The Biopic Bruce Lee Deserves

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The response to ‘Birth of a Dragon,’ the latest Bruce Lee biopic, has been almost unanimously negative. I find it to be an almost cruel irony that Bruce Lee ends up as a supporting character in his own movie, where the main plot device is once again framed by the caucasian main character. The constant whitewashing hollywood does to movies such as this only serve to treat minorities as the ‘other’.

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My aim with this post is to pitch a different way they could do a Bruce Lee biopic. One that is true to the man himself, without turning him into a legend or deifying him. One that would be authentic to his heritage and ultimately would serve as a homage to his legacy that has inspired countless people. This is my idea for a Bruce Lee movie:

In 1969 Bruce Lee began working on a script with famed screenwriter Stirling Silliphant and Hollywood actor James Coburn. The idea came to Bruce Lee initially in his dreams. He would dream of a seeker of truth, a character Bruce came to realise was himself. Coburn was set to star as the main character but the movie would be a vehicle which would allow Bruce Lee to propel Kung Fu onto the world stage. The script was called ‘The Silent Flute’.

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David Carradine brought along the flute from the original Silent Flute for the set of Kill Bill

The Silent Flute tells the story of a wandering martial artist called Cord, who would have been played by James Coburn. Cord would have done battles with a number of characters all of which represent a different weakness to the aspiring martial artist. These characters would all have been played by Bruce Lee. So even with Coburn headlining, Bruce Lee would have almost certainly been the standout actor in the film.

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Bruce Lee with an axe.. A frightening thought

They finished the first draft of the script and submitted it to Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers were hesitant, but agreed to make the film as long as it was shot in India to save money. Bruce was hesitant to take a script that was meant to be a Chinese Kung Fu film and set it in India. But he relented as bills started piling up.

 

Less than a year later the three men flew out to India for location scouting for a month. The biopic would be largely set within the space of that month with only occassional flashbacks to give context to events. You would also have dream sequences to show Bruce Lee’s inspiration for the movie from within his own subconscious imagination.

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Almost instantly Coburn & Silliphant both realised filming in India would be next to impossible. Bruce at the time had a very limited knowledge of filmmaking so he was still trying to make the most of it and forge on ahead. But it was a tough time. He was in near constant back pain due to an injury he had suffered in training a year earlier. Doctors had told him he may never kick properly again. Bruce being Bruce, he spent six months rehabbing & studying. He would become a better physical specimen than he had ever been before but not without cost.

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The near constant levels of pain during the India trip made him more irritable. He would often drive James Coburn crazy with some of his habits. Bruce would often take to singing his favourite song, Yesterday, over and over again in the back of the car while James was driving. This lead to James snapping and nearly crashing the car in turning around to have a heated argument with Bruce.

The martial arts have a long and rich history intertwined with India. Bodhidharma, one of the first to teach monks the martial arts to keep their bodies from atrophying after long bouts of meditation, was said to have come from India. Bruce, James & Stirling wanted to see the local martial arts on display. They found a group of ten martial artists who were practicing. They began to demonstrate to Bruce what they had learned and it was, as James Coburn described it, absolute chaos. These men all started beating the hell out of each other. Blood was streaming from one of their mouths. Bruce Lee held up his hand and shouted, no, this is what I mean, then proceeded to give a demonstration of his martial skill. The locals were awestruck, Coburn related that by the end of the demonstration the men all bowed on their knees in respect to Bruce.

Warner Brothers were pushing Bruce to hire locals to fight in the film in order to save on below the line production costs. Bruce Lee declined vehemently and told them ‘it would take three years just to train these fellows up to the right level.’

This biopic would centre almost entirely on the relationship between Coburn & Lee and their dichotomy. Coburn was used to being a big hollywood star by that point and did not appreciate the crowds or the attention. Bruce Lee on the other hand lapped it up and was a consummate entertainer to anyone willing to watch. He would often draw crowds to the behest of his friend. Stirling noticed something else while on this trip, just how much of an ego his friend & teacher Bruce had.

