Review: ‘Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection’

by Christopher Heard
Bruce Lee: Legacy Collection

As a lifelong admirer of Bruce Lee and his lasting legacy–both on film and as a writer of some of the best books on martial arts techniques and philosophies–I am always eager to see whatever is released about him. Even though Lee died at the ridiculously young age of 32 in 1974, there is still validity in new versions of his stuff, repackaged or reprinted, as the benefit of each is that it exposes a new generation of potential fans to his still relevant body of work.

The people at Shout Factory have released a new and comprehensive DVD set called Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection and it is the best collection of Lee’s early Hong Kong martial arts films yet released–and I can say that with absolute authority as I have seen everything and read everything on Bruce Lee yet released.

The set contains the original Hong Kong versions of Lee’s films The Big Boss (called Fists of Fury when it hit our shores), Fist of Fury (renamed The Chinese Connection here), The Way of the Dragon (my personal favourite of Lee’s films–a film he wrote, directed, produced, starred in and choreographed the action scenes for) and the material that was shot for the intended film Lee was calling Game of Death. Bonus discs include the documentaries on Lee’s life called Bruce Lee: The Legend (originally shot in 1973 then revised in 1977) and I Am Bruce Lee (2011)–and there is yet another special features disc that contains at least 15 more featurettes that include outtakes and remembrances and testimonials.

Attached at the back of pages containing the discs is a fabulously illustrated 64-page book that features behind the scenes stories of the making of each film along with on-set photos and many examples of the unique and bold original artwork that was a part of each of the original Hong Kong release of each film.

Previously released sets of Bruce Lee’s films have been pretty straight forward editions but what the people at Shout Factory have shrewdly tapped in to with this set is they have taken into account not only the success of Lee’s films and his unique contribution to the action film genre but also his indelible impact on pop culture as a whole.

This set also includes the things that were important to Lee himself–including looking beyond the fight scenes and examining the more philosophical aspects of the stories he was telling. The climactic scene in the Lee directed Way of the Dragon was shot in the Coliseum in Rome which Lee insisted upon for the pure symbolism of it and in none of his fight scenes was he ever the aggressor–he was always either defending others or defending himself which was an important philosophical component to all traditional martial arts training including the brilliant style of Jeet Kune Do which Lee himself developed in the years before his career as an actor began.

Another highlight for me in this set is all the outtake footage from his films that illustrate just how hard he worked on his fight scenes and how difficult and complicated they were to stage–of particular interest is the footage from the never completed The Game of Death (not legitimately completed, a version of The Game of Death was completed after Lee’s death to capitalize on his fame but the film is awful and in no way representative of the way Lee intended the film to turn out). One of the most dazzling fight scenes Lee ever devised was in this never finished film and it involved Lee’s yellow jump suited character Billy Lo locked in vicious martial arts combat with Kareem Abdul Jabbar–the 7’4” Los Angeles Lakers basketball star (who was also a student of Bruce Lee’s martial arts system Jeet Kune Do years before they appeared on film together). Watching the 5’7” Bruce Lee fighting Jabbar is an action movie sight to behold.

If you are a fan of Bruce Lee’s then this set from Shout Factory is the set you have been waiting for, and if you are not a fan but are curious as to who this guy was and what made his legacy so lasting, then this set is a virtual elective college course on the career and the cultural impact of Bruce Lee–and an exceedingly enjoyable one at that.

This set starts with a black and white photo of a smiling Bruce Lee on the set of The Game of Death, a photo taken literally a few days before his tragic death from an allergic reaction to a pain pill he took to relieve a severe headache. There is a caption with the picture, a quote from Bruce Lee that goes–“The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.” This set, Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection is proof that he certainly succeeded in doing that.

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