Tortured bleeder Matthew Polly distills the essence of Bruce Lee

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Naive Chinese immigrant Cheng Chao-an [Bruce Lee] temporarily represses his indomitable fighting spirit as a Thailand ice factory laborer where heroin is secretly smuggled in director Lo Wei’s unexpected 1971 hit “The Big Boss.” Image Credit: Sketch by Scott Urmson

The Matthew Polly Interview, Part Five [conclusion]

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With his unavoidable cigar temporarily out of mouth, “Million Dollar Director” Lo Wei and Bruce Lee in happier times, perhaps between the back to back filming of “The Big Boss” and “Fist of Fury” in late 1971. As recounted on page 311 of “Bruce Lee: A Life,” Lo Wei remembered in a 1988 interview that “our conflicts began with little things. Bruce liked to call me by my full name when we were on set. He’d shout, ‘Lo Wei! Lo Wei!’ On that same page Polly wrote, “Lo Wei was a hands-off director, not overly invested in the details of his movies. While actors were filming scenes, he often turned up his radio to listen to horse and dog races. If someone disturbed him during a race or his horse lost, he would bellow in rage. For a perfectionist like Bruce [“Bonanza” costar Michael Landon had a similar personality and clashed with the venerable family western’s creator David Dortort as his talents behind the camera blossomed in the late ‘60s], this negligent approach to directing was offensive. In a letter to his wife Linda, Bruce explained, ‘The film [‘The Big Boss’] I’m doing is quite amateur-like. A new director has replaced the uncertain old one [Wu Chia-Hsiang]. This new director [Lo Wei] is another so-so one with an almost unbearable air of superiority.’” Image Credit: Julie Naylor’s Bruce Lee Tribute via Pinterest
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Let me at him! Bruce Lee brandishes a knife in his first starring role for Golden Harvest Studio — Lo Wei’s “The Big Boss” — in August 1971. Lee was familiar with a switchblade in his final Cantonese film as a child actor — 1960’s critically and commercially acclaimed “The Orphan.” Lee’s “Ah Sum” role found him as a reformed pickpocket for a street gang. Polly records on page 77 of “Bruce Lee: A Life” that “after a female teacher inadvertently insults him, Ah Sum pulls a switchblade and threatens her. This confrontation leads to perhaps the most realistic fight scene of Lee’s career when several of his classmates awkwardly try to wrestle the knife out of his hand, and they all end up falling over each other.” Image Credit: Cinematographer Ching-Chu Chen [screengrab] / Orange Sky Golden Harvest / Alchetron
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By the time Bruce Lee’s three months spent planning, choreographing, co-producing, and filming “Enter the Dragon” climaxed in April 1973, he had shed 20 pounds from his already lithe frame of 140 pounds. Helmed by Robert Clouse and costarring John Saxon and Jim Kelly, it was Lee’s break-out role in a USA feature. Photography by Dave Friedman / Warner Bros. / The Bruce Lee Podcast
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Brandon, father Bruce, and uncle Robert Lee circa July 1969. Robert became one of Hong Kong’s biggest teen sensations several years earlier with his boy band the Thunderbirds. They made a couple of Top Ten hit singles for EMI, the most popular of which was “Baby Baby, You Put Me Down.” After a two week regimen of enduing an egg, peanut butter, and banana protein shake three times a day, lifting dumbbells, and running three miles, Robert’s weight increased from 108 to 124 pounds. Still, Bruce knew it was a lost cause. “Since you have no talent for the martial arts and no strength to beat anybody up,” Bruce admitted, “there’s only one skill I want to teach you — how to run away!” Image Credit: Julie Naylor’s Bruce Lee Tribute via Pinterest
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He’s poised to strike you! Unveiled in 2005, the Bruce Lee statue in Hong Kong was visited by biographer Matthew Polly circa April 5, 2013, about a year into his research for “Bruce Lee: A Life.” Image Credit: Courtesy of Matthew Polly
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In a classy black suit and skinny tie that he rarely slipped on as he grew older, Bruce Lee still retains some baby fat in this shot publicizing his 1966–1967 stint as dependable sidekick Kato on “The Green Hornet.” Image Credit: ABC Photo Archives

DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! To catch up with the previous four installments of the Matthew Polly / Bruce Lee interview, just scroll below.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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