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Hey boys Ďn girls, we couldnít be more thrilled to host an exclusive interview with the folks behind the excellent new documentary, I Am Bruce Lee.  Director Pete McCormack gave us his thoughts on discovering the martial arts majesty and philosophical wisdom of one of the greatest movie stars that ever lived, and Bruce Leeís daughter, Shannon Lee Keasler talked about producing the film and protecting her father's legacy.

Dig it!

 

I Am Bruce Lee

 Shannon Lee Keasler

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  What inspired you to produce this documentary on your fatherís life?

Shannon Lee Keasler:  Actually, my producing partners at Network Entertainment came initially to me and said, ďWe did a documentary on Muhammad Ali called Facing Ali and it turned out really great and everyone really loves it. Weíre really intrigued by your father and his legacy and weíd really like to do a documentary on him.Ē And of course I thought, ĎOh, my gosh, there are a lot of Bruce Lee documentaries. {Laughs} Do we need another Bruce Lee documentary?í  But I saw the work that theyíd done on Facing Ali and it was really a well done film.  I talked to them about what their vision of this piece could be and after seeing their work and really talking it through and meeting the director, Pete McCormack, I really thought that actually this would be a beautiful and high-quality piece and that it would really tell the story in an intriguing way.

 

LMD:  How did you choose Pete McCormack to direct?

SLK:  He had done so much research, it was amazing to me.  Heís a really likeable guy and he really had done so much research; I mean every nook and cranny, read every article and read everything that he could find of my fatherís writings he could get his hands on.  I felt that he had a great grasp for his subject matter, but also he was very good at coming up with thoughtful questions for the people he interviewed.  I think he had an interesting viewpoint a lot of times; he had his own ideas about things and he was very interested to hear what other peopleís ideas were and to sort of weave all of those different varying viewpoints together in this story.

 

LMD:  I Am Bruce Lee has such a wonderful collection of home movies and family photos.  Did you provide all of that?

SLK:  Yes, that is correct.

 

LMD:  Were there any of those personal items you kept back from the production?  Where you said, ĎThatís just for the familyí?

SLK:  You know, there are certain pictures that are more personal to me, but for the most part, because I really did believe in the project, I really did believe in the way the film was coming together and the way it was ultimately going to come out and I wanted to support that vision as much as I could and make the film feel very personal and special, which I really think that it does.  So, I didnít give everything {Laughs}, but I wanted to put as much in there as we could.

 

LMD:  The film goes into subjects not often talked of, like how being a quarter Caucasian was a problem for Bruce Lee in Hong Kong and the contrast with the racial prejudice he faced here.  There is also great detail into stories I always wanted to hear about, like his time as a child actor, the challenge by the traditional martial artists to stop him from training non-Chinese and how far things had gone with the failed film project, The Magic Flute.  How do you keep finding things to surprise the audience?

SLK:  I think it was primarily Pete.  Because to me, obviously these are things that I knew, and so theyíre not surprising to me, but I think that they will be surprising to an audience because a lot of people donít know my father and his story that intimately.  They may have brushed up against it here and there, but never put it fully into context and have it expressed the way itís expressed in this piece.  Pete is responsible for doing that in a very thoughtful way.

 

LMD:  I think itís Richard Bustillo who says words to the effect of, anyone who claims thereís a Jeet Kune Do school is not telling the truth, might ruffle some feathers.  The same with the segment about who was the ďFather of Mixed Martial ArtsĒ?  Were you worried about any controversy?

SLK:  You know, the martial arts community has been ruffling its feathers for a long time now. {Laughs} So, I try on the one hand not to get too caught up in it, because itís a no-win situation, but at the same time I donít worry too much, either, because theyíre always going to be people on either side of every argument who have their own opinion, and it seems that particularly in the martial arts community thatís the case. So, I donít worry, cos you canít please all the people all the time.  And I think that itís a very worthwhile and interesting conversation and I wish one that could be had without people challenging each other to death matches. {Laughs}

 

LMD:  Your father passed when you were only four years old.  What has it been like for you to have to share him with the world?

SLK:  You know itís an interesting thing, because the thing that I find and I wish that it were different, that I had known him longer, obviously, but the thing that I find is that people want is to know him in a way that he canít be known through the public.  And unfortunately for me, I do have some very brief memories and glimpses of him as a young child, but they are really more like just moments in time rather than these long form memories.  I canít tell you what he had for breakfast every morning or anything like that {Laughs}, and I found that people want that.  They want some tidbit that nobody else has and so thatís difficult at times because itís kind of a strange thing because people are so attracted to my DNA. {Laughs} And itís an interesting thing to be attached to something that is very amazing and at the same time to feel like, ĎThatís not me, thatís him.í  So, itís an interesting path to walk, but most of the time, itís a wonderful place to be.

