The story behind Bruce Lee's martial arts film that changed the film industry, 'Yongjaeng Hotu' - BBC News Korea (2023)

The story behind Bruce Lee's martial arts film that changed the film industry, 'Yongjaeng Hotu' - BBC News Korea (1)

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  • reporter,tom gray
  • reporter,BBC Culture

Bruce Lee (English name: Bruce Lee) passed away tragically just before the release of 'Yongjaenghotu'. Fifty years have passed since he left, leaving a great impression on the history of film. Tom Gray spoke with filmmaker Andre Morgan about Bruce Lee's legacy.

Half a century has passed since So-Ryong Lee gained worldwide fame for his spectacular action in the timeless martial arts epic 'Yongjaeng-Hotu'. As the movie title (English name Enter the Dragon) suggests, this movie may have been the first chapter in Hollywood history of Bruce Lee, who captivated audiences with his unique speed, power, grace, and charisma.

But he passed away after making this film.

Bruce Lee died in Hong Kong on July 20, 1973, at the age of 32. He ended his life without seeing himself on the world stage, which he so longed for. Yongjaeng Hotu, his representative work, was released in the United States on August 19, 1973. It was less than a month after he passed away.

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The film revolves around Bruce Lee, who infiltrates a martial arts tournament held to disguise drug trafficking and prostitution, but in which he has to fight at the risk of his life. In this film, he plays an active role defeating several villains. Famous American actor John Saxon (played by Roper), who is fluent in martial arts, and American martial artist Jim Kelly (played by Williams), who is fluent in acting, create a story together. Also, the key villain in the work is played by Seokgyeon, who gives an impressive performance.

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Years have passed, but this movie is still loved. In 2004, it was named a "culturally significant" film by the National Film Library at the Library of Congress. However, during the production process, Yongjaeng Hotu seemed to have a scar. The first co-production between a Chinese film company (Golden Harvest/Concord) and a Hollywood studio (Warner Bros.) suffered from language barriers, problems with the script, and physical clashes between the lead actors. Andre Morgan, an assistant producer at the time, claimed the film's budget was far less than the previously reported $850,000. “The overall budget was $450,000. Don't forget that these are the words of someone who was there. I prepared the budget and I signed it.” Nevertheless, it is known that Yongjaeng Hotu has made astronomical profits of 100 million dollars worldwide since its release.

A star different from others

Morgan worked for a Chinese production company. He was only 20 years old when the main shoot began, and he celebrated his 21st birthday in Hall of Mirrors, a special set for the climactic duel between Bruce Lee and the bad guy Han. In an interview with BBC Culture, he said that Bruce Lee had a star presence that no one else could compare. “Once Bruce Lee was in the room, no one else mattered. Same with Steve McQueen.” In fact, McQueen was Bruce Lee's close friend and disciple. Before Bruce Lee became very successful as an actor, he taught martial arts to numerous celebrities.

The so-called “King of Cool” McQueen conquered Hollywood in the early 70s, appearing in iconic films like “The Magnificent 7,” “The Great Escape,” “Bleet,” and “The Thomas Crown Affair.” Bruce Lee, who was born in San Francisco in 1940 but spent his childhood in Hong Kong, also dreamed of going to Hollywood. Returning to the United States in 1959, he settled in Seattle and entered the University of Washington to study philosophy. Shortly thereafter, Bruce Lee, who started a family, moved to California and entered the film industry in earnest.

But he had one big stumbling block. he was chinese Despite his stint as a child actor in Hong Kong and his flamboyant martial arts prowess, Hollywood heavyweights have taken a huge hit on the 5-foot-7 tall, 135-pound, Cantonese-accented Chinese male lead. I was not willing to take risks and invest. But in fact, they were making a big mistake.

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Disillusioned with the lack of progress after ten years in the United States, Lee returned to Hong Kong in 1971. He and he starred in three martial arts action films and achieved great success. ‘Dangsandaehyung’, ‘Jeongmumun’, and ‘Maengryonggwagang’ are those works, and he also wrote and directed the screenplay for Maengryonggwagang. Although all of them were produced on a low budget by American standards, these films were box office hits close to a sensation in Asia. The news reached Hollywood, and this time Hollywood came to him.

