Obituary: Brandon Lee

Brandon Bruce Lee, actor: born Oakland, California February 1965; died Wilmington, North Carolina 31 March 1993.

THERE WAS a high degree of resistance to the late Bruce Lee and his movie ideas in the Hollywood of the 1960s. The only real break that Lee got during all his years in California was a tailor-made cameo as a heavy in the Raymond Chandler update Marlowe (1969). He demolishes Philip Marlowe's office in a series of lightning blows, kicks and leaps and then, enraged by Marlowe's suggestion that he is gay, inadvertently aims himself off the balcony and plunges to his death. A year later Lee got tired of waiting for other offers, went back to Hong Kong (where he had been a successful child actor in left-wing movies) and became an international star in martial-arts movies.

Brandon Lee, the only son of Bruce Lee and his American wife Linda Emery, faced rather different problems when he tried to break into films in the 1980s. Thanks in large part to his father's efforts, it was no longer necessary to persuade Hollywood of the box-office potential of martial-arts movies. On the contrary, the studios are crowded with young hopefuls from the dojos of North America and macho action movies are a key part of the film industry's economic base. Bruce Lee (the son of a Chinese father and a Eurasian mother) looked Chinese, and was an undoubted victim of Hollywood's anti-Asian prejudices in the 1960s; his son looked more Caucasian than Chinese, which meant that it was hard for him to capitalise on his famous parentage when he tried to stand out from the crowd.

As a result, Brandon Lee followed his father's footsteps to Hong Kong and signed a contract with the would- be major D & B Films. The company starred him in an action thriller called Legacy of Rage (1986) and promoted him heavily under his Chinese name, Lee Kwok-Ho. But the film did no better than average business, and the contract was dissolved amid Lee's public expression of dissatisfaction with the creative standards and conditions of production in the Hong Kong film industry.

Back in California, he faced the further challenge that martial-arts skills are no longer considered enough for an action hero. Fashions have moved on in the action genre: real-life martial-arts champions like Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris and Jean- Claude Van Damme nowadays spend more time firing ever larger weapons than they do flailing their limbs, and stunt choreographers are kept busier desigining the pirouettes of mown- down victims than the sophisticated moves of the heroes. Brandon Lee's persistence eventually won him a supporting role in a Dolph Lundgren vehicle called Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), and then a three-picture contract with Twentieth Century-Fox.

Although they allowed him to choreograph his own fight scenes, Fox clearly had confused ideas about the way they should present Lee on screen. In his American starring debut, Rapid Fire (1992), he was cast as an American-Chinese student ('Jake Lo') who impersonates a Chinese laundry worker; the plot, a routine thrash involving drug barons and bent cops, is set in motion by his father's death in the Tiananmen Square massacre. Despite these laboured Chinese connections, the movie went down in the usual blaze of fire-power. Ironically, it appears that it was a pyrotechnic accident that killed Lee during production of his second Fox movie, The Crow: he died from a gunshot wound after another actor fired a blank pistol during filming in North Carolina. Lee was carrying a grocery bag containing a small explosive charge to simulate the gunfire. The Crow was seemingly intended to relaunch Lee's bid for stardom, this time without the Chinese trappings. He was playing a murdered rock star who returns from the dead to wreak vengeance, quoting Edgar Allan Poe as he goes. It is unclear whether the film can be completed without him.

The Crow sounds like an attempt to market a young actor who may or may not have had the talent to succeed in his own right. Brandon Lee's fundamental problem was the shadow of his father. It was hardly coincidence that the writers of both Legacy of Rage and Rapid Fire came up with roles for him in which he struggles to fill the shoes of a father he has lost.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower