Bruce Lee, one of cinema’s most iconic, ambitious, and tragic heroes, lives on through his TV and movie performances long after he was taken from the world at the age of 32. His short career brought us some of the most recognizable and often-imitated fight scenes in cinematic history, but one of Lee’s most famous fights occurred off-screen and behind closed doors.
Birth of the Dragon is a dramatized version of that fight, a private match, a one-on-one contest of skill and style between Lee and martial arts master Wong Jack Man. The 1964 fight is steeped in controversy with one side claiming that the Chinese martial arts community was enraged by Lee’s instruction of non-Chinese, while the other side claims it was simply due to Lee’s boastfulness. Regardless of the impetus or outcome, the fight acted as a catalyst for Lee’s particular brand of training and development of Jeet Kune Do which perfectly complemented his on-screen persona.
It’s to Lee’s famous fight scenes, the ones actually captured on film, that we look to today. From his start on The Green Hornet to Game of Death, the film that ultimately took his life, Lee brought us some of the most charismatic and, at times, brutal fight sequences the world has ever seen. We’ll celebrate the best of the best below.
Here’s a look at Lee’s fighting filmography in TV and movies:
- The Green Hornet (1966-67)
- Batman (1966-67)
- The Big Boss (1971)
- Fist of Fury (1972)
- Way of the Dragon (1972)
- Enter the Dragon (1973) *Posthumous release
- Game of Death (1978) *Posthumous release; incomplete
It’s also worth noting that Lee, born into a wealthy family whose patriarch Lee Hoi-chuen was a famous opera and film actor, had been in the entertainment business for a very long time–like, almost from infancy–before gaining attention in America. Notable non-fighting appearances include the 1957 drama Thunderstorm, adapted from a very popular Chinese play, and Marlowe, a 1969 crime-drama centering on Raymond Chandler‘s famous noir-y protagonist.