When it comes to martial arts and the movies, no star has shined quite as bright as Bruce Lee. Fans can get a glimpse into his journey this Sunday as ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Be Water” will be broadcast at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.
He reached iconic status with his movies in the early 1970s, films that are renowned to this day. But his rise to prominence wasn’t nearly as smooth as his martial arts wizardry on screen.
Lee, the son of a Chinese opera star who at times had a troubled childhood in Hong Kong, was sent to live in the United States at 18. He taught kung fu in Seattle, got married, then went to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a movie/TV star. But he was rejected. Asian actors in leading roles were a rarity in Hollywood.
“I’d never seen a lead actor who looked like me. I couldn’t get over the fact that he was the film’s hero. He wasn’t the villain. He wasn’t a sidekick. He was a confident leading man. Growing up in America, I was not used to seeing this type of depiction of Asian males.”
Bao Nguyen, “Be Water” director
Lee returned to Hong Kong in 1971, and he completed four films over the next two years that would define his legacy — one that was cut short when he died in the summer of 1973. He was just 32 years old.
Lee wasn’t just about making cool films, though. He brought about social awareness. Stars such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took notice. The NBA legend, along with the family, friends and collaborators who knew Bruce Lee best, tell his story. “Be Water” includes a trove of archive film that provides a visual tapestry, capturing Lee’s charisma, passion, philosophy and wonder of his art.
Christian McCaffrey and his father, Ed, explain how they have been inspired by the teachings of martial arts expert Bruce Lee.
How to watch “Be Water”:
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How Bruce Lee made an impression on “Be Water” director Bao Nguyen. Jeff Wagenheim
Separated by generations, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and NBA star Jamal Murray share an appreciation for Bruce Lee. Mike Huang