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  1. #1
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    Be Water

    Sundance documentary ‘Be Water’ aims to show the man underneath the legend of Bruce Lee
    Entertainment | January 23, 2020
    Ryan Kostecka
    sports@parkrecord.com


    The Sundance documentary “Be Water” aims to give audiences a more intimate look at Bruce Lee than what they saw on screen in his martial arts films.
    Courtesy of the Sundance Institute
    “Be Water,” an entry in the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition, is set to screen at the following times and locations:

    Saturday, Jan. 25, 2:30 p.m., The MARC Theatre

    Sunday, Jan. 26, 9:30 p.m., Rose Wagner Center, Salt Lake City

    Monday, Jan. 27 at 9:45 p.m., The Ray Theatre

    Thursday, Jan. 30, noon, Redstone Cinemas 7

    Friday, Jan. 31, 6 p.m., Sundance Mountain Resort Screening Room, Sundance Resort

    Saturday, Feb. 1, 8:30 a.m., Prospector Square Theatre
    Make no doubt about it — this was personal for director Bao Nguyen.

    Nguyen, the child of Vietnamese war refugees, gave up a career in law to pursue his passion for film — a decision that he doesn’t regret.

    Everything Nguyen has worked for culminated in his latest film, “Be Water,” a documentary about martial artist and actor Bruce Lee returning to Hong Kong in 1971 to achieve the stardom that eluded him in America before his death in 1973. “Be Water” is an entry in the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition and marks Nguyen’s first appearance at the festival.

    “I’m Asian American, so to me, Bruce Lee is one of those heroes that I connected with immediately on how he looks and appears on screen,” Nguyen said. “There aren’t many Asian American heroes, so watching him on TV as I grew up was brand new to me. His story was one I didn’t know, so I wanted to explore how he broke through Hollywood following his death.”

    Nguyen said that, through his research, he learned how difficult it was to be Asian American during the 1960s and 1970s, especially as someone trying to break into acting. So telling Lee’s story in a different way from others who’ve attempted to tell it was important to him. He said it was important to acknowledge what Lee overcame to achieve greatness and a continuing place in the culture decades after his early death.


    “I’ve always wanted to explore stories that were personal and could speak to a larger audience. … And lately there’s been a lot of talk about diversity on screen, so I felt that this movie about him would be right,” Nguyen said. “There are so many people out in the world who have different affections for him, so making a personal film about him that’s also not related to him, it just connects with me and hopefully others.”

    If he were still alive, Lee would turn 80 this year, so the timing of the movie couldn’t have been better for Nguyen. The people who knew Lee personally are getting older, which made it imperative for Nguyen to make the film as soon as possible.

    He credits his team for going through old footage to tell the story. He wanted to build an immersive world that would make viewers feel as if they’re living in a story, one in which they’re seeing Lee in the present tense, brought back to life, rather than the legendary figure audiences have come to know.

    “There are so many intimate stories about him as a person that people don’t know compared to the legend, the mythical martial artist,” Nguyen said. “That’s the story my team and I wanted to show. It was difficult because back then, people didn’t have iPhones shooting everything. Finding the archival films and bringing those to new life with the relative interviews. … Building that story from the past was the goal.”

    Nguyen said he found success with the film because of the questions he asked to those who knew Lee. For decades, the same people have been asked the same questions about Lee — but Nguyen wanted to dig deeper. His questions were more personal in nature and enticed the interviewees to open up and help show off a different side of Lee that has never been portrayed before.
    I heard about Be Water from Matthew Polly. I understand he is involved in this project. That's what he tweeted:
    Matthew Polly
    @MatthewEPolly
    I'm proud to announce that the new ESPN Bruce Lee documentary, 'Be Water,' which is based on my book and on which I served as Executive Producer, has been accepted to the Sundance Film Festival.
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    Variety review

    REVIEWSFEBRUARY 3, 2020 10:25PM PT
    ‘Be Water’: Film Review
    Bruce Lee's brief but legendary career is chronicled via a wealth of archival materials in Bao Nguyen's engaging bio-documentary.
    By DENNIS HARVEY


    With: Linda Lee Cadwell, Robert Lee, Andre Morgan, Leroy Garcia, Paul Heller, Diana Inosanto, Nancy Kwan, Sylvia Lai, Tony Liu, Angela Mao, Doug Palmer, Barney Scollan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dan Inosanto, Shannon Lee. (English, Chinese dialogue.)
    Running time: 104 MIN.

    Some movie stars level a kind of divinity that transcends personal preference — woe betide the dissenter who openly finds Audrey Hepburn cloying, or Cary Grant less than charming. That Bruce Lee had long ascended to that level of iron-clad cool was underlined by the biggest popular quibble with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” over the single scene when Mike Moh’s fictive Lee is portrayed as an arrogant, bullying jerk easily whupped by Brad Pitt’s stuntman Cliff. To many, this jokey bit wasn’t just mockery of a beloved dead celebrity — it was tantamount to blasphemy.

    “Live From New York!” director Bay Nguyen’s new “Be Water” helps explain the vehemence of that reaction, positing the late “kung fu movie” superstar as not just a singular charismatic talent but a game changer who singlehandedly broke the mold of hitherto stereotypical, largely negative Asian portrayals on Western screens. Almost half a century after the star’s sudden death at age 32, that magnetism retains its full power in this well-crafted documentary. Producer ESPN is purportedly mulling limited theatrical release prior to broadcast exposure.

    “Be Water” was posited at Sundance as focusing on the two years Lee spent in Hong Kong, filming four features that would make him a global sensation. But that’s just one section of a beginning-to-end life and career overview told entirely through archival materials, with reminiscences from co-workers, family members and such limited to the audio track.

    It does tease that period at the beginning, showing how Lee accepted an offer to make a low-budget HK action movie, having despaired that Hollywood would ever relax its racial casting barriers for him. “The Big Boss” (1971) made him an instant smash with local audiences, allowing the next year’s follow-up, “Fist of Fury,” to sport period trappings and greater resources overall. “Be Water” then jumps back a dozen years to Lee’s arrival in the U.S. — where he’d been born while his Chinese opera star father was on tour in 1940, though then raised in Hong Kong. He was a successful child actor, yet so unruly that at age 18 he was sent back overseas by his parents in the hopes that being alone with few resources would straighten him out.