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They went to the Taj Mahal hotel. While the established star, Coburn, got the giant suite Bruce Lee got a tiny hotel room. This angered Bruce to no end and he burst into a rage and swore to them that he would be a bigger star than both Steve McQueen & James Coburn put together. Posterity would (arguably) prove him right.

By the time they reached the northern border all three men were ready to call it quits. Bruce Lee threw in the towel on The Silent Flute which would go on to be made with David Carradine, a strange irony because Carradine took the role of the main character from the Kung Fu tv show that was also supposed to originally go to Bruce Lee. But time and providence would pay off. A few months later Bruce Lee would appear on Long Street in a role where he would cite his famous ‘be water’ speech.

 

After that he would go back to his homeland where he would rocket to megastardom with The Big Boss and the rest is history.

In my opinion this biopic would serve to demystify the legend, to present Bruce Lee as he was. Human and prone to mistakes of pride & vanity. But nonetheless it would paint the picture of a man with a singular vision of himself and his own future, a future he managed to create but was unable to live to see. Through the lens of this friendship between Coburn & Lee I think we could tell an interesting story and one that would be infinitely preferable to any bullshit fable Hollywood wants to come out with.

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The two made up before the end of Bruce’s life and James Coburn was one of the pall bearers at Bruce’s funeral. Life is short for all; tragically so for some.

Thanks for reading, let me know what you think in the comments.

May it be well with you

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Last Round – Martial Arts Short Film

Very pleased to show you all our latest short film, now online. Last Round is the story of a hitman’s killer retirement party. We were very inspired by Jackie Chan 80s comedies.

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You can watch the link here, any support would be greatly appreciated:

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The Two Wolves – A Stim City Short Story

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Author’s note: This is a short story I wrote a while back set in a fictional near-future London colloquially known as Stim City. Me & Craige Middleburg were building the world. 

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Another Day in Stim City. The rotting garbage from the waste converters a few streets down waft up to the Weyland apartments. City council said they’d be gone months back but they stay there reminding every passer-by what a shit hole they’ve stumbled into. Stim City is what we Londoners call this city now. Tourists don’t know it. Only the underbelly do. The government give us official sounding names. ‘Recovery Agents’. But I know what I am. I’m a Crim Hunter. I take down bounties for money, because the police force are too fucking lazy to do it themselves.

I can remember a time before all this started. I was young and the war had only just broken out. The gentrification that had been hollowing the poor out of London for years found itself collapsing inwards. The oligarchs all fled once the riots started. Thousands died in that chaos. Including my dad.

Don’t remember much about him, personally. He was sad a lot. Stressed a lot. Always put food on the table though. I can only remember one story from him. The story of the two wolves. He told me, son, there are two wolves within you waging a constant war against each other. They scratch and claw and bite, endlessly. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, lies and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, serenity and faith. I asked him, which one wins, Dad? He replied ‘The one you feed.’

I don’t know which wolf is winning right now as the quartz holographic display (Q.H.D.) on my wrist lights up. A Grade C Bounty has been spotted in the area. I’ve been a Class E Recovery Agent for a while now, just waiting for my big chance to go up.

They divide us into grades, from E to A, just like the criminals. The higher up you are as a hunter, the better. You get the big money, the fame, all the best equipment, everything you could possibly want. When you’re E, you might as well be trash. You’re walking around with whatever equipment you’ve cobbled together yourself taking down Grade E bounties that are probably just teenagers who got too many parking tickets. It’s humiliating. But going up a grade is difficult and mired in confusion. You can take down a bounty from a class above you but that comes with inherent risks. The higher the class of criminal the more dangerous. The more numerous. The more deadly. I’m not equipped to deal with that kind of shit.

I take stock of what I have on me. A telescopic baton I pick-pocketed off a copper who couldn’t hold his drink. A pen knife. QHD communicator. Phone. That’s about it. Shit, I can’t use this to take down a Grade C. I’ll get murdered. But I don’t think I have much choice.

