ESPN might not be thriving nowadays attributable to a extreme lack of reside sports activities, however the firm’s documentary arm is arguably having its largest second because the introduction of the 30 for 30 franchise. The Final Dance, the community’s 10-part docuseries on Michael Jordan’s 1998 Chicago Bulls, turned ESPN’s most-watched documentary ever within the midst of our still-in-progress, gameless pandemic. So naturally, the corporate had two extra personality-centric initiatives ready within the wings to hopefully proceed the momentum and set up Sunday Evening Sports activities Docs as a factor.
However final week’s endeavor—Lance, a two-part sequence on the disgraced bike owner—tanked, kinda onerous actually. Audiences might merely be sick of a man who repeatedly lies to the general public regardless of how a lot cash for most cancers analysis he is raised. However this week, ESPN debuts Be Water, a feature-length have a look at the lifetime of martial arts icon Bruce Lee. And in case you assume Lee kicked ass on-screen (which, duh), you could go away this 95-minute exploration much more impressed
If all you already know of Bruce Lee is Enter the Dragon or newer pop-culture shoutouts in board video games and Tarantino flicks, Be Water units out to point out how a lot of a badass the actor was with out even contemplating his fists. This movie might air on a sports activities community, however it’s much less focused on Lee’s plain martial arts skills and accomplishments and extra intrigued by his societal ones. Leveraging Lee’s personal private writings, interviews with pals and family members, plus a great deal of household archival footage, viewers will get to see Lee the dogged creator, Lee the susceptible thinker, Lee the household man, Lee the Chinese language American man at instances nonetheless working via his personal identification.
Director Bao Nguyen spent the final 5 years placing collectively this movie, which is well-crafted sufficient to have earned a premiere at SXSW 2020 earlier than that occasion met its COVID-19 destiny. In his director’s assertion on the movie, Nguyen describes Lee as the primary onscreen picture of a robust Asian man he got here throughout as a baby (in a really trendy flourish, Lee’s break was via a superhero franchise, taking part in sidekick Kato in a Inexperienced Hornet TV sequence). Studying about Lee’s off-camera life later solely made the martial arts idol extra inspiring to this director.
“I noticed somebody who appeared like me for the primary time, with an unapologetic confidence and magnetism that resonated on each inch of the silver display,” Nguyen writes. “Bruce Lee is the epitome of the American story. Like him and so many different Individuals earlier than, my household, as Vietnamese warfare refugees, left their acquainted homeland in search of a greater future for themselves. It is a facet of Bruce’s story that is not at all times emphasised. I hope by the top of the movie, audiences have discovered one thing new. Not nearly Bruce Lee but additionally how America has handled the ‘different’ prior to now.”
Lee’s life seems to be a very apt story for our current second, the place COVID-19 fears bred anti-Asian sentiment and hundreds proceed to take to the streets in help of black Individuals. The actor rose to prominence in america throughout the 1960s civil rights period, and Be Water repeatedly reveals him as a person of his time pushing for equality throughout many features of his life. As a martial arts coach, Lee did not discriminate college students by race at a time when many others would solely present classes to individuals like them (people as well-known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar educated with Lee, and the basketball star and activist later agreed to be in one in every of Lee’s movies, Sport of Dying). When Lee continued to satisfy resistance in Hollywood attributable to fears about making an Asian American a number one man, he merely created his personal alternatives, pivoting to writing and manufacturing after transferring to Hong Kong. As a person who known as that nation residence for a few years, he’d write anti-colonial messages and pictures into his movies. And as an actor, he would not accept roles that resorted to stereotypes and likewise refused to make use of them for the villains he created (it is why Chuck Norris in Manner of the Dragon is not downright cartoonish). It jogged my memory a bit of parents like Louis Armstrong or Dave Brubeck, inventive legends who a long time later might solely be recognized for choose works however quietly pushed for social justice on the prime of their powers.
“He as soon as advised me, ‘I can educate individuals quicker with one movie than I ever might by writing a e book or by opening 100 karate colleges in America,'” as one Be Water interviewee places it.
Lee’s bodily presents stay apparent every time Be Water showcases coaching footage or shares clips from a traditional movie sequence. “He made combating on-screen dialogue—there was subtext,” one interviewee says. One former girlfriend calls him a “kinetic genius,” and that capability evidently translated to bounce halls. However everybody already is aware of that; Lee’s movies have turn out to be iconic over time primarily due to how gripping the actor is throughout any on-camera motion (which, by the best way, he’d typically choreograph—Lee labored as a stunt coordinator early on in Hollywood when he could not get roles). If you wish to watch the “stick with sports activities” model of a Lee profile, his combat sequences are throughout YouTube and his films are on numerous streaming providers (HBO Max newly has Enter the Dragon; Fist of Fury is on Amazon Prime). As an alternative, Be Water reveals a fuller image of the motion star, which is able to possible endear him to a wholly new era extra acquainted with the Asian motion stars Lee blazed a path for. It definitely made me desperate to rewatch a number of movies I have never seen since I used to be a child, now armed with complete new perspective on the hero.
“Proper now, within the midst of the COVID19 pandemic, the worry of an unsure future and the necessity to blame the ‘different’ has sparked anti-Asian racism and harassment all through the world. And as a sufferer of a few of this anti-Asian racism, I do know the significance of sharing optimistic photographs and tales of Asian Individuals like Bruce’s to a broad viewers,” Nguyen concludes in his director’s letter. “As Bruce as soon as mentioned, ‘Underneath the sky, underneath the heavens there may be however one household.’ Asian Individuals are Individuals too and it is unlucky that we’ve to remind individuals of this. Bruce actually was about constructing bridges—bridges between cultures and bridges between individuals, it doesn’t matter what you appeared like or the place you got here from. Let’s at all times keep in mind that.”
ESPN’s Be Water airs Sunday, June 7, at 9p ET. Search for it within the ESPN+ / WatchESPN app quickly after.
Itemizing picture by Bruce Lee Household Archive / ESPN