Fans are holding exhibitions and martial arts workshops in Hong Kong this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of famed martial artist Bruce Lee in 1973.
The star was a trailblazer for Asian men in Hollywood at a time when racist stereotypes were the norm. Lee showed that Asian men were more than just servants or villains.
Lee was born in San Francisco and spent his childhood in Hong Kong before continuing his studies in the United States.
Ahead of landing the role of Kato in the television series “The Green Hornet”, he taught martial arts and scored minor parts in Hollywood.
On returning to Hong Kong, Lee made his breakthrough with the lead role in the martial arts film “The Big Boss”, making him a household name throughout Asia after its 1971 release.
The year 1972 saw two more box office hits, “Fist of Fury” and “The Way of the Dragon”, cementing Lee’s persona as a relentless, lightning-fast fighter.
Lee passed away at the age of just 32 in 1973. He succumbed to a swelling of the brain attributed to an adverse reaction to painkillers. He had just completed filming his fourth major film, “Enter the Dragon”, and was halfway through filming his fifth.
Film scholar Aaron Han Joon Magnan-Park, who taught Lee’s movies at the University of Hong Kong, says Lee expressed a kind of Chinese identity that transcended national borders.
“I would call Bruce Lee a paragon of Sinophone soft power success with Hong Kong characteristics,” he says .
The scenes where he bares his torso and flexes his muscles were essential because they show how ripped bodies can belong to Asian heroes as well.
“He made Asian men sexy, and that is something I don’t think we talk about enough,” Magnan-Park says.