Landlord doubled my rent this month. Don’t blame him that much, he’s been letting me slide for a while now. But I can’t afford it anymore. My mom’s here with me. She’s in her late fifties now and can’t work much, ever since the silver sickness struck her down. She caught it too early and didn’t get any compensation like the later people did. We got stuck in this shitty flat and I could barely make enough to support her in my old job. Decided to try my luck with the Recovery Agency but my time’s up now. We don’t have any other options. I either get this bounty or we’re both street homeless. No one helps each other in this city anymore.

The Grade C Bounty’s details flash up in front of me. The bounty is for three people. The Trillby gang. Did smash and grabs on a few jewellery stores in the area, very rough with the staff in those stores, put one of them in a coma. Considered dangerous, but small time. Silly thing is they’d probably be a problem for the Class B Crim Hunters if the guy they put in a coma ever died. An anonymous tip put them somewhere in the area, laying low near the back of the Chutani Estate. My backyard. No problem for me but I can’t take them down with just this.

I’ve done martial arts most of my life, but I know my limits. This ain’t the movies. One guy can’t just take down three people with his pure force of will and walk away.

I stroll down the alleyway and spot him. A guvnor in a bowler hat by the name of Rozee. He’s my last hope of nailing this class B and finally making enough money to keep us safe.

‘Ey, Rozee. You got the stim I asked for?’

‘Hey, Shane. Uhh, yeah mate, I got it for ya. Gonna have to ask for one-fifty.’

‘One fifty? Don’t highball me, mate, we agreed on a oner over the phone.’

‘This ain’t just the normal shit, Shane. This is a top of the line stim from Maverick Pharmaceuticals. You know what those guys do? They deal exclusively to the Grade A’s. They wouldn’t touch you with a ten foot pole, my friend.’

‘Bull, I won’t do more than a hundred.’

‘Hey, hey, hey, I can take my business elsewhere. I don’t need to be here dealing with E-relevents. Grade B Crim Hunters would pay five times what you can. I’m doing you a fuckin deal here, mate.’

‘Rrrr… What does it fuckin do?’

I glare at Rozee. He’s a fucking lowlife and there’s no way he could get his hands on a high level stim like that. Not without going high up on the bounty list for thievery. He’s bullshitting me but I don’t know have a choice. Desperation gives men wings.

‘Glad you asked, Shane. This Stim stimulates the neuro-cortices in the brain, heightening reaction time and decreasing muscular atrophy. Basically, matey, everything around you will move in slow motion. And because the receptors in your brain will be heightened, you won’t feel any pain. You could take a blade down your spine and you’d only feel a mild itch.’

‘Hopefully I won’t have to do that.’

‘Just saying. One catch though. This stim gets cleared out quick from your blood stream. Kidneys see it as a foreign body, Maverick boys haven’t been able to make it last longer than 30 seconds. So this bit’s really important, make sure you take it right before you do your thing. Otherwise it’ll be too late.’

‘Thirty seconds?!’

’Thirty seconds is all you need. Just ask your girl.’

‘Fuck you.’

’This thing will change your life, man. All you need is faith.’

I didn’t have much of a choice. This was a do or die situation. I either take down the bounty or we lose the flat. I can’t let that happen. I’m not taking my mum to some druggie-riddled hostel. She deserves some peace in her old age after she spent so many years keepin’ me out of trouble. I feel the two wolves in me howl. All the rage and all the pain I’ve felt drown out any voice of logic or reason. No time for those things now.

‘I’ll take it.’

One baton. One pen knife. One QHD. One phone. And one top-of-the-fucking-line Stim that’ll turn me into a god for thirty seconds. Thirty seconds is all I need.

I near the Chutani estate. My communicator flashes notifying me of the C Bounty nearby. I feel the adrenaline rise, and that familiar creeping sensation of vomit threatens to go up the back of my throat. I’ve never taken down a score this big before. But fortune always favours the bold. The wolf of life, of love, and compassion, is howling to tell me to not do this. There’s honest trades out there. Honest jobs. But honest jobs don’t help you make rent. Stim City doesn’t want you to be honest. It doesn’t want you to feel comfortable. It’s there to always keep you on your edge, keep you on your toes. The people who rule this city don’t want you to feel safe. They want you to make sure you know your place. You’re garbage floating downstream. You’re nothing. The few that try to get out of this floatsam do so by the skin of their teeth.

