Bruce Lee has been dead for 33 years (although like Elvis, some say he faked his own death and would return some day) but as a martial arts and movie icon, his star has yet to diminish. While explaining nothing, sexploitation movies such as Bruce Lee And I (1975) only adds to the controversy surrounding his mysterious death. Stephen Tan reviews.

THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

Sexpot Betty Ting Pei might want to consider herself a serious actress but she will forever be remembered as the woman whose apartment was where Bruce Lee was found dead on July 20, 1973.

At the time of Lee's death and the controversy surrounding it, Ting has kept silent about the affair though two years later, it looks like she was trying to have a say.

Bruce Lee And I (1975) starts with Bruce arriving at Ting's apartment. While he is having a quick shower, she, alone in bed, is shown having her own rapturous moments. Out of the shower, Bruce joins Ting in bed. Apart from the sex, Bruce is shown popping pills and smoking probably pot. Then she goes and takes a shower. Returning to the bedroom, she finds Bruce dead, or at least unconscious. (According to most reports, Bruce Lee was pronounced dead on arrival at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hongkong. Bruce's death was caused by cerebral edema - a swelling of the brain due to a congestion of fluid.)

Subsequently, Ting is seen as the mistress (the film clearly shows that) who caused Bruce's death. Apparently she does not have any friends and has to do her own shopping and gets a earful of sarcastic remarks from some women shoppers at the local supermart. On the way home, she is jeered at by some workers.


Bruce Lee (Danny Lee) toking it...

She then tries to drown her sorrows in a bar only to find herself harrassed by a group of nunchaku-wielding Bruce Lee fans who are fended off by the bartender. Pouring another drink for Ting, he asks her to tell her story.

While in secondary school, Ting claims she's something of an "outcast" because she liked movies and was expelled after a fight when some students ganged up on her. At the cinema, she is approached by a movie producer and invited to his office. There, she is offered a drink which is drugged, she becomes unconscious and the producer takes photographs of her in the nude. After realising what has happened, Ting contemplates suicide but decides against it after - OK, this is the weird part - hearing a voice, which seems to come from a lighted candle, telling her that she will meet an important man in her life and that she will achieve much happiness. Why director John Lo Mar decided to include this scene is anyone's guess but one can imagine how many eyebrows this raised!

At the film studio, she is told to strip for her role. Unhappy with her situation, she leaves Taiwan, only to find the producer and his men waiting for her at a Hongkong hawker centre. At that moment, Bruce Lee drives by, fights off the men and gives her two thousand dollars before driving off.

With the money, Ting starts life anew and soon sets herself up as some tycoon's mistress. At a night club one night, she runs into Bruce and returns the money. Bruce is intrigued by the gesture and before long, the two strike up a relationship. In the meantime, Bruce is shown suffering from severe headaches, has a wild fling when he finds Ting with another man, and is intent on getting Ting into his next movie. One night Bruce arrives at Ting's apartment before going for a formal dinner. Suddenly he gets a bad headache and then collapses.


The game of death...

Danny Lee came into the Shaw stable as the studio was on the way down and never managed to achieve the kind of fame that came to Ti Lung, David Chiang, Chen Kuan-tai, Alexander Fu Sheng and Lo Lieh. He later became well known for John Woo's The Killer though some fans remember him in The Mighty Peking Man. Here, in terms of looks, moves and presentation, Danny makes a decent facsimile of the real thing but the character remains a cipher. One hardly knows any more about the man upon leaving the movie. Another problem with the movie is that the melodramatic parts can be tedious and slow moving; and there's too much will-they-won't-they-have-sex teasing in the flashback sequence such that the overall feeling is that the movie isn't interesting.

But being a Shaw show, the film is peppered by enough action to satisfy genre fans. Choreographed by Tang Chia (whose specialty is weapons and group fights) and Yuen Woo-ping, the movie tries to recreate the climactic sequence in Fist Of Fury and also shows Bruce being constantly challenged to show off his skills. In one such encounter, Bruce fights with a character portrayed by Han Ying-cheh (who choreographed Fist Of Fury, the villain in King Hu movies and the main villain in The Big Boss). The laughable part comes with the two walking off talking about the philosophy and longevity of martial arts!

If Bruce Lee And I is about trying to have your cake and eating it, then it fails. For a start, the opening "death" scene and the one at the end does not tally. Did Bruce Lee die after the drugs and sex or did he die after he got a seizure (but no sex)? Or is the opening sequence the chain of events fixed in people's minds while the one at the end is what really happened? If the two stories don't match, perhaps this might indicate the plausibility of another scenario (and one of the rumours surrounding Bruce Lee's death) - that he died somewhere else and his body was placed in Ting's apartment.

Every effort is made in this movie to portray Ting as a sympathetic person, someone whom Bruce Lee not only likes but actually admires for her guts and integrity. Maybe she is that and more but unfortunately, the movie, in a surprisingly (unconsciously) reflexive move, shows her as nothing more than a soft porn actress, with bad hair do as some might add. Put it in another way, as a way of cashing in on the Bruce Lee legend, she certainly cannot complain of not getting enough exposure here.

Note: The Bruce Lee And I DVD (Celestial/IVL) is banned in $ingapore. The film was also known as Bruce Lee: His Last Days, His Last Nights.





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