It was a little over 20 years ago that actor Brandon Lee, son of action movie icon Bruce Lee, died after an accident on the set of The Crow, which became a posthumous hit for the rising young star. Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the film, while this year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Enter The Dragon, the first Hollywood kung fu movie, which turned Bruce Lee into an international superstar posthumously. I recently spoke with Bruce’s daughter Shannon Lee about the seminal film and her father’s legacy for MSN Movies, and during our conversation we discussed her thoughts on Brandon.
“My brother was very focused, but he also had this free-spiritedness about him,” recalled Shannon. “He wasn’t afraid to push boundaries and color outside the lines throughout his life, and he was constantly working towards becoming a better and better actor. Even in high school, he was in all the plays even if they were musicals, and he really wasn’t a singer. I remember he was in Fiddler On The Roof in high school, and for his senior project he transcribed a couple of episodes of The Twilight Zone off of the television and cast them and directed the episodes for stage. He went to college for about a semester, but what he really wanted to do was act. He was in school at Emerson College in Boston, and he was spending every free moment going down to New York and auditioning.”
Brandon decided to quit school and return to Los Angeles to act, and his mother encouraged him but emphasized that he needed to make it on his own. “He got a little hole-in-the-wall apartment and started doing acting classes and auditioning for local theater around Hollywood,” continued Shannon. “Then he got a manager and started getting some parts. Obviously he had a foot in the door being who he was, but it was sort of a blessing and a curse for him because he really didn’t want to do martial arts films, he really just wanted to act. It was a difficulty, but at the same time he was very talented physically and in martial arts. I think he saw that as a way in as my father did going to Hong Kong to do the movies as a way in to Hollywood. I think that it was working for my brother as well. He made Showdown In Little Tokyo, Rapid Fire, and then The Crow. Even though The Crow was an ‘action film’ of sorts, it was much more of a thematic piece, and it required him to really create a character, which I think he did very, very well. I think it would’ve opened up a lot more doors for him.”
The Crow was an action married with a romantic tragedy, whereas Enter The Dragon was more of a crime drama. James O’Barr, the author of The Crow comic book, had gone through the horrific experience losing his wife to a drunk driver, and Lee brought the angst of a man grieving over the rape and slaying of his wife, not to mention his vengeful resurrection from the grave, vividly to life in a way that made the material resonate strongly. The film did well at the box office. “I think that a lot of that is due to my brother’s portrayal,” concurred Shannon. “They’ve made a number of other Crow projects, but for some reason they don’t hit home quite as much.” Because they did not have Brandon.