I spot the Trillby gang round the corner, next to a set of dumpsters. They sure don’t look like they’re laying low. They look like they’re enjoying the scorching hot day. Fuckin’ crims don’t give a damn. Well they won’t see me coming.

I take the stim out of my pocket. The needle doesn’t look sanitised. It’s dirty and rusty, looks like it came out of a heroin addict’s arm. Could give me aids for all I know. Rozee, that fucker. I got no choice now. Think of your mom. Think of the wolf of anger, let his howls fill you, and the next bit will be easier.

I inject it into my arm. The stim goes in with ease, like hot knife through a butter. I feel a strange sensation almost instantly. A red mist descends. Everything feels far away. Thirty seconds. Shit, Shane, shit. You’re wasting time. Do this now.

I rush towards them like an avenging angel, sent down to smite the non-believers.

The baton comes out. Three of them move. The red mist is all-encompassing. My baton swings round to the first guy. It knocks his teeth out as he is sent flying to the floor. My baton swings to the second guy. This guy catches it. What the fuck. Third guy rushes forward now. Kicks me in the ribs. I try and free my baton to no use. The guy sends another kick I can’t afford to take. I let go of the baton, guy number two goes flying back. I catch the kick and pull my pen knife out of my pocket. I slice around the ankle as deep as the blade will allow me. The guy screams and goes down. Cutting the ankle tendons will keep him down.

The guy with my baton gets up. He seems intent on giving it back to me. What the fuck. No pain from my ribs. But where’s the strength and speed? Has it been thirty seconds already?

He swings once. Then again. I reel back away from them. Any hit could be a dehabilitating blow. With his third I rush in on his centre line, using my arm to block his shoulder, stopping the full arc of the swing. My knee goes up into his ball sack, trying to make them go up into his throat. A rush of air out of the guy’s lungs as he falls to the floor. I send one more kick to the back of his head to make sure he’s down. I check round. All three down. Is that all?

The QHD buzzes before I even get a chance to look at it. Details flash up. I catch a glimpse of it: ’Trillby gang seen with reinforcements, do not engage alone, highly dangerous.’ I just about manage to finish reading it when I feel something metallic smash against the back of my head. I keel over instantly.

I see three more behind me. All armed to the teeth with crowbars and pipes. Doesn’t matter. I’ve already lost. I can feel the blood pool in the back of my skull. I can feel my life ebb and flow away from me as the shock of the blow sets in. Strangely it doesn’t hurt.

That wasn’t a stim. Rozee sold me an anaesthetic. Fucker.

The big one raises his crowbar up again, ready to finish the job.

They all freeze. The sight is glorious. A grade B recovery agent bursts into the scene. In a flurry of feet and fists he dispatches the three with ease. He does it without breaking any bones; using their own momentum against them. It’s glorious. That’s what a real recovery agent looks like. His armour is plastered with sponsors. Fuckin’ billboard. He must be a huge deal. Bet he has lots of followers on social media.

The blood from my head has pooled on the floor for a while, and now it’s leaking into my mouth. I can taste the dull coppery sensation. The recovery agent looks at me, then looks away. He knows I’m done. Wonder if he’s even trying to call a meat wagon.

This doesn’t feel like light. Just feels like darkness. At least the pain is gone. I’m sorry, mum. Sorry, dad. I tried. Everything going black.

Two wolves waging a constant war inside you. A wolf of love, and a wolf of hate. Which wolf wins? The one you feed.

Another day in Stim City   

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Battle Creek Hackney – Teaser Trailer

The teaser trailer for our latest film, Battle Creek Hackney, is now online:

This is our epic no budget martial arts film. We’ve been working on this thing since May, and I think it’s paid off. The hard work of the cast and crew has been contagious. I’d greatly appreciate any likes or shares you guys can give for this project to show your support to us. We can’t match the budgets of the big hollywood productions but we can match it pound for pound in terms of passion for storytelling.

