1770. Beethoven. Dragon. If my math is correct. I was born in the year of the dragon. Hour of the dog. For dragon, I will own eccentric. For dog, sense of justice and lazy. Bruce Lee was born in the year and hour of the dragon.
Strong. Intestinal fortitude is usually used figuratively. Early in this film we might be disoriented by the clumsy, blurred mise-en-scène. Indeed, this was Lee’s first and last completed directorial effort. The beginning doesn’t bode well. Just like his character, who accidentally orders five bowls of soup, Lee seems in over his head as an auteur. As his character Tang Lung deals with a seeming case of the shits, the film moves (on the contrary) very slowly. Not only do we wonder about the technical proficiency of the cinematographer, we experience a claustrophobic hyper-sensitivity to the passing of time. Mercifully, this is offset by a cinematic tone which echoes Tati’s Playtime.
But the strength builds up. The film, literally, comes into focus (albeit slowly). Lee once again plays a similar character to those he delineated in The Big Boss and Fist of Fury.
You must put your hip into it, he says. Yes. This is the secret to power. Leverage. Chinese boxing.
We are made aware of Lee’s strength on several occasions when he flexes his taut physique. Suffice it to say that there is nothing slight about the diminutive Lee. One senses that every square inch of this man is power. Strength.
Proud. Nothing is like back home. Hong Kong. Rome doesn’t impress Lee. On one occasion he seems to see things through the eyes of Respighi for a moment, but then makes a flippant comment about a grand fountain. Tang Lung (Lee) would build over it. Make money.
But this façade is at odds with the loyalty he shows to his newfound friends in Rome (themselves likewise expats from Hong Kong).
Direct. Lee begins to direct. There is a panache in all of his movements…like a lethal Chaplin.
Eccentric. Can I buy a gun around here? Yes? Good. I’ll whittle some bamboo darts instead.
He moves in squawking orbits. Distractions. Diversions. Like Muhammad Ali with Tourette’s.
Show off. More like a selective extrovert. Beware of the quiet ones. The humble ones. When they reach their breaking points, God forbid they be the most genius asskickers on the planet.
Lee refrains until his adversaries ask for it. Backed into a corner, he turns the tables…every time.
Arrogant. Sometimes… It takes a Chuck Norris to remind us that there are other masters in the world. And if we beat them, we salute them. But he who seeks not money shall have a superior core to the mercenary. To protect is more powerful than to attack.
Violent. Damn right! You want violence? You’re about to be dealt the quickest administrations of pain you’ve ever seen. Calling Dr. Lee. This is where shock and awe comes from. And machinery/technology will never ascend to the glorious depths of human creativity. Endurance is in the mind.
Brash. Occasionally. The big boss needs to learn. The big boss hires his murders–his terrorism–his intimidation. The big boss runs and hides when the fast bullets fly. But once in awhile the masters of war find themselves in very uncomfortable circumstances. The teacher does not love war. The teacher masters war. The teacher masters the passions of revenge. Bruce Lee never distributes a disproportionate riposte.
Controlling. Control. First, control yourself. Seek to master yourself. Listen to your body. Control what you can control…knowing that the world is chaos…an indeterminate harmony. Then you will be ready to think on your feet. You will be ready to invent and improvise like Thelonious Monk.
This is the way of the dragon.