    Settling in Seattle, he began teaching his own increasingly individual form of traditional Chinese martial arts, eventually modified by influences as far-ranging as Muhammad Ali’s boxing style. Participation in an L.A. tournament caught the entertainment industry’s attention, and he soon abandoned his dream of opening nationwide gung fu schools for a new one of (renewed) movie stardom, figuring that would provide a faster way of changing Asian Americans’ subservient “model minority” image anyway.

    But he had to fight for dialogue and a more active role as sidekick Kato on short-lived TV series “The Green Hornet.” Subsequent acting offers were few, despite his acquiring such A-list clients as Steve McQueen, James Coburn and James Garner. The final straw came when primetime drama “Kung Fu,” whose concept he purportedly came up with (there are conflicting opinions on the matter), wound up starring Caucasian actor David Carradine as a Shaolin monk in the Old West, rather than Lee himself.

    Ergo he accepted upstart studio Golden Harvest’s offer of a starring feature role, moving wife Linda and their two children to Hong Kong. They came to feel trapped there by the magnitude of his fan-hounded fame, yet it still took a while for Hollywood to register the phenomenon. (In the meantime, Lee wrote and directed his third film there, “The Way of the Dragon,” which featured a strong anti-imperialist theme at a time of protests against British rule.) Finally Warner Bros. offered a crossover vehicle in “Enter the Dragon,” which, despite his initial unhappiness with the script, would become a massive success everywhere, including the U.S. Sadly, he died of an apparent cerebral edema just days before it premiered.

    Though there would be many imitators (including a few who opportunistically used variants on his name), there would never be another Bruce Lee. In pristine clips from his films here, he remains riveting — coiled stillness erupting into sudden, lethal yet graceful movement, his acting in admittedly two-dimensional roles as engagingly confident as those fighting moves. Though later martial arts specialists like Sonny Chiba and Jackie Chan would also acquire international followings, Lee paved their way to Western audiences. Given his creative ambition, it is fascinating to ponder what else he might have achieved in a career that was really just beginning when it was abruptly snuffed out.

    Those expecting detailed insight into the making of his prime vehicles may be a tad disappointed at their rather cursory treatment here, amid what amounts to a conventional (if non-chronologically structured) birth-to-death biopic. But the ample archival footage — which includes a surprising wealth from his pre-Hollywood years — is absorbing, and the audio input from surviving associates interesting if seldom revelatory. They, including widow Linda, brother Robert, daughter Shannon, co-stars Nancy Kwan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and many more (though “Way of the Dragon’s” Chuck Norris is notably absent) are shown as they are today only during the final identifying credits. Assembly is straightforwardly high-grade throughout, with film and TV excerpts used mostly in fine condition.


    'Be Water': Film Review

    Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 30, 2020. Running time: 104 MIN.

    PRODUCTION: (Documentary — U.S. — U.K.) An ESPN production in association with Dorothy St Pictures, East Films, Bruce Lee Family Archive. Producers: Julia Nottingham, Bao Nguyen. Executive directors: John Dahl, Libby Geist, Rob King, Connor Schell.

    CREW: Director: Bao Nguyen. Camera: Caleb Heller. Editor: Graham Taylor. Music: Ton That An, Goh Nakamura.

    WITH: Linda Lee Cadwell, Robert Lee, Andre Morgan, Leroy Garcia, Paul Heller, Diana Inosanto, Nancy Kwan, Sylvia Lai, Tony Liu, Angela Mao, Doug Palmer, Barney Scollan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dan Inosanto, Shannon Lee. (English, Chinese dialogue.)
    Intriguing.
    Gene Ching
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    I would have liked to have seen Taki Kimura, who, IIRC, was Lee’s first American student, on that list of people interviewed. I hope he’s OK. But from what I’ve read about him, he’s so self-effacing he might not have wanted to appear on camera, anyway.

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    Bao Nguyen interview



    THE BRUCE LEE STORY WE NEVER SAW ON-SCREEN
    His action sequences continue to be indelible. But it was Lee's push for Asian representation in film that might be his ultimate legacy.

    A number of Bruce Lee’s films speak to the tension between East and West, but nothing is seared into my memory quite like his duel against Chuck Norris in The Way of the Dragon — a battle of two titans, one in white and the other black, each throwing strikes that could kill a lesser man.

    The 1972 Hong Kong thriller is the first martial-arts flick I remember seeing as a child while sitting next to my dad late at night. The grainy VHS image did nothing to dull Lee’s grinning, vicious extravagance as he plowed through mobsters. The plot isn’t much, just following the tribulations of a small restaurant that’s resisting takeover by the mafia, with some help from a deceptively lithe country boy named Tang. But Lee doesn’t need much narrative help to jump off the screen as Tang. It happens in every scene, especially the climactic fight against Norris’ karate-trained American fighter, Colt, sent to dispatch Tang once and for all.



    As an Asian American, it was both curious and freeing to watch a movie in which Norris, the gleaming symbol of Caucasian excellence I’d cheered for during reruns of Walker, Texas Ranger, looks like the foreigner. More than that, Norris looks out of his depth. Neither man speaks during the fight, only communicating in strikes and the occasional yelping scream, but it’s Lee whose energy dominates the frame. With each thunderous kick and punch, we see Tang push Colt to the breaking point.

    Ultimately, the American won’t accept mercy, even while crawling on the concrete with broken hands. With sad eyes, Tang delivers finality with a twist of the neck, then places his enemy’s gi and black belt on the body in a show of respect. The Way of the Dragon is Lee’s first and only film in the director’s chair, but it’s easy to see all the threads that would intertwine to form his posthumous legacy: his eye for violence, his wit, his appreciation for understated wisdom.