I truly believe the future of action cinema is on our cast now, I can’t wait to see what these guys all do in the future, all of them are talented and utterly driven 🙂

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The Tough Go Pro – GoPro Action Movie

Our latest movie is now online, a combat movie shot almost entirely shot from the point of view of a GoPro Hero 3 camera strapped to our main character’s head. This was a lot of fun to shoot, hope you guys enjoy.

We used similar principles to Birdman to make the fight scene look like one long take. This allowed us to break up the choreography bit by bit.

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The Break – Martial Arts Action Film

Our latest film, The Break, is now online. It’s a story of Cop vs Criminal, both experts of unarmed combat, neither wanting to relent.

We had the chance with this film to work with the black magic pocket camera. I think it really helped with the final look of the film a lot, the quality of the images we shot really allowed us to push the cinematic feel of the film.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 17.47.31It was also a great chance to work with two excellent on-screen fighters, Kamran Kam & Wilfried Tah.

When I made films before, I tended not to factor in any time for rehearsal, which would reflect on the final product; it always ended up being not quite as good as it could have been. However with this one, the two martial arts actors spent a day beforehand rehearsing their fight. It shows in the final product. Their moves are crisp and amazing.

I was determined to just put the camera on a tripod, give them a wide an angle as possible, and just let their performance speak for itself. I think this has ended up being the strongest fight scene we’ve ever produced. I’m very proud of all the hard work everyone put into it.

I’d love for our goal in the future to be to show hollywood that you don’t need a large budget to make excellent fight scenes for films. You don’t need to shake the camera about to add the artificial energy into your fights. All you need is clear precise storytelling, told through choreography, cinematography and editing. It’s a collaboration from everybody.

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Hollow Men of The Wasteland – Production Blog

Our latest film is now online and can be viewed here:

This was a pretty gruelling shoot for all of us involved, and something that was cobbled together very last minute. If I had any advice for any kind of filming, it’s to plan plan plan. Planning will minimise the risk of poor preparation. But when it comes down to it, even if you plan every minute detail, a million things will always go wrong. 10986722_770570099687511_1621936893758303239_oWe went all the way out to Bedfordshire for the shoot. It required a lot of hiking through some very muddy and tough terrain. 10917949_756752067735981_623478708801015181_o

There were a couple of tense moments. Our actor was down in a valley area, with his gun out, playing the soldier. While this happened we saw from the very distance a vehicle pulled up. We were worried it was police or security, and I was scared that, from a distance they wouldn’t be able to tell we were shooting a film. A tense half an hour lead to us finally seeing a nice elderly security guard walk past us. She thought we were taking pictures. We exchanged pleasantries and it turned out well.

For the finale we managed to find this amazing clifftop. I’m not gonna lie, it felt borderline dangerous to be up there. It was a higher cliff leading to a lower cliff and the ramp in between was narrow. The slightest misstep meant a very long drop with no hospitals around for miles.10710240_756752117735976_1773109492343638888_o

Worst yet, the battery adaptor that had been powering our black magic camera failed. The wiring was knackered and we had no way to fix it out there in the wasteland. Luckily our actor brought a back up camera so we managed to finish the film, just about. We were also harassed by some random stranger telling us the cliffs were dangerous. He spent the subsequent half hour stalking around the cliffs giving us dirty looks, which was a really non-pleasant way to finish out the film.

Still with all the problems we managed to get some semblance of footage together. The black magic camera held up wonderfully until the battery adaptor failed on us. And the go pro gave us some lovely shots from the water.Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.30.03All in all, a great day, despite the exhaustion afterwards.

Filmmaking’s taken me to many places I thought I’d never go. It’s given me great stories to tell too. Stories that were miserable to live through at the time, but are looked back with a fondness. 10900022_756752144402640_3133380579342675120_o

Best wishes from the wasteland

Azeem

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