That is how Yongjaeng Hotu was born.

Bruce Lee changed the fighting scene on the screen

After all, this movie is a martial arts action movie, and the audience chooses this movie because of the fighting scenes. In other words, people don't watch Yongjaeng Hotu just to see the acting, cinematography, and storyline. In fact, Michael Allin's screenplay was taken directly from the James Bond film '007 Murder Number', featuring a hero hired by the British intelligence service, a mysterious island, and a villain with terrifying metal hands.

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However, despite all its shortcomings, Yongzheng Hotu remains one of the most influential martial arts films of all time.

As a martial artist, Bruce Lee was years ahead of his time. He respected traditional fighting styles such as kung fu, karate and judo. Even so, he refused to be bound by any style. In fact, Jeet Kune Do (meaning "how to block the opponent's fist"), which was created by Bruce Lee, is a set of principles designed specifically for one individual. It contains the philosophy of 'taking something useful and making it your own'. Long before the term mixed martial arts became established as one of the fighting sports, Jeet Kune Do was a 'mixed martial arts'.

Renowned Jeet Kune Do master Tommy Carruthers is a master of martial arts for nearly 50 years. A native of Scotland, he teaches martial arts all over the world and has visited China about 30 times. Carruthers, who is now in his 60s, boasts a much younger appearance and physique than his actual age, but he said he is still immersed in Bruce Lee's teachings.

In the opening of the first film that the then-teenage Carruthers saw in the mid-1970s, Bruce Lee faced Hong Keum-bo, who would later become a legend in the Hong Kong film industry. In this confrontation, the two appear wearing fingerless gloves and tight shorts, which decades later would become iconic accessories for UFC mixed martial artists.

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Carruthers said, “He wanted to approach (fighting scenes) more diversely and wanted to teach (martial arts) to the audience.” “In this scene, you can see footwork, feints (movements designed to distract opponents), backfists (movements in karate where you swing your forearms and hit the target with the back of your hand) before knee fakes, and boxing-like quadruple combination punches. It is difficult to give a name to the technique he used, as there are several techniques incorporating similar movements in Japanese and Korean martial arts. And at the end of the fighting scene, there is also grappling (exercising techniques such as knocking an opponent to the floor and defeating them).”

However, there is a stark difference between the high-kicking action shown by Bruce Lee on the screen and the actual combat implemented by Jeet Kune Do. Carruthers said, “The principles of Jeet Kune Do are economy of movement, simplicity, and maximum efficiency.” “If you spot someone intent on attacking you, you should strike the nearest target with your longest weapon to subdue them.” If you are attacked by someone on the street, there is no time to fly or somersault. The essence of Bruce Lee's martial arts is to use your feet or fists to inflict as much damage as possible on your opponent and block attacks with direct countermeasures.

On the set of 'Yongjaeng Hotu', life was put into the movie. Many of the numerous extras in the film were members of the Hong Kong-based triads and were familiar with martial arts and street fighting. To such people, Bruce Lee presented an interesting goal that they could dream of in reality.

If he could beat Hong Kong's greatest action star of his time, he would have had both fame and fortune. Morgan recalled one day when Bruce Lee lost patience with the extra's persistent disparagement of martial artists as swindlers. This was a matter to be resolved with a duel, and Bruce Lee wasted no time.

Morgan, who witnessed the scene at the time, said, "The kid criticized Bruce Lee with absurd words, and Bruce Lee could have killed him." “I finished it in less time than it took me to explain it at the time.”

However, in the fight scenes in the movie, efficiency alone was not enough. In Dragon Fight, Bruce Lee created one of the most elaborate and physically demanding fight scenes in film history. In addition to the hand-to-hand combat that Carruthers said, Bruce Lee's use of traditional weapons was quite fascinating.

Morgan said, “Bruce Lee pushed himself harder than anyone else until he reached exhaustion, dehydration, mental exhaustion, and physical exhaustion,” but “he was able to endure it.” “He knew exactly what he was doing.”

photo source,Alamy

“Then you see the magic happen. There was no video support at the time, so film was sent to the lab every 48 hours. After seeing what was developed, anyone could realize that there was something special about this film. Bruce Lee was also happy. It was a really good thing.”

when tragedy strikes

The film finished shooting in April 1973. Bruce Lee also said he had high expectations after seeing the first edited version in Los Angeles. However, he suddenly collapsed in a dubbing studio in Hong Kong and was transported to the United States for examination. He almost lost his life due to cerebral edema (swelling of the brain), but no one was able to determine the cause. He must have been very afraid, but Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong with peace of mind after hearing from the doctor that he had the body of an 18-year-old boy.

