Bruce Lee, My Brother: A Hong Kong biographical martial arts drama film directed by Raymond Yip
Based on the memoir written by Lee’s younger brother, Robert. The film begins with Bruce’s birth in San Francisco, while his father. Lee Hoi Cheun (played by Tony Leung Ka Fai), was touring the USA with his Cantonese Opera troupe.
We see the accidental way in which Lee acquired his English name. And also star in his first movie – GOLDEN GATE GIRL – while still a newborn. Against the advice of his friends, Lee Sr. whisks his family back to Hong Kong. Only to see the city invaded by the Japanese shortly thereafter. Lee was the fourth of five children and grew up in a comfortably well-off household. Thanks in large part to his father’s success as an actor on both stage and screen. It didn’t take long for young Bruce to begin appearing in local productions. And by the age of six had landed his first starring role and acquired the stage name Lee Siu Long. “Little Dragon” – the name he would use throughout his career.
The film chronicles Lee’s life up to the age of 18 and his return to America, which in turn paved the way for the greater things yet to come. Lee (played by Aarif Rahman) is depicted as cocky, confident and somewhat mischievous, whose involvement in street fights, petty crime and vandalism regularly incur the wrath of his strict father. While certainly a handsome youth, Lee was apparently not much of a ladies man. He has his fans, but is besotted by his best friend’s girl.
Pearl (Jennifer Tse) – a problem that sees him more often pouting like a scolded puppy dog rather than sewing his oats in local nightclubs. And this hints at the problems inherent within BRUCE LEE. MY BROTHER (Huyen Thoai Ly Tieu Long) because, for all the potentially exciting, tumultuous and life-changing events that are going on around these characters, not a great deal actually happens in the film.
Raymond Yip served as co-director of The Warlords alongside Peter Chan. And Manfred Wong’s regular collaborations with Andrew Lau have proved them both to be competent and hugely cinematic filmmakers. They bring a rich and vibrant look to the film, whether during the intimate scenes within the gorgeous wood-panelled confines of the Lee family home, or grandstanding with beautiful street sets or CG-enhanced vistas of 1950s Hong Kong. As a result, BRUCE LEE, MY BROTHER (phim kungfu) is never less than gorgeous to look at. The problem lies in the fact that whether depicting the Japanese occupation, the uneasy years afterwards as the British regained control and the city slowly began to recover, or even the day-to-day misadventures of a young teenager who also happened to be a local movie star. The film is stupefyingly boring.
We see nothing of Lee coping, or struggling with the success and stardom he acquired at a very young age. His brawling and other misdemeanors have no real consequences. His love life is a perpetual non-starter because of his infatuation with Pearl and his home life is equally uneventful. Because our narrator, Robert Lee, was so young during these years. He was understandably kept mostly in the dark about his father’s opium habit, financial pressures from corrupt officials, or even more infuriatingly – pretty much anything of interest that occurred during Bruce’s adolescence.
As a result, the film can do little more than meander from one non-event to the next. That is, until someone behind the scenes’ patience obviously snapped and the final reel inexplicably turns into a Donnie Yen movie. Out of nowhere a brash, loudmouthed English boxer appears on the scene and challenges Lee to a fight. At the same time. Lee’s best friend gets involved in drugs and must be rescued from a foreboding squat house, and where there was nothing remotely interesting happening for an hour and a half, there is suddenly a melee of duels, rematches and rooftop run-ins with drug dealers. But by that stage it is all too little too late.
As with the recent onslaught of Ip Man films from Wilson Yip and Herman Yau. There is yet again a reluctance to actually depict the Grand Master’s tutelage of Lee on-screen. In this case, the audience never even gets to see Ip Man’s face. And so whatever last remaining fibre of hope you may have been clinging to for this movie to be in any way entertaining, slips through your fingers. And what makes this film all the more annoying is that it is filled with almost uniformly excellent performances.
Tony Leung Ka Fai is excellent as Lee Hoi Cheun, making a complex and contradictory character sympathetic and likable when he could have easily depicted him as a drug-addled tyrant. Christy Chung returns to our screens for the first time in 6 years and is delightfully tender as Bruce’s long-suffering mother. There’s also solid support from Michelle Ye and MC Jin. The real praise, however, goes to relative newcomer Aarif Rahman who does a fantastic job as Bruce Lee. Rahman goes far beyond mere imitation. Totally embodying the Little Dragon onscreen and perfectly capturing that balance between cock-sure. And charismatic that was so integral to what made Lee such a commanding screen presence.
It would be fantastic if Media Asia was able to acquire the necessary rights. And permissions to continue the Bruce Lee story. Because with this cast and production crew in place. Surely they couldn’t fail to make an engaging and thrilling drama out of the second half of his life. As it stands, however, BRUCE LEE, MY BROTHER (phim hanh dong vo thuat) is little more than an ornately decorated vessel. That looks great, sounds great, yet contains almost nothing of real interest.