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Fab 5 Freddy told me Bruce Lee was fly

Hey y’all, this year’s New York Asian Film Festival crossed so many cultural mediums giving us movies, Cantopop and even art.  Hip Hop legend Fab 5 Freddy teamed up with Hong Kong artist MC Yan for Kung Fu Wild Style, an exhibition of Bruce Lee-inspired street art in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Enter the Dragon.

Dig it!


Kung Fu Wild Style Exhibition

Fab 5 Freddy & MC Yan


The Lady Miz Diva:  Can you tell us how you two came collaborate on the Kung Fu Wild Style art exhibition?

Fab 5 Freddy:  Well, I have this friend named Sean Dinsmore and he’s an old friend of mine from New York in the 80s and he’s been living in Asia for a while.  We got to China, which is his home; he got me a trip to Shanghai to hang out and talk to people.  Then he moved to Hong Kong and pioneered the culture.  He connected us with this idea and then we started communicating through Skype, which was cool.  In October, we did this exhibit together.  It’s a shared background in a way and both making paintings with Bruce Lee.


LMD:  Did you know how big hip hop and graffiti culture was in Asia?

F5F:  I definitely had done some research; I heard there were some things happening in China.  Obviously, anywhere people have some kind of access any kind of mode to communication, there’s some access to the culture for the youth.  But there’s a big difference between the Mainland and Hong Kong.

MC Yan:  Hong Kong is more international, but in China, they still regularly watch Wild Style.  Now Wild Style is new on the internet.


LMD:  What was your first sighting or memory of Bruce Lee?

F5F:  Well, for me, before the kung fu movie era began, he was Kato in The Green Hornet.  Batman was this popular weekly TV show, and then I think it was the same people produced this amazing show called The Green Hornet, where Green Hornet’s sidekick would beat people up with kung fu and every little kid was like ‘Wow, what is this?’  It was a huge thing when I was a little kid growing up.  So that was how a lot of people from my era first saw kung fu, and then when the kung fu movies would start, it was just a tsunami of energy and then Bruce Lee comes as the best star of all of those movies and he becomes a pop icon instantly for everybody.  But for people of my generation, we all knew who he was; ‘Yo, that’s Bruce Lee. That was Kato.’  That was how it started for me.

MCY:  I am from Hong Kong.  Bruce Lee is everybody’s hero.  It seems people were talking about him all the time.  He was always there.


LMD:  Why is Bruce Lee important today, forty years after Enter the Dragon?

F5F:  Wow, that’s a good question.  Well, Yan is doing a lot of research; he’s got a bio on Bruce and I think he’s reading his autobiography now, which has just been published in Chinese.  There’s a lot of books on him.  When we went into the project, I did research on my own and I saw the quotations and I think they’re interesting almost in a Mao Tse Tung way.  He had a philosophy.  I guess it extrapolates from the various eastern religions and put in a modern sensibility.  It was really amazing.


LMD:  There have been so many action stars since Bruce Lee and now you don’t even have to train or be strong, you can just wear a green screen leotard and have muscles and knock down buildings. Why is he still irreplaceable?

MCY:  I think he spent more time in developing his philosophy in the movies.  So it take a longer time for people to digest the philosophy.


LMD:  What is your favourite scene from Enter the Dragon?

F5F:  When I got to Hong Kong and my boy Sean was telling me to remember that scene when Jim Kelly is coming in and he’s on the boat and looking at the extra poverty along the river and he says something like, “A ghetto is a ghetto everywhere.”  And the final fight scene in the mirrored room, the way it was shot, it was genius.  But being in Hong Kong, seeing how developed the city is and thinking, ‘Wow that’s probably the river right outside my room,’ seeing how much this city has changed.

MCY:  For me, what impressed me was seeing Bruce Lee beat Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung and everybody. {Laughs}

F5F:  Jackie Chan was in that?

MCY:  Yeah, yeah, yeah, and Sammo Hung, when everybody was nobody.  Everybody in the industry was getting beat up by Bruce Lee.

F5F:  I didn’t know that.  Jackie Chan was getting beat up by Bruce Lee.

MCY:  It’s funny to see today that everybody was getting beat up by Bruce Lee.


LMD:  Please tell us about the Kung Fu Wild Style exhibition. How does Bruce Lee and graffiti mix?

F5F:  We made it mix.  For me it was just great cos he did have the influence on urban culture when I was coming up.  He was just like a cool, iconic hero that you could identify with, so it just fit.  Even back when graffiti was really raging in New York on the trains; the purest New York graffiti cats would find some superhero or iconic figure to put in as a character, so he has been used many times and he fits that kind of character that you would want to put as part of your graffiti because he was so cool.