    The Chinese-American star was no stranger to debates around race, and he often chose to address it head-on in interviews and film scenes alike, as with the iconic smashing of a “No Dogs and Chinese” sign in Fist of Fury. But as the new ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Be Water unveils, Lee’s inner life held tough and unresolved questions of what his identity really was. Born in San Francisco and raised in Hong Kong, Lee tasted real privilege as the son of a Cantonese opera star, landing roles as a child actor early in his life. By the time he turned 18, however, his father wanted the unruly Lee to learn independence by moving back to America — a decision that created the Lee we know today, yet also taught him harsh lessons about his assumed position in society’s hierarchy.
    continued next post
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    Continued from previous post




    Despite his uncanny resolve, Lee struggled to navigate a Hollywood that had little room for Asian stars. He questioned the value of assimilation. He simmered with unexpressed talent. And, most of all, he pondered the split he felt between Hong Kong and the West Coast. Labeled a “mid-Pacific” man by his Chinese detractors, Lee was a child of both, but seemingly didn’t belong in either.

    Filmmaker Bao Nguyen uses in-depth interviews with friends and family, fresh archival footage and lots of Lee’s own words to portray this inner world in Be Water. It traces Lee’s life through the seminal years spent as a young man in Seattle, teaching martial arts to blue-collar workers and people of color, who in turn showed Lee how to, in essence, be more “American.” We see the impact of Lee’s incredible screen test for The Green Hornet, in which he dazzles producers with his charm, eloquence and fiery kung-fu moves. And we understand why he both tolerated and railed against systemic racism in its various forms, eventually getting burned out by Hollywood and moving back to Hong Kong with a blunt decree: “Truth is, I am a yellow-faced Chinese. I cannot possibly become an idol for Caucasians,” he says in one talk-show appearance. “Because of this, I’ve decided to come back and serve the Chinese film industry.”
    continued next post
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    Continued from previous post



    The Way of the Dragon is now seen as a huge melding of East and West, and a trigger for the martial-art film craze that would take hold in the U.S. throughout the 1980s and 1990s. It started a four-film run that would cement Lee’s importance both in America and overseas, but even today, stereotypes of his portrayals remain more famous than any understanding of who he was and what he fought for. It explains, for instance, why Quentin Tarantino would take such a flippant attitude in writing Lee as a egomaniacal **** with more arrogance than ability for his 2019 film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Though the film doesn’t touch on the fracas between Tarantino and Lee’s daughter (and estate president) Shannon, the depth of Be Water’s narrative serves as a compassionate, and necessary, response to such one-dimensional imagery.

    Lee’s sudden death at the age of 32 cut short what could’ve been a truly game-changing legacy, given the way he advocated for Asians in media long before the broader culture supported such an idea. I wonder what he would’ve thought of the hugeness of his persona, given what he tells an interviewer after his American breakthrough: “The word superstar really turns me off, and I’ll tell you why, because the word star, man, it’s an illusion. I don’t see myself as a star. I really don’t.”

    Is that simple humility, or is he unfolding the idea that becoming a “star” requires layers of privilege that no one could really see? It’s one of a thousand questions Nguyen, who I recently spoke to during a wide-ranging call to see what he learned over five intense years of research and filmmaking, pondered while creating Be Water.

    How did your own experience growing up Asian in America inspire this documentary?

    My parents were Vietnamese war refugees. They left Vietnam in 1978, traveled on a boat for two weeks, and then made their way to Hong Kong. They were in a refugee camp there for six months. Eventually, they were able to immigrate to the U.S. — Wisconsin, for the first year. Then I was born and raised in Maryland, right outside of Washington, D.C. So it’s a typical experience of growing up in an immigrant family, not really knowing what my place is in America, and not seeing images of Asians portrayed in a positive light on screen very often.

    My parents used to take me to some, uhh, inappropriate films — stuff like Basic Instinct or Indecent Proposal [laughs]. But even that stuff didn’t really leave a mark like catching Bruce Lee films on TV. I think it was Saturday afternoons that I watched most. The most obvious way I identified with Bruce Lee was by just seeing a person that looked like me, but who was also a very heroic and competent figure. You know, I remember seeing things like Indiana Jones, where there’s a young Asian boy with him named Short Round, but that’s about it. And that’s more of a caricature, right? You see that kind of stuff enough, you feel like a sidekick all the time.

    Why did you want to document a person and symbol who is already so iconic? How did it matter to you?

    There have been many films and stories about Bruce Lee in the past, but I wanted to tell it through the lens of growing up as an Asian American, growing up as a child of immigrants, growing up as someone who felt like an outsider. That was the main reason. The second reason is that the conversation of diversity and representation are still very prevalent today. It’s still hard for an actor or actress of color to make it today in Hollywood. I thought it was important for me to explore what someone who looked like Bruce Lee in the 1960s had to deal with. And using Bruce Lee’s voice, the people who knew him most intimately, and the archival footage of that time, I think it tells a better, more intimate, authentic story than maybe a scripted film could.

    People always try to take ownership of Bruce Lee as this global icon, but he’s very much an Asian American, and the struggle of the Asian American is a very important part of an American story that isn’t often told. Centering that theme guided me in terms of what footage, what writings, what questions in his life I wanted to focus on. A lot of it came down to three- or four-hour interviews with people closest to him, to learn what Bruce’s vulnerabilities were, what his fears were, what made him believe in himself so much. He is obviously this model of masculinity and male competence, so I wanted to unpack what it meant to be that but still struggle.

    Be Water really comes alive when it has the people who were closest to Bruce, including his daughter Shannon, not just relaying history but literally reading from his personal letters. How did you gain this kind of access?

    For one, I approached Shannon very early on through a mutual friend. She’s very protective of her father’s legacy, as she should be. But while everyone feels like they can take ownership over Bruce Lee, we also have to remember that he was someone’s father, someone’s husband, someone’s significant other. I think that’s very much how the family approaches every project that they decide to take on. And it took years of building a relationship and trust with Shannon especially to be allowed into the family archive. But the approach I wanted to take with Be Water, I think she saw how it was different, and how much it was personal to me and my experience. That was helpful.
    continued next post
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    Continued from previous post

    As you were digging deeper into Lee’s life and perspectives, what surprised you? Were you ever caught off guard by how involved Lee was in considering politics, race and society?

