Bruce Lee, the most influential martial artist of the 20th century, died 39 years ago today. To commemorate the day, we present some of his most memorable scenes.
In this 1973 file photo released by Columbia Picture, shown is the late martial art movie star Bruce Lee. (AP Photo/Columbia Picture, HO, File)
Born Lee Jun-fan in San Francisco on November 27, 1940, Bruce Lee would go on to be an iconic figure whose films brought him worldwide popularity and helped spark interest in the martial arts in the West. Though he died in 1973 at the age of 32, he still looms large on the pop culture landscape.
Here are some of the scenes he’s best remembered for –
Fist of Fury
Also known as The Chinese Connection, this was Lee’s second major film. Set in early 20th century Shanghai, the film involves Lee defending the honor of the Chinese Jingwu martial arts school against the Japanese enemies of the Bushido school. In this scene, Lee singlehandedly defeats every single member of the dojo, including the sensei. This movie is cited as being largely responsible for starting the trend of open-hand combat in martial arts movies, which had previously been more reliant on swordplay. Both Jackie Chan and Jet Li have starred in remakes of the film.
Enter the Dragon
Enter the Dragon, a co-production between Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest and Warner Brothers was the first big-budget Hollywood martial arts movie and remains a classic of the genre. Future martial arts stars Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung both were as stuntmen in the film. For the scene below, actor Bob Wall allowed Lee to kick him with force, as a fake kick wouldn’t come across as well on film. Lee obliged, and while delivering a side kick, broke Wall’s sternum. Two of the extras standing behind Wall also broke their arms in the stunt and production had to shut down for three months (the kick in question occurs around the 2:35 mark).
Way of the Dragon
Bruce Lee had known Chuck Norris since they met in Long Beach at a martial arts demonstration in 1964. Lee was also in attendance the night Norris won the Professional Middleweight Karate championship title in 1968. Though Norris made his screen debut in the 1970 Dean Martin comedy The Wrecking Crew – a film for which Lee is credited as choreographing fight scenes – it was this classic scene in the Roman Colosseum fighting Bruce Lee that launched him into stardom. Norris would later be a pallbearer at Lee’s funeral.
Game of Death
Released nearly five years after Bruce Lee’s 1973 death, this film is remembered chiefly for the scene where 5'7" Lee takes on 7’2” L.A. Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who, judging from the marks left on Lee’s yellow jumpsuit, must have had some very dirty feet). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a student of Bruce Lee’s during Lee’s years in Los Angeles. Production on the movie was halted so that Lee could film Enter the Dragon, but Lee died before The Game of Death could resume. The movie was later released to include footage shot much earlier in Bruce Lee’s career.
Originally published November 2010