MCY:  In Hong Kong, you are not allowed to do graffiti.  You are not allowed to paint Bruce Lee.  You have to pay for his copyright for his face.


LMD:  Really?  You can’t paint a portrait of him on canvas?

MCY:  No, you have to have permission from his family. So this time, based on some pictures from the movie, I had to do it out of focus, which was yes and no.  I had to do it abstract.


LMD:  You mentioned identifying with Bruce Lee.  What about him do you identify with?

F5F:  Really, it was his whole way of doing what he did; his strength, his unique style of doing it.  His whole flavour of it was so infectious.  It’s like a great athlete now will have a certain style about how they do what they do.  Whereas many people were doing kung fu, Bruce Lee just really stood out.  Even the sounds he made were just different.  Even his sound game was crazy, like wow, we just imitated everything. {Laughs} I guess it’s funny when things make an effect on you when you’re a kid and then you grow up and think deeper about it.  Like Yan said, he spent a lot of time on his philosophy, so reading the things that influenced the things that he portrayed makes you have an even deeper respect for the thought.  There’s a handful of people that become international icons for various reasons; unfortunately they usually are dead when that happens, but it’s that aspect of pop culture which Bruce Lee is up there with James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Marley. He’s in that super-duper iconic canon of pop culture luminaries that live on.

MCY:  I think he’s bringing an idea to everybody of that surprise win in a battle.

F5F:  Another thing that must be acknowledged from my perspective growing up is that the Bruce Lee kung fu era coincides with the development and the jump-off of the hip hop and street culture.  You also had the blaxploitation movies.  You’re thinking like people of colour are living here and there are very few identifiable heroes that look like you.  Even though Bruce Lee was Asian, you could tell that in America he wasn’t in a position of power.  So to see this cat with a whole new style, just doing it with a kind of code of ethics - Bruce Lee had an honourable thing - I think it added and influenced the development of the culture.  Breakdancing clearly has all kind of kung fu movie influence.  Those things just resonated with me.  I think as far as music, all the way from Kung Fu Fighting, which came out in the 70s, to the Wu Tang Clan obviously building a whole hip hop music career based on the whole iconography.


LMD:  Whenever I get invited to previews of kung fu films it’s one of the few times that you see a screening has been pitched toward people of colour.  Which is some of the only times that ever happens.  Why is there such an association between minorities and martial arts?

F5F:  You know, I’m just remembering this now.  Working with Charlie Ahearn on Wild Style - Charlie’s previous very, very low budget, super-ultra-indie film shot on Super 8 was called The Deadly Art of Survival.  It was an urban kung fu drama set in a park; a local kung fu teacher, a brother by the name of Nathan Ingram and it was a classic this school versus that school, different styles.  Nathan would later play a cop in Wild Style that chases Lee Quiñones out of the yard.  There’s a black guy and a white guy.  The white guy was a famous graffiti writer called Iz the Wiz and Nathan was always a hero in the neighbourhood and we put everybody in there in the movie.  That was what made me reach out to Charlie about making this movie because in Lee’s neighbourhood in the Lower East Side, we saw posters for The Deadly Art of Survival, and it just looked like this must be an underground independent movie cos it looked like a really cheesy but cool looking poster.  Later I would meet Charlie at an art show and that’s when I said, “Man we gotta make this movie,” and I was working with Lee and he knew Lee because The Deadly Art of Survival was filmed in the projects where Lee lived all the way over on the Lower East Side by the Brooklyn Bridge.  So when we were developing Wild Style, one of the ideas we wanted to do was to have some kind of kung fu fight; like the way graffiti crews or breakdance crews would be rivals was also an offshoot of the different kung fu schools that would challenge, ‘My style is better than your style.’  So the battling and b-boying and breakdancing was 100% that.  Real energy, ‘Yo, I got my own way of doing this and I’m going to outdance you in this park right here.’  And that was a big thing which inspired the development of the movie Wild Style. 

I only give that to the real good journalists.


LMD:  Finally, tonight’s is a bittersweet celebration.  Would you like to say some words about the late Jim Kelly, the co-star of Enter the Dragon who passed away this morning?

F5F:  Ironic, dude.  That’s just super-duper unbelievable sad because he’s the guy in the scene that I love now is Jim Kelly.  Wow, what can you say?  It’s just one of those weird kinds of things that we would be paying tribute to Bruce Lee and that film, which of course is a tribute to him.  It’s just incredible.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

June 30th, 2013



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Film stills courtesy of Warner Brothers










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