    He was very diplomatic, even though in many cases he clearly felt strongly. Even when he didn’t get approval for his show Warrior, basically lost the role, he was still willing to walk in the shoes of the other person — to understand why they couldn’t greenlight it. That’s a really hard trait to hold onto when you’re being constantly belittled and rejected by a whole system. But again, he was someone who believed in his own charisma so much, and his own ability, that he knew he was going to break through at some point. He was going to bust that barrier, and he did.

    Even as an actor who was getting roles, he saw that just being on set isn’t a true symbol of representation. That to be a true advocate meant telling your own stories, or owning it in some way. That you had to be writing the lines and directing and having agency in the stories that were being told for someone else. Especially as a newcomer in Hollywood, he didn’t have many Asian-American roles to choose from. But he took a bold stance and said, “I want to be able to have my voice, both literally and figuratively.” I think that gave him courage to ask for lines and character development as Kato in The Green Hornet, for one.



    That’s the conversation that’s still being had today, but with a more evolved understanding of inclusion. It’s not enough for people of color, for underrepresented communities, to be seen on-screen. Those depictions need to be told from an honest and authentic point-of-view through the people who live them and experience them.

    I found it fascinating that, despite it being a no-no to teach martial arts to foreigners in Chinese culture at the time, Bruce decided to teach a lot of diverse people while hustling in Seattle. What did this melding of cultures do for him?

    Well, we often think of Bruce as a teacher, right? That he taught these celebrities like James Coburn, Steve McQueen and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But in a way, a lot of the people that he taught were teaching him as well, especially with his early students in Seattle like Jesse Glover and Leroy Garcia. He was just coming in onto his own as an American. He was a newly arrived kid from Hong Kong. Negotiating American life wasn’t intuitive. And he tried to bridge that gap by teaching people his Chinese culture, but taking in lessons on assimilation too.

    Given that experience, it’s easy to forget that Bruce came from a very well-known, monied bloodline in Hong Kong.

    Yeah, he came from privilege. But when he got to America, he was only given $100 by his dad, and had to start in a position familiar to a lot of immigrants. One of the takeaways from the film is that the idea of America as a true melting pot can really be true. Where you’re teaching people about your identity, but at the same time, you’re learning from those around you, and you’re not segregating yourself, or dividing yourself into separate factions, but meeting each other as who you are. I learned a lot about how that influenced his philosophy on the people around him and even about underdogs.

    But where do you think that unblinking faith in himself came from? Did he secretly carry a lot of doubts?

    It’s this perfect kind of yin and yang of East and West attitudes. His father was a famous Cantonese opera singer, and because he grew up on Hong Kong film sets, he was used to being on film sets — there was a comfort there. Then when he went to America, combining that childhood experience with the idea of American manifest destiny and the American dream, you kind of create this monster of potential charisma and star power, for the lack of a better term.

    You saw him in the opening screen test. There’s so much charisma in that one screen test. How could anyone in Hollywood not think this guy is going to be the biggest star in the world?
    But because of what he looked like, where he came from and a very slight accent, that was enough for Hollywood to shut the door on him. It still seems ludicrous for me.

    As your movie shows, however, moving to Hong Kong wasn’t a perfect solution, even if it was where his films got made and where he got raves. Why was it hard for Lee?

    We mention it in the film, but obviously, the discontent of fame is just the loss of privacy and not being able to move freely with your family. And I think he felt like he was living inside of a fish tank, where everyone is staring at him. I don’t think he knew the cost of fame before he reached it. If he had known it, would he have pursued it in the same way? I think the answer is that we’ll never know. But he was such an extraordinary force of nature that I don’t know if anything could’ve contained him from achieving what he wanted to achieve. Again, that’s the tragedy that he wasn’t able to see that, at least in Hollywood, which was his ultimate goal. He never really saw superstardom. That came after Enter the Dragon, and it’s a tragedy that he never saw that.

    What do you consider the ultimate lessons of his personal and professional fight to get more recognition, not just for himself but for other Asian Americans?

    Again, what I witnessed in my research is that he always fought for more on sets. That was his protest, and amid an emergence of the Asian-American student movement, he wasn’t out there walking with a sign, but Bruce was protesting the way he knew best — fighting for stuff on-screen. A lot of people were tired of being the model minority. Asians were walking hand-in-hand with the Civil Rights Movement and making sure we were being heard as a community. So when I speak with people from that generation, it’s clear that when they saw a young Chinese-American man who was, for the lack of a better term, kicking ass, you know, it empowered a lot of young Asians who were being bullied for what they looked like and where they came from.

    The sudden death of Lee, at just 32 years old, must’ve been such a shock to everyone you spoke with. How do you think this changed his legacy?

    It was important, for me, to document in the film the tragedy of it all. We kind of speculate too much on why or how he died, but it’s important to acknowledge the sadness of it. It’s a big reason why I don’t delve into conspiracy theories. The people closest to him, friends and family, have made their peace about what happened. It was clearly a shock, but looking back at it 40 years later, there’s a tragedy that he didn’t live long enough to see everything he achieved.

    Would he have had a greater impact if he lived? Hard for anyone to answer. It’s important to note that Bruce wanted to play romantic leads and dramatic roles. He could’ve become a leading teacher and advocate for other actors of color who wanted these same roles and ways in. He could’ve pursued politics. But that’s all hypothetical at this point. And I think that’s part of what makes Bruce such a compelling symbol after all these years.




    Eddie Kim
    Eddie Kim is a features writer based in Los Angeles, covering social and cultural issues for MEL.
    Nice to see this gaining some traction.
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    ESPN Africa

    Lance Armstrong and Bruce Lee 30 For 30 documentaries coming to ESPN Africa

    Thao Nguyen/AP Photo
    May 6, 2020
    ESPN

    ESPN will be releasing two brand new 30 For 30 documentaries in Africa in May and early June, telling the stories of cyclist Lance Armstrong and martial artist Bruce Lee.
    LANCE, a two-part film, is directed by Marina Zenovich (Fantastic Lies, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind). Part's one and two will be premiere on ESPN at 21:00pm on Saturday 30 May and 6 June respectively, as well as being made available on demand on ESPN Player.