 

LMD:  You have taken a very big role in Bruce Lee Enterprises.  Did you always know even when you were younger that you would eventually assume the role of keeper of your dadís legacy?

SLK:  You know, yes, and no.  I mean, obviously, I knew that in some way I would be the keeper of his legacy in the sense that at some point it would be me and I assumed my brother, although unfortunately thatís not the case, but I donít know if I ever really thought like, ĎOh, someday Iím going to run this as a business.í  I imagine if I had thought that, I wouldnít have majored in music in college. {Laughs} But at the same time, itís one of these things where for many years we worked with somebody else who was handling it.  You know, my mom did a wonderful job of maintaining his legacy, but never really looked at it in terms of what more could she do.  I think that at some point my mom was looking to sort of step back and retire and do her own thing and travel and all that, so I said, ďI would love to start working at this and I really feel like thereís more that can be done and I wish that we, the family had a little bit more control over what was going on.Ē  I feel like the people hardly know anything about Bruce Lee and thereís such a wealth of inspiration and motivation and wonderful, dynamic quality that I think could be elevated out in the public.  So, I feel so much continued inspiration and so much value from his life and from his legacy that I just feel like it should be cherished.

 

LMD:  How did you choose who to ask to speak with for this project?  The Dan Inosanto interview toward the end was heartbreaking.  Is it difficult to ask him to speak on film, knowing you might get that reaction?

SLK:  You know, the interesting thing with ďThe Guys,Ē as I call them; friends of my dadís, in particular the ones who were longtime students and friends like Dan and like Taky Kimura and like Ted Wong, who passed away at the end of last year.  A number of them have actually passed away recently, so itís very sad because weíre definitely coming to end of a generation who knew my father.  But I do find that those people who really knew my father and spent time with him were so very affected by their relationship with him.  You know, when we go to the gravesite and Taky will be there and he always has a tear in his eye just standing there.  Itís really touching and really quite amazing this impact that he had on a very personal level with a lot of people.  You know, thatís something that a lot of people may not know about my father is that being this super alpha male that he was and an aggressive and action-oriented person, he also was a very caring person and he liked to help people and take care of people.  He was very affectionate and as helpful as he could be with all of his friends and students, and I think, that, coupled with his charisma and his love of discourse and breaking everything down and telling jokes and what have you, this really made people feel very close to him and very affected by him.

 

LMD:  It was wonderful to watch, but nobody told me Iíd need Kleenex!

SLK:  {Laughs} Thatís the thing!  I was really moved myself watching, because I was not present when Dan was filmed.  In part because I didnít want him to feel a certain way, knowing that I was sitting there watching and to let him just be in himself with the crew.  The film was very touching, I was very moved by it.

 

LMD:  There is a lot of focus on the MMA/UFC connection and your father. Why did you feel that was important to include?

SLK:  Well, itís an ongoing discussion. {UFC President} Dana White has gone on record a number of times and in the film, of course, as saying that my father is the father of mixed martial arts.  And it was a huge part of my fatherís life -- not mixed martial arts -- because he didnít call it that or practise that, necessarily, but my father was first and foremost a martial artist, and I still believe that in this sport of mixed martial arts and the UFC and all of this thatís happening today, there can be lines drawn back to my father from that.  My father was really a person who came to the realisation that in order to be a real fighter -- a complete fighter -- you canít just pick one style and do that style and nothing else, because invariably you will encounter somebody who does a style completely different from yours and you wonít know how to defend or attack with that type of style.  So, you really need to be a complete fighter from top to bottom and he threw away his traditional training and really started looking at just movement as a whole, and how do I utilise my body in the most effective and efficient way to be able defend against anything whether Iím standing up or on the ground.  And thatís basically where weíve gone with mixed martial arts, where youíve seen that sport go.  UFC initially started as a Pan-Asian style person facing off against a Muay Thai person and who would win.  But we started to understand that when people started borrowing from each otherís styles, well, in order to really know who that fighter is, you really have to be the complete fighter from top to bottom and thatís where we are today with mixed martial arts, and I think a very clear line -- or, a very clear inspirational line, anyway -- can be drawn from my father to that.

