It can be difficult to put into words what Bruce Lee gave to the world of martial arts but I will take his cue to simplify it: movement with a heart. And this second volume, with all its faults and laughingly unintended background with 2000 era bloopers not caught (episode 15 shows John Woo’s “Stranglehold”  on a San Francisco trolley car, twice), this volume gives us that heart to a certain degree, trying to keep a balance between fantasy and actual history regarding Bruce Lee.
Beginning with episode 11, after being humiliated by the fight of Karate Master Yamamoto (Mark Dacascos) in the 10th episode, Bruce mulls over why Uncle Shao (Luoyong Wang) decided to stop the match. It was only at Ms. Ruby’s restaurant that Uncle Shao imparts his wisdom to try to temper Bruce’s anger into a more focused, humbled, and disciplined self. “If you’re too impatient, you’ll never amount to anything!” Uncle Shao berates him. The dynamics of both Danny Chen and Luoyong Wang are the most revealing in this particular volume. Regardless of his feelings toward Master Yamamoto, Bruce opens his own Kung Fu school in Seattle.
Evolving a new style of martial arts combining different techniques makes this particular series engaging from a technical standpoint. Actor Danny Chen pulls off a more developed Bruce Lee and convincingly takes me back in time. Of course, the dubbed English acting notwithstanding (it continues here and I wished Well Go USA had a feature for the original spoken [Mandarin?] with closed captioning), I was becoming intrigued with Bruce’s story and the material began to coalesce into something more… down-to-earth and human. Yes, it’s still a “Legend” series but it gives us a fascinating insight into someone whose heart and soul were developing quite fast.
As Bruce spends time at his Uncle Shao’s Seattle home, he is urged to leave to carve out his own life, which he begrudgingly does. He eventually meets up with an African-American cab driver, Jesse Glover (Luc Bendza), who takes advantage of Bruce at first, then winds up being saved by him from a bunch of thugs that sought to do Jesse harm. Jesse becomes an avid top student of Bruce’s fighting style, a close friend, and certified Teacher until his death from cancer in 2012.
When opening his own martial arts school, he sees Arroyo once more from Volume 1 (this happens to be an almagamation of girls Bruce has dated; there have been quite a few women in Bruce’s life that changed him in some fashion) who fell in love with him but he breaks up with her because of her numerous marriage advances. She becomes jealous when Bruce takes an interest in Linda Emery (Michelle Lang) who helps him with the Kung Fu school along with Taky Kimura (Liu Dong) and Jesse Glover (actually an accomplished judo fighter who taught Bruce his unique style).
I know I am glossing over a lot of the character development of Bruce regarding his fights: he does win over Taky Kimura as a close friend, and even after a public park fight with Wally Jay (Tim Storms, although this person is real but racially inaccurate) that ends in a draw, they become fast friends and is introduced to Dan Inosanto (Ning Li), a Filipino-American expert on martial arts techniques, by the 12th episode. However, when Blair (Ted Duran) makes a comeback during the 12th episode into Bruce’s school, the fighting between he and Bruce doesn’t seem convincing to me and seemed very stilted and weak.
In the 13th episode, Bruce decides to hang a sign on his Kung Fu school: “No matter the time, place, or person, if I am challenged, I’ll be there. – Bruce Lee.” Seen as arrogance by the martial arts community they re-send Master Yamamoto to defeat him but after learning jiu-jitsu from Wally Jay and wise advice from Inosanto, Bruce defeats the Karate Master.
I found the story arc puzzling that Linda Emery wasn’t more prominent in helping Bruce during this time because by the 14th episode which I found to be rushed and hurried along, Bruce kisses Linda for the first time. While this is going on, as Yamamoto teaches Bruce “some” of his techniques, Bruce was unaware that Ed Parker, a friend of Yamamoto’s, secretly listened and noted Bruce’s techniques of fighting to have the upper hand in a fight which puts Bruce in the hospital. Ed Parker regrets the deception and cheating. He visits Bruce and formally apologizes, giving him his 20 years’ worth of notes on karate, which Bruce gladly uses to expand on his martial arts theories.