But two months later, Bruce Lee passed out again in the apartment of Taiwanese star Betty Ting Fei (Jung Pae). This cerebral edema was fatal. In one of the most mysterious celebrity deaths in history, the coroner ruled it a "fault". After the autopsy, it was deduced that the edema was caused by the prescribed painkillers.

As suspicions were raised that Bruce Lee and Ting Fei had an internal affair, the attention of the Hong Kong media was all focused on this. And the official cause of death was left obscure. Even after that, the controversy surrounding Bruce Lee's death continued, and even after half a century, it is still a hot debate. Various speculations about his cause of death range from absurd reasons such as Lee's "belated attack" or that his family was cursed, to more reasonable explanations such as recreational drug use, heat stroke, epilepsy, and adrenal insufficiency. were raised, but none of them were accurate.

A few days prior to the opening of "Hotoo the Dragon" at the Graman's Chinese Theater (now TCL) in Los Angeles, Bruce Lee was transported to Seattle for a funeral. The premiere, which should have been a glorious place, was filled with sadness. "There was no victory," said Morgan, who was speechless for a moment. "We should have let him go already." “Cinema theaters just sold tickets and let people in.”

Bruce Lee passed away leaving behind a wife and two young children. His unfinished work, ‘Game with Death’ was released in 1978, but mostly consisted of a new video in which scenes were played by doubles. As a result, only a small part of the late master's genius remained. In the movie, there is also a scene in which the character played by Lee So-ryong is shot and seriously injured on set before plotting revenge. As if by a cruel and bizarre twist of fate, Bruce Lee's son, Brandon Lee, lost his life in an unexpected gun accident on the set of the movie 'The Crow' in 1993. The tragic event sparked media buzz about the family being cursed, and this hypothesis was rightly condemned.

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Given the enormous achievements Bruce Lee has made in 32 years, it is not easy to predict what would have happened in front of him if fate had not intervened. British martial arts film guru Ricky Baker is an authority on Bruce Lee, having built a career in the genre for decades. He believes that had Bruce Lee been alive, he would have enjoyed greater achievements.

Baker said, "Warner Bros. would have Lee directly set the terms of appearance." “First of all, he would have had to finish playing with death, but Bruce Lee would have broadened (his horizons). He liked acting. But he may have developed further as a director and screenwriter. And he would have been involved in more story-driven projects. As he gets older, he can't just stay in martial arts movies. He must have set higher goals and strived to be the best in various fields.”

“He would have played a role in driving the recognition of Asian actors and directors until the 80s. He must have used his strength to bring in Asian actors and directors and put them to the test. But in reality, no one jumped into this until ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ (2000) came out. Since Bruce Lee has already adjusted to America, he could have bridged the gap.”

Bruce Lee is widely known as the best martial artist of the 20th century, a pioneer in the film genre, and the protagonist of the most loved martial arts movie in history. His death is an undeniable tragedy, but the tremendous achievements he made in his short life should be of some comfort to us.


How did Bruce Lee changed martial arts? ›

Bruce Lee developed a martial art technique called jeet kune do, a blend of ancient kung fu, fencing, boxing, and philosophy, which he began teaching instead of traditional martial arts.

How did Bruce Lee changed the world? ›

He introduced ancient martial arts to the modern world with a style that he developed called Jeet Kune Do, and with just five mainstream films under his belt subsequently went on to influence popular culture all over the world. But few really knew the man behind the lightning-fast moves.

What is the history of martial arts movies? ›

Martial arts films have been produced all over the world, but the genre has been dominated by Hong Kong action cinema, peaking from 1971 with the rise of Bruce Lee until the mid-1990s with a general decline in the industry, till it was revived close to the 2000s.

