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How Bruce Lee Changes Hollywood Forever

Punch like a tiger, kick like a cheetah, and spin like a wheel. Whootaa! And his kung-fu-like combo brought down the enemy, Lee Jun-Fan, later known as Bruce Lee, was a famous martial artist. He was born in San Francisco, November 27th 1940, and grew up in British Hong Kong. 

His career in cinema is legendary, and most of his movies are still known today like Enter the Dragon (1973), Game of Death (1978) and The Way of the Dragon (1973). He changed the world of martial arts movies forever. As someone who train a lot of famous stars in the 70s, his name is carved as a man who changed the stereotype of Asian actors in Hollywood.

As the first Asian American who achieved international stardom in the film industry, his early career in Hollywood was full of supporting roles, something that was highly frustrating to Lee. After his latest movie at the time in the 60s named Marlowe (1969), Lee then went back to Hong Kong to pursue his acting career there.

Lee in The Big Boss (1971), Courtesy Literally Anything Movie

During the time he returned to Hong Kong, where he starred in films like The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), and The Way of the Dragon (1973), his name started to skyrocket. Surprisingly, these Chinese films give Lee a chance to dive in Western stardom, and make Bruce Lee’s career in martial arts movies change Hollywood forever.

So, how did Bruce Lee change the cinema with martial arts? Bruce Lee introduced Asian martial arts to Hollywood. Before his role in The Big Boss (1971) became a hit, ‘American-style’ combat was the face of Hollywood. Even so, he was asked to do this ‘American-style’ combat in the movie The Green Hornet (1966). He refused in the end, though. 

‘American’ fighting styles, like boxing or jailhouse rock, are popular in Hollywood movies. This happened especially in America before the 1970s. Those kinds of fighting styles are even still famous nowadays in some movies.

Until The Big Boss released and he became the lead actor, just then he popularized the use of Chinese martial arts. Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Wing Chun and other Chinese fighting styles became popular during the revolution of martial arts movies era, around 70s to 90s. Bruce Lee even made his own fighting style called Jeet Kune Do, which is a combination of various combat disciplines that later on become a paving way for MMA (Mix Martial Art).

Example of Asian woman portrayed as prostitute in movies, Courtesy UTP Journals Blog

Before Lee introduced the Asian martial arts to Hollywood, Asian actors were often portrayed in Hollywood as the supporting comedic relief which was often demeaning and full of harmful stereotypes. East Asian actors, before the Bruce Lee era, were often portrayed as silly or comedic relief characters or seductive sexual characters for female actresses.  It can be seen in the movies like Breakfast at Tiffany (1961), where a white guy, Mickey Rooney doing yellow face and portrayed as a comedic relief Asian guy or The World of Suzie Wong (1960) where Nancy Kwan, a Chinese American actress played as Suzie Wong, an Asian prostitute.

Lee’s Hong Kong films proved that Western audiences could accept actors like him as the serious hero. This opened the doors for Asian actors to dive into the Hollywood hall of fame, such as Jackie Chan and Jet Li who became big stars in the 90s.

Lee was also famous for rejecting having stunt doubles to step in for him in movies. Instead, he prefers to learn from those hired to perform in his place. This set a standard for acting in Hollywood and worldwide.

An actor who can perform his own stunts is often regarded as superior. This makes way for action stars like Tom Cruise, who are known for pulling off big stunts. Of course, there are downsides to this as well, and actors’ determination to perform their own stunts has led to lots of accidents during shooting, Lee included.

In conclusion, Bruce Lee’s impact on Hollywood and the representation of Asian Americans in film cannot be ignored. His role in making the Chinese martial arts famous in Western cinema and carved a better look on how Hollywood sees the Asian actor and the image in modern audiences’ eyes really make an impact in industry that will never be forgotten.

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