflicted them.
Shannon lives in Los Angeles, but she's spending much of her time here on The Bruce Lee Action Museum, which she hopes to bring to the Chinatown International District. She's also involved in a Broadway musical about her father.
Bruce and Brandon are both buried in Seattle, where, according to Shannon, Bruce had "his happiest memories." While she praises much of "Dragon" as "really quite lovely," she thinks McCormack's film fulfills its promise of becoming "something new and interesting, with its own look and feel."
"This is not a traditional biopic," said McCormack, who discussed Lee's beliefs with Ed O'Neill, Mickey Rourke and many athletes who would appear to be unlikely disciples. "I loved talking to fighters about him. It was really fun to find Bruce Lee (turning up) in other people's testimony."
John Hartl: email@example.com.