Funnily enough, the Ed Parker/Bruce Lee confrontation was not really how it happened. They may have sparred and practiced together but Mr. Parker did not inflict any serious injury on Bruce at all. I guess having a dramatic license makes one forget that people DO pay attention to actual events and hope they’re integrated well into a story. I guess this was just a writer’s choice to exaggerate.
The only thing I found odd was Bruce meeting Linda’s mom, Vivian, for the first time. Cliche after cliche made me gag as the mother was plainly bigoted and the dialogue should have been re-written with fresher eyes about mother-daughter dynamics. It was apparent Vivian wanted to break up the new couple and Linda left home to be with Bruce. Then when Vivian suffers a heart attack, both are amicably reunited at Bruce’s behest and Vivian begins to admire the young man. Too incredibly rushed, in my informed opinion, and if re-written, could have developed a new appreciation for Linda’s character and dynamic with Bruce and Vivian. But that wasn’t explored further. A pity.
In episode 15, Bruce takes part in the California Karate Competition in Oakland and defeats the three-time champion Hoffman (portrayed by Yannick Van Dam) After the match, Hoffman approaches Bruce and they teach each other. Hoffman tries to convince Bruce about moving his Kung Fu school to Oakland, where Hoffman thinks it will gain more students and attention. Bruce agrees and decides to go to Oakland immediately, to the surprise and utter confusion of his friends. After telling Professor Kane that he was dropping out from the University of Washington to pursue his dreams in Oakland, he disappoints Bruce’s mentor and could not change his mind to continue with his studies to combine philosophy and martial arts. Handing in a final paper on the subject, Kane resigns to the fact that Bruce’s pastures lay elsewhere in developing his own style of Kung Fu. Linda hears of Bruce’s decision and becomes furious with him for not discussing this with her. Bruce asks her to marry him but Linda refuses. Their quarrel ends the next day when Linda realizes how much she loves Bruce, and agrees to marry him. They have an outdoor wedding, attended by their closest friends and Linda’s mother. Linda also decides to leave school. She soon gets pregnant with their first child, Brandon.
Of course, dramatic license takes precedence over facts regarding the marriage of Bruce and Linda. They actually elope and both Linda’s parents find out through a marriage announcement in the paper. Dramatic license again.
The 16th and 17th episodes regard Bruce and Linda’s move to a home and setting up a Kung Fu school there. During the latter half of the 17th episode, Bruce fights with Wong Jack Man (the Yellow-skinned brat portrayed by Li Yuan) under the eyes of Yun Sheng, Master of the Kung Fu Association in Oakland. I noticed that during the fight there was use of wire work as well as a CGI element – unexpected but it lent for a dramatic build-up for the scene where Bruce’s back is injured (of course, not accurate, but this moment is used for far better effect for tension and rivalry even though his back injury occurred nearly 5 years later due to a weight lifting accident. He was told by doctors that he would never be able to practice martial arts again, but not told he could never walk).
In the 18th, 19th and 20th episodes we find out the following: Bruce’s father dies, the future of the school is in question, Linda looks for work while helping Bruce write his first book on his technique of Kung Fu while he is wheelchair bound, and Brandon Lee is born. A Shimadzu machine is purchased to aid in Bruce’s recovery and after watching Brandon take his first few steps toward his dad and begins to fall… I shall leave that open-ended as to what happens.
The end of Volume 2 sees the name “Jeet Kune Do” as Bruce’s system. But new things appear on the horizon for Bruce and his new family. It’s a compelling story, if somewhat disjointed and taking liberties with the truth at times. But the philosophical aspect remains the basis of his martial arts – the yin and yang, the defend-attack strategy he developed using various styles that are simple and effective, condensing into a practicality that blossoms what Bruce calls, “movement with a heart.”
I cannot wait to see what the next ten episodes cover.