Is Jeet Kune Do effective? ›

Bruce Lee also believed that a martial artist should strive for personal growth and self-expression. This philosophy is evident in JKD's emphasis on individual expression and adaptability. Jeet Kune Do is a highly effective martial art style that emphasizes practicality, adaptability, and efficiency.

How did Bruce Lee inspire others? ›

Bruce Lee was not only respected for his skills as a martial artist, but also for his level of fitness. He single-handedly changed the landscape of strength and physical development during his time, inspiring many athletes, bodybuilders, and even average men to adopt his approach to training.

Why is Bruce Lee the greatest martial artist? ›

Lee was known very much for the art of defense just as much as he was known for his offense. He never intentionally showed malice or violence to his opponents, as that would've clouded his judgement and humility. If you don't believe this, look no further than Lee's most famous technique: the one-inch punch.

How did Bruce Lee impact America? ›

Bruce Lee was a huge influence on American society through his martial arts. He was one of the first pioneers of mixed martial artist by his own developed fighting style and inspired many American fighters.

Why is Bruce Lee remembered today? ›

Despite only being 32 years old, Lee's impact on popular culture and the martial arts genre was immeasurable, with his popularity continuing to grow over the last half-century. Lee's groundbreaking philosophy, physical prowess, and charismatic on-screen presence revolutionized martial arts cinema, inspiring countless ...

What important events were caused or attitudes were caused to be changed by Bruce Lee? ›

8 Ways Bruce Lee Changed The World
  • He was the first action hero. ...
  • He made martial arts open to all. ...
  • He was the first self-help guru. ...
  • He kicked down racial barriers - literally. ...
  • He's the grandaddy of free running. ...
  • He invented working out. ...
  • He's the spiritual father of hip-hop. ...
  • He shaped superhero culture.
Jun 7, 2009

Who's the best martial artist in the movies? ›

The Best Movie Martial Artists of All Time, Ranked
  • 8 Tony Jaa.
  • 7 Chuck Norris.
  • 6 Jean-Claude Van Damme.
  • 5 Jet Li.
  • 4 Michelle Yeoh.
  • 3 Donnie Yen.
  • 2 Jackie Chan.
  • 1 Bruce Lee.
Feb 16, 2023

Who popularized martial arts movies? ›

The dominant figure in martial arts related entertainment in modern culture, and one of the most enduring pop icons of the twentieth century, Bruce Lee was an actor, director, and instructor whose films and philosophy popularized martial arts in both Western and Eastern cultures in the late 1960s and into the early ...

Where did martial arts history start? ›

In 2600 B.C., China became the hub of the universe of martial arts. Emperor Huang Di, who ruled China more than 4000 years ago, was a wrestling and pole-fighting master. He required that his troops learn martial arts. Around 770 B.C., Mongolian tribesmen introduced skull-bashing wrestling to China.

What martial arts do CIA agents learn? ›

Extensive hand-to-hand combat skills are learned, including martial arts like krav maga, jeet kune do and Brazilian jiu jitsu, and you must learn to fight with improvised weapons.

What fighting style did Bruce Lee create? ›

Jeet Kune Do, or, "The Way of the Intercepting Fist", was the name Bruce gave to his own art and approach to martial arts. Bruce described Jeet Kune Do as "the art of fighting without fighting" and "the formless form". Jeet Kune Do first appeared in writing in Bruce's daytimer on July 9th, 1967.

Can you get a black belt in Jeet Kune Do? ›

In Jeet Kune Do, a dedicated student who is willing to push their boundaries and diligently practice the art can go from a beginner with a white belt to the highest ranking black belt in a span of around five to six years.

How was Bruce Lee so good at martial arts? ›

As with his jeet kune do fighting style, which consisted of taking bits and pieces from multiple styles and blending them into one, Lee took training methods from other athletic spheres and forged them all into his own unique regime.

What martial arts style did Bruce Lee create? ›

Jeet kune do founded by Bruce Lee in 1967 and translates as “the way of the intercepting fist”. It is a hybrid of martial arts systems and life philosophy.

Did Bruce Lee invent mixed martial arts? ›

Yet although Lee can be considered a spiritual father of MMA, and he certainly popularised the idea of mixing different styles of martial arts in the West, there are other precursors that predate the Little Dragon himself.


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