 

LMD:  You mentioned being a complete fighter and I Am Bruce Lee demonstrates how your father was a very complete fighter by showing the balance of his martial arts skills with his study of philosophy and mental attitude.  You quote him often on Twitter and Facebook.  What do you feel is relevant about his lessons or thoughts today?

SLK:  Gosh, I feel like so much of what he was saying is relevant and probably always will be, because so much of it is about the art of self-actualisation and about how to grow and evolve as a person.  A lot of what he talked about, he was applying it to martial arts, but he was also applying it to himself as a human being.  In fact, what he used to say is all of these things that Iíve learned about being an actor, about being a martial artist, about being  a man, Iíve learned through my study of martial arts because Iíve taken everything that Iíve needed to learn to grow in that field and started to apply it to my own life.  And I think that the reason actually that we remember my father today is because he really took all of his thoughts and beliefs and was continually peeling back the layers and looking deeper, going deeper, and putting all of that self-evolution and self-actualisation into self-expression out into the world, and thatís really the message of his legacy, if you ask me.  I think a lot of what heís talking about is very motivational and very inspirational for us because itís just looking at how we live our lives.  If thereís one component that mixed martial arts can maybe continue to work on it is that mental attitude and philosophical aspect.

 

LMD:  Your mother, Linda Lee Cadwell, is such an example of grace and strength, dealing with all she had to following your fatherís sudden passing. As a mother to a little girl yourself, what was there that your mother practiced in raising you that you value now, with regard to how to deal with being the child of not only the greatest Asian star that ever lived, but one of the greatest movie stars, period?

SLK:  You know, I think that one of the things that I was very grateful for was that I had a very normal and away from the limelight upbringing; but more than that a very personable upbringing.  My mom was there and she was very affectionate and very kind and loving, did her best to be there for us and be supportive of us, whatever we wanted to do, and I appreciated that very much.  I think it helped me to be a little bit more grounded of a person.  She always told us to let people get to know us for who we are before telling them, ďOh, Iím Bruce Leeís kid.Ē  So, we didnít go around telling people that and I felt that my friendships were very genuine and that I had very genuine relationships with people, which is a really nice thing to feel.  I think I always try to be as authentic as possible with my daughter and be there as much as possible.  Iím very, very hands-on with her and affectionate with her and I think that she has a really lovely kindness about her.

 

LMD:  If itís okay, I would like to ask about your brother, Brandon Lee.  His birthday just passed and it was heartbreaking and beautiful to see those home movies of him as a toddler doing the stances and kicking before he could really even walk, with your father there, beaming at his son.  What would you like people to remember about Brandon? 

SLK:  Well, gosh, Brandon was an extremely fun-loving, energetic person with a big laugh.  And I think the thing about Brandon was he was really, truly an artist.  He was really active in his pursuit of his own direction.  He knew what he wanted to do from the time he was very little and sometimes that was kind of headache for my mom because getting him to do math and science was a little bit difficult.  He was such a free spirit and he was really given the room by my mom to explore that and be his own person. And he really was his own person, and he wanted to step into his own being very much apart from our father.  And he was also a very inspired person.

 

LMD:  Can you please give our readers about what to expect from Bruce Lee Enterprises in the future?

SLK:  We have a lot of projects that weíre working on.  Bruce Lee Enterprises is the licensing, Lee Way Media is the production end and the Bruce Lee Foundation is a public charity, and all of these things are doing a lot of things.  So, we are developing a couple of film projects and live stage show projects, as well as an animated TV series.  All of those are in the development stages right now, but weíre very excited about them.  A couple of projects will be coming close to fruition by the end of this year.  And then the Bruce Lee Foundation has launched a project to build the Bruce Lee Action Museum.  Weíre looking to build that in Seattle, Washington, and itís a Bruce Lee museum, but itís not just a memorabilia museum.  Obviously, there will be memorabilia, but itís much greater than that to me.  The vision of the museum is to look at the notion of action through the lens of my father and all the different types of action that he encountered and pursued and performed in his life: So, martial action and filmed action and socially cultural action and philosophical action, too, like self-actualisation and things like that.  And itís really that anyone coming there would be able to grasp those different forms of action and what it means to take action, and hopefully educate themselves a little bit about Bruce Lee and who he was, but also be able to apply that lens of action to themselves and their own plans and their own lives. Itíll be a place that has his entire research library and all of his writings all in one place.

 

LMD:  What would you like for viewers to take away from I Am Bruce Lee?

