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Happy Birthday Bruce Lee: Films where the martial arts legend gave no holds barred performances

The veteran martial artist and actor helped break several existent stereotypes about Asian characters in mainstream Western media

  • Shilpa S

  • OTTplay

Last Updated: 05.32 AM, Nov 27, 2021


The name of Bruce Lee is sure to spark recognition in audiences all over the world, a testimony to the late star’s influence which continues even today, decades after his demise.

Born in 1940, Lee was a pioneer in many ways in film as well as martial arts. Martial arts enthusiasts have him to thank for his seamless blending of different combat styles, which ultimately led to the development of the popular sport of mixed martial arts.

The unapologetic fierceness with which he portrayed his many roles helped break several stereotypes which were attached to characters from the Asian diaspora, most of which were rife in Western media. With his skills and screen presence, Lee helped martial arts films gain an unprecedented level of popularity among a global audience.

On the late star’s birth anniversary here are a few films where Lee struck a chord with global audiences with his acting and fighting prowess.

Enter The Dragon
Considered as one of the greatest martial arts films of all time, Enter the Dragon marked Lee’s final completed film role before his death in 1973. The film tells the story of a skilled martial artist, Lee, who is approached by a British intelligence officer to aid the latter in a mission to take down a drug lord. For this purpose, Lee must compete in a martial arts tournament organised by the criminal on an island, as a cover to gather more evidence against his crimes. The film opened to widespread adulation from fans and critics alike and paved the way for similar films which combined martial arts and action elements with other genres. The film also became etched in pop culture by inspiring several other media such as comics, games and shows.
The Big Boss
Regarded as Lee’s first major lead role in a mainstream film, The Big Boss tells the story of a young man who makes his way to Thailand to help out at his family’s factory. The man promises his mother never to engage in violence, but is forced to break his vow when his family becomes targeted by a dangerous crime lord. The film became a critical and commercial hit and paved the way to Lee’s ascent to stardom in both Asia and the rest of the world.
Game of Death
1978’s Game of Death marked Lee’s final movie appearance, the martial artist having died during filming. The film also had Lee as director, writer and producer as well. The original premise Lee had conceived for the film was altered when the project was reworked by another director after the former’s demise. In the new storyline, Lee played a character who must fight his way through a heavily guarded structure to rescue his loved ones. Many mainstream contemporary media works made references and paid homage to the film, especially related to the iconic fight sequences and Lee’s classic yellow jumpsuit outfit.
The Way of the Dragon
This 1972 action comedy film marked the debut onscreen appearance of action legend Chuck Norris. The film tells the tale of a young martial artist from Hong Kong who arrives in Rome to help out a restaurant owner when the latter experiences threats from a crime boss. In addition to starring as the lead, Lee also served as the film’s writer, producer and director as well, adding another feather to his already illustrious career. The Way of the Dragon was Lee’s last finished directorial before his death.
Fist of Fury
Set in 1910, Fist of Fury tells the story of a young martial artist and dojo student who vows to take revenge on a rival Japanese dojo, after the students from the latter ridicule his culture and deceased student. While carrying out his plans for vengeance he makes a shocking discovery, which helps spur on his efforts. In addition to featuring some very well done martial arts sequences, the film also manages to seamlessly weave in some hard-hitting social elements into the story, such as imperialism.

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