The irony about Lee’s stardom in the West was that it defied logic. It came at time in 1972 when the US was fighting in Vietnam and anti-Asian sentiment hadn’t been as high since WWII. Usually during wartime, Hollywood made films about heroic US soldiers fighting overseas…not during the Vietnam war. Additionally, back in those days, to most Americans, someone who kicked during a fight was considered a sissy.
Yet regardless of being Asian and using kicks during fights, Lee made his mark in Hollywood. His dynamic facial contortions, rapid-fire punches, greased lightening kicks and high-pitched phoenix screeches clearly resonated with everyone. Back then, millions exited theaters aping Lee’s movements and screams. In all my 40+ years of seeing Martial Arts movies in theaters, no one has come out of a theater trying to mimic any other star.
Over the years, I’ve interviewed scores of famous Chinese MA film directors, actors and fight choreographers and always ask what are their feelings toward Bruce Lee. Most said, “He gave our country an identity.” The same question to Asian American MA actors and filmmakers rendered the reply, “Lee made me proud to be Asian.” Powerful words. It says a lot about the influence of Lee on Chinese society, Asian Americans and at the very least on the Chinese and Asian American film communities.