    Bao Nguyen's film Be Water, an intimate and very personal look at the life and purpose that motivated Bruce Lee, the martial artist trailblazer and pop culture icon, will debut on ESPN at 21:00pm on Saturday 13 June, as well as ESPN Player.
    Both films received acclaim at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
    LANCE, a two-part, four-hour film, tells the story of the cyclist's rise out of Texas as a young superstar cyclist; his harrowing battle with testicular cancer; his recovery and emergence as a global icon with his seven consecutive Tour de France titles; and then his massive fall after he was exposed in one of the largest doping scandals in history.
    Armstrong, along with a collection of teammates, friends, rivals, and journalists, all reflect on his story, creating a fascinating character study, capturing a unique chapter of sports history, and insisting the audience make its own interpretations about the many different sides of a complex saga.



    The ESPN film Be Water is an intimate look at the final years of Bruce Lee's life. Bruce Lee Foundation
    Be Water is a gripping, fascinating, intimate look at not just the final, defining years of Lee's life, but the complex, often difficult, and seismic journey that led to Lee's ultimate emergence as a singular icon in the histories of film, martial arts, and even the connection between the eastern and western worlds.
    The film chronicles Lee's earliest days, as the son of a Chinese opera star born while his father was on tour in San Francisco, and then raised in Hong Kong over what became an at times troubled childhood.
    Sent to live in America at the age of 18, he began teaching Kung Fu in Seattle, and established a following that included his future wife, Linda. His ambition ever rising, Lee eventually made his way to Los Angeles, where he strove to break into American film and television.
    There, despite some success as a fight choreographer and actor, it was clear Hollywood wasn't ready for an Asian leading man - and so he returned to Hong Kong to make the films that would in fact make him a legend, his international star skyrocketing just as his life was cut short.
    Be Water is told entirely by the family, friends, and collaborators who knew Bruce Lee best, with an extraordinary trove of archive film providing an evocative, immersive visual tapestry that captures Lee's charisma, his passion, his philosophy, and the eternal beauty and wonder of his art.
    Africa? Well, at least you can screen it.
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    Trailer for Bruce Lee 30 for 30: 'Be Water'

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    My latest interview

    Since Kung Fu Tai Chi ceased publication, I'm doing freelance work. Here's my first interview for DEN OF GEEK. I hope to continue writing for them, as well as writing for KungFuMagazine.com.

    BE WATER: Director Bao Nguyen Reveals Bruce Lee’s Fight Against Racism in America.

    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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  11. #11
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    Dear Bruce...from Daniel Wu

    Dear Bruce Lee, I wish you were here …
    Actor Daniel Wu pens a letter to his hero, who is the subject of ‘Be Water’
    By Daniel Wu
    June 6, 2020

    Daniel Wu grew up idolizing Bruce Lee and has drawn inspiration from the global icon during his own career as an actor, director and producer. Be Water, a 30 for 30 documentary on the life of Lee, airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

    Dear Bruce,
    I wish you were here. I don’t mean here in the sense of a beautiful island vacation spot on the back of a postcard. I don’t even mean here in Oakland, California, where I now live and where you once had a school. I mean here on this planet in the year 2020 during this stressful time of a global pandemic and a country in crisis.
    There have been many times where I’ve wondered, ‘What would Bruce think? What would Bruce have done?’ Or, ‘I wish Bruce could have seen this.’ You were taken from us too soon. Unlike Bob Marley or John Lennon, who died too soon but shared the full spectrum of their genius, it feels like you were just coming into yours. You were just realizing the dream you had so clearly laid out for yourself and had so much more to offer. However, in the short time you were on this planet, you left an indelible mark that has inspired millions of people, including myself.
    For most of my life, I have been obsessed with you. Not that I didn’t have other role models, but you were special. I would buy any magazine with you on the cover. I read all of your books. Whenever your movies were on TV, I never missed them. I remember sneaking a portable black-and-white TV into my closet because Enter the Dragon was on after my bedtime. Once I got tucked in and the door was shut, I burst out of the sheets and flew into the closet so I could watch with the volume off.
    When I found out you were born in San Francisco like me and died one year before my birth, I fantasized that I was your reincarnated self. For years, I collected anything that was related to you: T-shirts, posters, toys and, most important, videotapes. I would seek out anything that could possibly have you in it. From the films you did in Hong Kong as a child, where I could see glimpses of who you would become to the famous Long Beach Karate tournament, where you demonstrated your famous 1-inch punch and planted the seed for modern MMA to the episodes of The Green Hornet where you played Kato and owned every scene you were in — I ate it all up.
    Most revealing were the interviews. They captivated me because I could see the real you. You spoke with so much confidence, conviction, humility, humor and intelligence. And on top of all of that, you had swagger: the way you dressed, the glint in your eye and that wry smile you always had made you cool. I had never seen anyone of my race on the big or little screen like you, and I was captivated.
    I am now 45 and my obsession has subsided a bit. Just a little bit. Did I mention I named my dog Brucelee? Please don’t be offended that I named my dog after you; it’s purely out of respect and I have instructed the whole family that we must call him only by his full name. It forces me to utter your name at least a few times a day, as well as forces anyone he meets to say your name aloud as well. It’s a way to keep you in my life. But if there were ever a time I wished you were here in the flesh, it would be right now.


