A made for TV documentary that originally aired last year on Spike TV, Pete McCormack's 2011 feature I Am Bruce Lee is an interesting mix of newly shot interviews with not only those who knew the late legend but those who were influenced by him as well. This footage, along with some great archival clips, a does a pretty great job of not just providing some interesting biographical information on Lee but on explaining his importance in historical and cultural terms as well.
The movie attempts, and admittedly does a pretty good job considering its length, of tackling Lee's life from beginning to end, with an emphasis understandably put on the last 5-10 years of his existence. We start by learning of his beginnings, his rise in stature in his domestic film industry, his immense increase in worldwide popularity and then later his travels to the United States. There's a lot of focus on how Lee's ideas of pulling from different martial arts inspired the Mixed Martial Arts world that we know today and a good deal of time is spent exploring and explaining the philosophy behind not just his fighting style but life in general.
Sound interesting? It is. Throughout all of this we get interviews with his former wife, Linda Lee Cadwell, and their daughter, Shannon Lee (who also produced). Cadwell shares some touching memories of the time they spent together and adds a very personal slant to the proceedings, particularly when it comes time to discuss Bruce Lee's untimely death. It's also interesting to see some of the interviewees discuss their thoughts on the circumstances surrounding it and the cause, as well as the accompanying conspiracy theories that still exist in certain circles to this day.
Additionally we get interviews with different martial artists like Daniele Bolelli, Richard Bustillo, and Cung Le as well as other athletes like Manny Pacquiao, Kobe Bryant and Paul Rodriguez and actors/performers like Mickey Route, Ed O'Neill and Jose Ruiz. The point of including people like that? Simply to demonstrate just how far reaching Lee's influence was and continues to be to so many people from so many different walks of life (the whole 'be like water' thing makes a lot of good sense once Lee explains it as he does here). On top of that we're treated to a wealth of archival clips not just from the feature films so many of us know and love but also from more esoteric sources. Clips from the Lee family's personal archives are seen here (including a great segment in which Lee and James Coburn train in Lee's backyard!) as are rare television interviews and appearances and quite a bit more. Of course, film highlights do play a part in all of this but in many ways these 'career highlights' take a back seat to the interviewees who offer their thoughts on the man and his work. Of course, infamous 'one inch punch' footage is included here and just as impressive now as it has ever been.
Ultimately the documentary is a pretty interesting one. It won't necessarily enlighten those already well versed in Bruce Lee's unique history but the wealth of different points of view and the archival footage and photographs makes it worth a watch regardless. It's edited in a very modern and typically 'American TV' style but that doesn't detract from the fact that this is not only entertaining and interesting but quite thorough as well - or at least as thorough as it can be when tackling a subject this big, so much larger than life, in an hour and a half.
I Am Bruce Lee looks pretty good on Blu-ray in 1.78.1 widescreen and in AVC encoded 1080p high definition - at least the footage shot in HD specifically for this documentary does. There are plenty of archival clips used throughout the movie to illustrate various points and these vary in quality from quite nice (the Enter The Dragon clips) to pretty rough (some of the 8mm black and white footage of Lee training) with the majority of the clips hitting most points in between. The newer footage shows good detail, nice color and solid black levels. There's a bit of shimmer here and there but otherwise not much to complain about. All in all this looks just fine for what it is.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track, there are no alternate language options provided nor are there any subtitles or closed captioning options present. The same comments that apply to the video apply here as well in that the new footage sounds just fine while the archival clips show their age. This is a fairly dialogue intensive production so it's important that the interviewees come through nice and clear and thankfully they do. Various bits of music used throughout the documentary help to flesh things out while the levels remain balanced throughout.
Extras start off with a collection of the aforementioned training films, presented here in widescreen (it was originally shot full frame) and in black and white as they were shot. Filmed in Bruce Lee's backyard, these are from his personal collection and are quite interesting to see - there's eleven minutes of this material here and we get some input from Linda over top of it.
From there we get a few featurettes starting with Inspiration - Bruce Lee's Global Impact (3:11), which covers, in Linda's words, different moves that she learned from her late husband and how he did different demonstrations at different tournaments to interesting effect. Shannon Lee then elaborates on different aspects of her father's philosophical teachings. Bruce Lee In Action (4:51) sounds like it is a short featurettes about Lee's fight choreography - but it's really a collection of clips from fight scenes shot throughout his feature film career. Bruce Lee's Hollywood Audition (9:03) is a clip that was shot with Lee when he auditioned for a role in the television series Charlie Chan's Number One Son for Fox. He didn't get it but it did lead to his being cast in The Green Hornest. Lee comes across as dignified and charismatic here and this is quite a nice little addition to the disc.
Rounding out the extras on the disc is a theatrical trailer (1:41) for the feature, animated menus and chapter selection. All of the extras on the disc are in high definition.
I Am Bruce Lee isn't necessarily going to prove all that enlightening to those who are already well versed in the life and times of the late martial arts master but it does offer up some rare footage, some interesting interviews and some fascinating insight into what made him the important figure he was. Shout! Factory offers up the Blu-ray in fine style with a good transfer, solid audio and a nice selection of extras. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.