SLK:  What I would hope that people would take away from the film is a better understanding of my father and who he was and what he was all about.  And hopefully, maybe even they would realise that they have felt his influence in their life, whether they knew it or not; just through his influence on films and popular culture and martial arts and things.  And that they would come to see him as the philosopher and innovator that he was and hopefully continue to be inspired by him.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

February 8th, 2012

 

Director Pete McCormack

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  How did you come to direct this story of Bruce Leeís life?

Pete McCormack:  I directed a film with Network Entertainment called Facing Ali, about Muhammad Ali, that actually got short-listed for an Academy Award and it got some really good praise and I loved making it.  It was this real sports icon who transcended so may aspects of culture, both of the sport; heís more poetic than any boxer had been.  He was so flamboyant and he was coming through the time of the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and so on.  Bruce Lee is the next {icon} -- those two guys are the guys, in a way.  Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali are those two icons, at least to me and to the guys at Network Entertainment, as well, and we teamed up again to make this film.

 

LMD:  How hands-on was Shannon Lee in the filmmaking process?

PM:  Well, the beauty of the Bruce Lee and the Muhammad Ali films is that nobody had creative fingers in there.  Thatís what I have to have; otherwise I end up crying in a corner.  She was fantastically helpful; gave tons of archives.  Sheís such a lovely person, and Linda, Bruceís wife, theyíre such emotionally wonderful people and giving.  On one aspect it was great, because I can see that Bruce mustíve been a really good guy cos they love him and theyíre good people, and thatís generally a hint toward something.  The worst part of it was I gotta go, ĎWow, these two are great.  How do I make this film and make it honest, as well, at the same time, and how do I dig into what I want to dig into; the essence of his limitations and some of his troubles that he had and some of his nature.  Which, of course, is almost all positive anyway, it wasnít like he was a cad or anything else.  So, that was an interesting balance.  Shannon just gave a lot of great archives, two interviews and a lot of love along the way.  And also I think she helped a lot to get people involved for interviews, cos she knew people and people love Bruce Lee, and so thereís a certain sort of nostalgia for people, they say, ĎOh, I love Bruce Lee. I wanna talk about him,í and Shannonís a great go-between to get them involved.  Itís never easy getting people for interviews.  She was a huge help. í

 

LMD:  Were you a Bruce Lee fan?

PM:  Thatís a fantastic question!  I just turned 47 -- Iím actually 4 days younger than Brandon would be -- Iím 47, and I was a huge Ali fan, in fact all the 10 guys I got for that film, I knew them all.  I actually didnít follow Bruce Lee as a kid, so I had to explore Bruce Lee with new eyes and really, really research like crazy.  I had to decide when I went into this film if I wanted to start getting into the research and I said, ĎYes I do,í because he made statements; he was different society-wise, culturally he made statements, martial arts-wise, he made statements, racially, he made statements that were more subtle than say, Ali, but they were actually spoken anyway.  And he was such a great spirit that it was exciting to do.  Thereís a really fun place in the film with respect to the changes that Bruce Lee made for Asian actors; I would say then, ďWell, whoís your favourite Asian-American romantic lead actor?Ē

 

LMD:  And no one has an answer!  Asking for Americans to name Asian lead actors is hard enough, but then you made it Asian-American actors and no one had a clue.

PM:  That was intentional, cos even when you say Asian-American, ironically, people say ďJackie Chan,Ē and though heís not a romantic lead, they say, ďJackie Chan.Ē  Yeah, thatís interesting, heís Asian, but I wanted Asian-American.  But really, there really isnít a sex symbol.  Now, that can be two things, I donít want to sound too obviously liberal there.  That can be a product of pure numbers in a certain way; the total population, but then on the flip side, it can be that North American society is just not as open as it appears to be.  Itís hard to replace Bruce Lee, but it is an ironic thing that we donít have in the Asian sense, thereís Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier before that; fantastic black actors who are sex symbols and white actors who are sex symbols.  It was an interesting omission, letís say.

But back to the question that you asked, I actually was a fan in the sense of, well, heís something else to watch, but I always thought, ĎWell, these are movies. This isnít the real thing.í  Aliís the real thing, right?  But to get to dive in as an adult was to become both a fan and a student.  It was a great experience to have that kind of journey.  I love to research, so discovering the depth and the width of this guy was great.

 

LMD:  Bruce Leeís student, Richard Bustillo says something to the effect of anyone who says thereís a Jeet Kune Do school is not telling the truth is a statement that might ruffle some feathers in the martial arts community. The same with the segment on who was the actual ďFatherĒ of mixed martial arts?  Were you aware of that controversy?