    Bruce Lee while filming a scene from the film Enter the Dragon in 1973.
    Warner Brothers/Getty Images

    “Empty your mind.
    Be formless, shapeless, like water.
    You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.
    You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle.
    You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.
    Now water can flow or it can crash.
    Be water, my friend.”
    continued next post
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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  12. #12
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    continued from previous post

    More than just a piece of dialogue in a movie, this was a mantra that you used throughout your life. In the martial arts, it led to your realization that a natural organic flow is more important than prearranged organized movements. In life, it meant that you must know when to be soft and when to be hard. And when faced with adversity, instead of letting it stop you, like water, you must flow through it.
    Growing up in the British-colonized Hong Kong and then coming to America in the ’60s at the height of the civil rights movement, you must have been acutely aware of discrimination, prejudice and racism. Although you were not known as an activist, it is obvious how deeply affected you were by those issues, because it showed in everything you did.
    When you were teaching, you ignored racial boundaries. You had white, black and Latino students because as you believed, “we are all but one family.” You defied the wishes of traditional Chinese martial artists who felt you should not be teaching kung fu to non-Chinese. It was serious enough that the Chinatown elders sent their best fighter to make you stop. You won that fight and flowed on.
    When you got the role of Kato on The Green Hornet, the character was nothing more than a sidekick with little to no dialogue. You went on to steal the show, not only with your dynamic action but your electric charisma. I can’t imagine the hurt and betrayal you must have felt after coming up with the idea of a martial arts Western because there were no good roles for Asians at the time, only to be told that “America is not ready for an Oriental lead.” When Kung Fu, the TV series, was aired, it must have been gut-wrenching for you to see a role that you created for yourself played by a white man in yellowface. But instead of letting that break you, you flowed on and went back to Hong Kong, where you were not only embraced and accepted, but became a global icon.
    The Big Boss, Fist of Fury and The Way of the Dragon all dealt with issues of oppression, with your main characters always fighting for some sort of freedom. The scene in Fist of Fury when you jump-kicked that sign at the park entrance that said “No Dogs and Chinese Allowed,” and beat up the guys who tried to keep you out, was liberating, not just to people of Chinese descent, but for anyone who ever felt belittled, bullied or discriminated against. Those films were so wildly successful that Hollywood could ignore you no longer. In Enter the Dragon, you finally exploded onto the scene and became the shining star you knew you would be. Sadly, you died 10 days before the premiere and never got to witness what you were so determined to achieve. But even in death, no obstacle could stop you or define you, you became water and flowed on.


    Daniel Wu attends the screening of “Rocketman” during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2019 in Cannes, France.
    Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
    I was born and raised in this country. Being a minority was part of my identity and making you my hero was part of that identity. It gave me strength and it empowered me. When I moved to Hong Kong and started making movies there, it was the first time I didn’t have to think about race. For almost 20 years, I was no longer a minority. It was freeing. However, after returning to America, I realized I was no longer conditioned for issues of race, so I avoided the topic, leaving it for the more impassioned and knowledgeable to deal with. But the past two months have changed everything.
    COVID-19 began infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands. Shops, schools and institutions have been shut down, the global economy is in ruins and it is unclear what will happen. With this uncertainty, fear and anger have bubbled to the surface.
    Because the coronavirus originated in China, people of Asian descent around the world have specifically become targets of racist attacks as if they were personally to blame. Verbal attacks have escalated into violent physical attacks. An Asian family in Texas was stabbed because their attacker believed they were spreading the virus. A woman in New York had acid poured on her head. An elderly woman was kicked in the face by two teenage boys while waiting for the bus. In just two months’ time, there have been more than 1,700 reported cases of hate crimes toward Asian Americans. People whose families have been in America for four or five generations are being treated as foreigners and enemies. Many are scared to leave their homes, while others are arming themselves.
    Knowing that just my face alone can elicit so much hate, anger and violence is jarring. I am scared. Scared for the vulnerable. Scared for my daughter and her future in this country. And I am also angry. Angry at the systems in place that continually divide us. Angry that my status as an American is conditional. Angry that things haven’t changed. And this is just in the Asian American community. Recent events have shown that it is obviously far worse for the African American community, where hundreds of years of oppression have led to yet another killing of a black man at the hands of the police. It’s infuriating.
    I want to fight. Part of me wants to be provoked so I can lash out — smash them in the face like you smashed that sign to pieces. End it all with a flying kick. But this isn’t a movie and the solution is not as simple as knocking out the bad guy and saving the day. I initially started this letter hoping that you could impart your wisdom to me and tell me what to do in these dark times. But I understand what I need to do.
    This pandemic cannot be knocked out with one swift kick, and neither can systemic racism. A small trickle of water can eventually cut through the toughest rock. It is constantly flowing and moving forward. When met with an obstacle, it does not stop but flows around it and eventually consumes it. When pushed, it moves out of the way but does not get pushed back. It can flow and it can crash and this is how we must face this fight. Whether white, black, brown or yellow, we must face these times with strength, empathy and compassion, and implore others to do the same while making sure not to get caught in the trap of becoming stone. We must remember that it’s imperative to join the other groups fighting this fight because they have been dealing with much worse for much longer, and only with solidarity can we form lakes and oceans to extinguish the flames of racism. Most importantly, as an individual, I must persevere and keep pushing, keep flowing. I must be water.

    Thank you for being here for me again.
    Yours truly,
    Daniel Wu
    THREADS
    January-February-2016
    Be Water
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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  13. #13
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    Atlantic op-ed

    CULTURE
    What It Means to Understand Bruce Lee
    The martial-arts legend looms so large in pop culture that the mundane details of his life feel like a rare treat.
    DANNY CHAU
    JUNE 22, 2020


    GETTY / THE ATLANTIC

    In the fall of 1963, bruce lee had ambitions of opening kung fu schools across America. The starting point was the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, Lee’s home base in Seattle, a 3,000-square-foot space close to the University of Washington campus, where he was a lackadaisical student. At the institute, the itinerant thoughts of a failing philosophy major found structure. His dreamlike musings became gym mantras: Using no way as way; having no limitation as limitation. The space was his holistic workshop as well as his residence. He slept in a windowless room in the back; there was no light switch near the door, which meant a lot of stumbling around in the dark to find your way. Even then—before the Hong Kong films that made him a global icon—there was barely a wall between Lee and the myth he was creating.

    Lee is the most influential martial artist in modern history, just one facet of the legend he became after his untimely death in 1973 at age 32. Nearly five decades later, the world is still reckoning with the momentum he generated in his brief life, and with the ways culture has reinvented him. In a sense, Lee’s widespread impact—in realms as disparate as political protest and video games—is simply a reflection of his life’s vision. To the world, he preached formlessness, a concept popularized via his famous “Be Water” response in an interview with Canadian journalist Pierre Berton. He’d come to that epiphany young; punching the sea once in frustration, he was inspired by how it coolly neutralized his assertion. “I wanted to be like the nature of water,” Lee once wrote. But that philosophy also presents a particular irony in how people understand him: When they reach for him, do they grasp the man or the symbol he became?


