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Bruce Lee

Cult (film) icon

Authored by: Paul Bowman

The Routledge Companion to Cult Cinema

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138950276
eBook ISBN: 9781315668819
Adobe ISBN:


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I write these words on the 44th anniversary of the death of Bruce Lee (July 20, 1973). When he died I was two years old. Lee was at the height of his fame. At the time of his death, his fourth martial arts film, Enter the Dragon, was being released internationally. He was already well known around the world: in Asia he was stellar; in the West his films had a growing cult status (Hunt 2003; Lo 2005; Teo 2009). For all audiences, he was becoming the exemplar of a new type of masculine cool invincibility – a simultaneously impossible yet (possiblyalmost) achievable ideal (Chan 2000; Nitta 2010). It was impossible because Lee was invincible, but it seemed (quasi) achievable because Lee’s invincibility was always shown to be the product of dedicated training in kung fu. So, his image wasn’t simply fictional. His image wasn’t merely fake. He wasn’t magic. He was simply a kung fu expert. This meant that all you had to do to be like him was train. Anyone could train. Everyone could train. So, very many people did. And this became known as the ‘kung fu craze’ of the 1970s (Brown 1997).

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