PM:  I wasnít aware of it in the sense of that, but Iím aware of any men that continue to fight that late in their lives are gonna keep arguing about that kind of thing.  Thereís always that sense of youthfulness; men talking about these things.  There is a little bit of a contest between you-know-what.  Thatís just natural, so it didnít bother me.  I was having fun with it, even though I was serious about it.  Gene LeBell, when he says, ďIíll choke ya! {If you insist that Bruce Lee is the father of MMA}Ē Iím not softening the argument, Iím just saying ĎYou are guys talking about something that is absolutely unanswerable.í  Yet, I think itís a worthy conversation just to learn like, no matter how good you are, if youíre 150 pounds, you canít beat the guy whose 260 pounds if heís trained the same way.  You just canít do it.  So, that was good to delve into the realities of martial arts, there.  I think the JKD thing is interesting because basically once you standardize it Ö JKD was really Bruceís way of expressing himself and martial arts and thatís how it has to be for everybody.  So you discover your own path using a lot of skill through Jeet Kune Do.  If youíre repeating was Bruce was doing in 1967, exactly as he said it, youíre not doing Jeet Kune Do in principle, because itís an evolving idea and itís an individually-based idea, too.  Itís not like all the kids go to kung fu school; itís like you go to whatís best for your body.  You do whatís good for you.  If youíre built a certain way, you can still do Jeet Kune Do, but really maybe you should be a grappler or a wrestler and expand on that?  I think thatís really a fun thing, the JKD argument, but I think thatís a serious thing because it really upsets some people.  Itís the difference in what they call ďJKD conceptsĒ and ďJeet Kune Do;Ē so the concept idea is that these are the concepts and now you evolve with those concepts.  The other is like a more structured Jeet Kune Do thing which is sort of anathema to what Bruce Lee believed in. As to debating what kind of martial artist Bruce Lee was, I think itís a funny debate because he never really fought in that sense.  Imagine being so charismatic that you never were in any kind of filmed fight, ever, and they still think youíre the toughest person in the world? {Laughs} Wouldnít it be great if you had that kind of power!  I think itís amazing, just the fact that some people who can really fight well and fight smarter in the martial arts area think heís one of the greatest fighters of all time says a lot about his charisma.  That was the comment by Gene LeBell when he said they didnít know if it was the real McCoy or it was Hollywood.  I really appreciated that.  I fought for those comments a lot; that was what I really wanted.  I needed to get those guys speaking the truth.  The same clichťs are just really boring and I wanted to avoid hagiography - when you make them into a god, you know?  The limitations of being a human being; thereís limitations at 135 pounds, letís just say it.

 

LMD:  Since Shannon Lee provided so much of the archival media, I wondered was there much footage didnít we see?  Could there be a lot of DVD-extras?  And since youíre working with the daughter of the man youíre profiling, were there any no-go areas?

PM:  I had no no-go areas, I had none of that.  I think they didnít want me to delve into the death thing again, but that didnít interest me, because itís a stupid argument about was he really killed by the ďdeath grip,Ē the dim-mak.  Thereís just no evidence for that, so to dive into something that unattainable was pointless to me.  Was he drugged by secret Tong members in Hong Kong; thereís no evidence for that stuff to speculate.  I think that was a non for them in spirit, but if I thought it was important enough, I would have gone back and said, ĎHereís why.í  But I didnít have any limitations on me that way.  Itís really the film, story-wise, that I really felt like I wanted to tell, which was, what was the essence of this man, what was his greatness, what were his limitations, what was he like and letís explore and have emotion with Bruce Lee.  That was really what I wanted to do.  As for archive, we really picked the best that we could find anywhere, everywhere.  There was nothing that I left that I wished I had used.  Thatís the other Bruce Lee mythology thatís great; thereís the death, but thereís also the mystery, ĎBut you know, the stuff when he was actually leaping tall buildings?í  ĎThe rest of Game of Death, I know itís out there somewhere complete!í  Thatís actually the great mystery to this guy, heís got such great charisma that we all fall for that.  ĎBut there must be more!í  ĎIs there a secret film where he showed how to do the one-inch punch and he pulled the guyís heart out and he puts it back in again?í  I love that level of enthusiasm that there must be more.  Maybe one day Iíll be wrong, but all those things donít show up or havenít shown up and people just talk about them.  Thereís always the person in life that says, ĎOne day Iíll write a book about it, but I canít talk about it now,í but, you know what, itís becoming a headache in this day and age.  If youíve got something to say, say it!

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

February 8th, 2012

 

 

 

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