    Bruce Lee Family Archive

    Over the past year, Lee has been refashioned in a number of ways: In Cinemax’s Warrior, as the protagonist of his own television concept, realized at last; in Ip Man 4: The Finale, as a youthful embodiment of how kung fu’s traditional barriers of entry were broken; infamously, in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as a jive-talking prop; and, in the recent ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Be Water, as the product of enduring discrimination across two worlds.

    Each depiction capitalizes, in some way, on Lee’s indestructible legacy, but it’s not always clear when it’s the man or the myth being examined—and whether that line may have been lost at some point. Bao Nguyen’s Be Water is the most reverential of the lot, and the only one that explores Lee from an explicitly Asian American perspective. The documentary traces the contours of Lee’s body of work through a lens of injustice, going back to contextualize the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and using traumatic scenes from wars waged against Japan and Vietnam, respectively, to the civil-rights movement of the 1960s, as key historical moments in Lee’s chronology. Racial bias and othering are ever-present, educational backdrops that show how meaningful it was for Lee to transcend the perceived constraints of his cultural identity—too Asian in American society, too American in Hong Kong. But Be Water also traps Lee in allegory, occasionally diluting his personal narrative in favor of symbolic weight. “The fact that Bruce chose to marry a Caucasian person was an expression of how he felt about America,” Linda Lee Cadwell, Bruce’s widow, says in the documentary with scholarly detachment, as if she weren’t talking about herself.

    The documentary briefly outlines the political landscape of Lee’s youth in Hong Kong, which toggled between British and Japanese occupation, but it only vaguely examines how he processed his anger as a child. “Kids there have nothing to look forward to,” Lee once said. “The white kids have all the best jobs and the rest of us had to work for them. That’s why most of the kids become punks.” Lee became a street fighter. “We used chains and pens with knives hidden inside,” he told Black Belt magazine in 1967. “Then, one day, I wondered what would happen if I didn’t have my gang behind me if I got into a fight. I only took up kung fu when I began to feel insecure.” Before finding the way of no way, he was wayward.

    Be Water left me wondering about other, more granular details of Lee’s story. The documentary touches on his talents as a dancer (his former girlfriend Amy Sanbo calls him “a kinetic genius” in it), and Lee’s mastery of cha-cha is well cited, but one would have to dig through comprehensive biographies, such as Matthew Polly’s 2018 book, Bruce Lee: A Life, to learn that he was taught by a Filipina woman who ran a dance studio in the Hong Kong nightlife district of Kowloon. Or that he won a cha-cha championship at 18 by dancing with his 10-year-old brother, Robert, as a way to sidestep any retribution from picking only one of his romantic interests as a partner. Without cha-cha, his form of martial arts may not have resonated as much as it did in the States (where his parents forced him to move, in response to his repeated delinquency). According to Polly, Lee wanted to take up northern-style kung fu, known for its airborne theatrics, in an attempt to appeal to a broader Western audience. Lee sought guidance from Master Shiu Hon Sang, who accepted the request—on the condition that Lee would teach him how to dance.
    continued next post
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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  14. #14
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    continued from previous post


    Bruce Lee Family Archive

    But even the smaller details of Lee’s life can be woven into his myth. It’s impossible not to see in his inclusive style as an educator a response to the discrimination he’d faced when first seeking to learn kung fu from the master Yip Man, which the school’s other students protested because of his mother’s Eurasian ancestry; or to the breadth of mentors he had across martial arts and dance. His very first kung fu student in the U.S. was Jesse Glover, a black judo practitioner whose personal experience with police brutality had catalyzed his devotion to martial arts. Glover used to stalk Lee outside of Ruby Chow’s, a restaurant where Lee briefly served as a waiter, and start kicking telephone poles to try to impress his future instructor. Their teacher-student relationship was symbiotic, as was the case for many of the students Lee taught. The dynamic was similar to the one he had with Master Shiu Hon Sang, only this time, Lee was the master teaching kung fu, in exchange for learning what it meant to be American.

    A big part of Lee’s legacy is the philosophy he developed called Jeet Kune Do, the way of the intercepting fist. But even that—a treatise on the limitations of stylistic purity, often argued to be the foundation of modern mixed martial arts—found a life of its own. Lee’s attempt at a unified theory of self-expression was quickly branded a style too, becoming a template for learning how to fight “like Bruce Lee,” capitalizing on a rush of momentum Lee had generated through his Hong Kong movies. An entire cottage industry was created after his death to essentially clone him through impersonation—Bruce Le and Bruce Li were the two most prominent imitators in film. Finding oneself is hard, it turns out. Retracing Bruce Lee’s steps is easier.

    The path has diverged, many times over. Lee’s ubiquity unsurprisingly lends itself to fan fiction; Quentin Tarantino has been publishing his own for nearly two decades. Kill Bill: Volume 1 is a patchwork of references, drawing from Lee’s final years both on- and offscreen: Uma Thurman’s character, the Bride, dons a near replica of the yellow jumpsuit Lee wears in Game of Death, which was still in production when he died; the titular villain, Bill, is played by David Carradine, who starred in Kung Fu, a series that Lee’s family has claimed was stolen by Warner Bros. from a concept that Lee had developed himself. But where Kill Bill borrows Lee’s iconography as a validation of the style that he made popular, Tarantino’s more recent evocation of him is purely transactional.

    The controversial five-minute Bruce Lee scene from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood borrows Lee’s identity as a time stamp for the mid-1960s. During a break on the set of The Green Hornet (the short-lived 1966 TV action series that the real-life Lee starred in), a haughty Lee, played by Mike Moh, riffs on Muhammad Ali’s style and notes similarities to his own. A crew member asks a hypothetical: “If you fought him, who would win?” Lee dodges the question, but he’s pressed. “What would happen?” “I’d make him a cripple,” he responds. (The real Lee pored over Ali’s philosophies and analyzed his matches down to every punch. Be Water includes a frame-by-frame stylistic comparison to show how much Lee learned from Ali, as if it were a direct response to Tarantino at the behest of Lee’s estate.) Cliff, the Green Beret turned stunt actor played by Brad Pitt, cracks up at the notion of Lee defeating Ali in a fight. The two spar; Lee knocks Cliff off his feet first, then Cliff tosses Lee into a prop automobile, leaving a dent. The two seem equally matched, but they are not. Cliff is a main character in the story; Lee is a device set up to calibrate Cliff’s strength.

    In response to backlash regarding the scene, Tarantino said: “If you ask me the question ‘Who would win in a fight: Bruce Lee or Dracula?,’ it’s the same question. It’s a fictional character. If I say Cliff can beat Bruce Lee up, he’s a fictional character, so he could beat Bruce Lee up.” However, by transposing Lee’s actual arc and likeness to his story, Tarantino directly summons the Lee mythology the way he would a work of public domain. Within the scope of the movie, Lee is almost as fictional as Cliff is.


    Bruce Lee Family Archive

    But not all of Lee’s recent reincarnations over-index on his mythology. A month before Once Upon a Time was released in 2019, a sign was spotted at a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong: be water! we are formless. we are shapeless. we can flow. we can crash. we are like water. we are hongkongers! Lee’s most famous words have become an organizing principle for those of his homeland, a way of circumventing the police through waves of high-concentration rallies that can quickly and spontaneously disperse and regroup all across the city. As protests began all across the U.S. in honor of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other black lives that have been lost as a result of police brutality, Hong Kong protesters, now yearlong veterans, offered advice on how to stay one step ahead of police: “Be Water” was a common, essential refrain. It’s taken five decades and countless mediums, but it’s hard to imagine a sounder tribute to Lee’s idea of formlessness, which has once again made a voyage from Hong Kong to the U.S.

    And what about Bruce, the man? I found myself retracing his steps myself one night on YouTube, watching an old, low-res video of Glover, Lee’s former student, taking the viewer on a tour of the Seattle the pair once knew. We see the sidewalk where Glover first tried to grab Lee’s attention; post-workout Chinese-restaurant haunts where Lee placated his insatiable appetite for oyster-sauce beef; buildings where they used to train, now long demolished. The camera pans to a patch of grass, where Glover deadpans, “This is where Bruce used to come over and send me flying around my apartment.” The version of the city that Glover, who died in 2012, remembers in the clip had already been lost for decades. But the mundanity of the video was comforting, and, in a way, revelatory. Glover created a sense of order and routine in his recounting of his friend’s life; it’s frankly a bit boring—something Bruce Lee would never deign to be. His mythology, immortalized in film, writing, and martial arts, will always stand at the forefront of the popular imagination, but there, in the video of places and spaces that no longer exist, I finally caught a fleeting glimpse of the man in the back.
    'mundanity' is a great word.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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  15. #15
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    Splitting this into its own indie thread

    The post above was in our Bruce-Lee-Museums-and-Gallery-Exhibits.

    BE WATER BRUCE LEE 80TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION & PANEL | HIFF40

    Greetings from the 40th Annual Hawai‘i International Film Festival, presented by Halekulani (HIFF) - a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of cultural exchange and media in the Pacific Rim. Join HIFF for a special ONE DAY ONLY FREE online screening and post-film panel on what would have been Bruce Lee's 80th Birthday. Confirmed panelists include BE WATER director Bao Nguyen, Bruce Lee Enterprises CEO and daughter Shannon Lee. More to be announced...

    Online Film Screening

    BE WATER
    Documentary feature directed by: Bao Nguyen
    United States 2020 | 96 min.
    Documentary Panorama | Asian American, Biographical, Documentary, History
    Available online FRI 11/27 3pm HST - SAT 3pm HST
    Available for audiences in USA, CANADA
    Free - Click event link for tickets

    BE WATER is a feature-length documentary that offers a unique glimpse into the man behind the myth, featuring interviews from celebrity friends, members of his own family, and even private letters written by Bruce Lee. BE WATER premiered at Sundance 2020 and competed in the U.S. Dramatic Feature competition. In June, it had its U.S. broadcast debut on ESPN as part of the sports broadcaster’s 30 on 30 documentary series, breaking ratings records. It is an official selection of the 2020 Cannes Film Festival in the Cannes Classics section.
    fp.hiff.org/films/detail/be_water_2020

    Live Panel Event

    BE WATER BRUCE LEE 80TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION & PANEL
    FRI 11/27
    4:45pm HST / 6:45pm PST / 9:45pm EST
    Join us for this special event screening and panel discussion as we celebrate this iconoclast's birthday!
    Available for audiences worldwide. This event is FREE and open to the public, please click the ticket link to register and join the conversation.

    November 27, 2020 will be Bruce Lee's 80th birthday. To commemorate this momentous occasion, a group of the largest Asian American film and culture organizations is proud to present a free screening of BE WATER and including a live drive-in screening of the film in Bruce Lee's birthplace San Francisco. This to be followed by a live streamed panel with director Bao Nguyen, Bruce Lee's daughter Shannon Lee, culture writer Phil Yu (Angry Asian Man), celebrity chef and 'Ugly Delicious' host Dave Chang, and some surprise guests. They will chat about the film and the legacy of the Asian American icon, who almost five decades later, is still as popular than ever and inspiring a new generation. The event is not just an examination of the experiences of Asians and their flight for inclusion and representation but also a chance to support arts organizations who were deeply affected by the pandemic and showcase how they have paved way for the future generation of BIPOC artists and storytellers.

    For more HIFF Talk Story events, please visit: fp.hiff.org/films/section/hiff_talk_story

    HIFF.org
    Facebook: facebook.com/HIFFHAWAII
    Twitter: @HIFF
    Instagram: @HIFFHawaii

    Lineup Announcement here: bit.ly/3lkkDFP
    Drive Ins Announcement here: bit.ly/3jEdXk7
    HIFF Awards Gala Honorees here: bit.ly/38CEfRW
    HIFF 40 Teaser Trailer here: bit.ly/2Igr1iN (Courtesy: HIFF)

    Press tickets available, upon editorial request.
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