PANEL 7 – Bruce Lee’s Legacies
Oliver Carter & Simon Barber
The Clones of Bruce Lee: The Political Economy of ‘Brucesploitation’
This paper presents a political economic analysis of exploitation martial arts cinema through a study of ‘Brucesploitation’ – a sub-genre of martial arts films made primarily in the 1970s featuring look-alikes of the late martial artist and actor Bruce Lee. With reference to the production, distribution and licensing of key films in this genre, we examine the relationship between exploitation cinema, home video in the 1980s, and western appetites for martial arts culture. This industry, which featured ‘kung fu clones’ like Bruce Li and Bruce Le, revealed a large (or perhaps undiscerning) international market for action films of this kind and consolidated a genre of films exploiting individual stardom, specifically Bruce Lee as a global icon. In this paper, we explore the political, economic and cultural implications of satisfying such a demand and the ways in which the legacy of the ‘kung fu clones’ has continued to permeate movies and television shows around the world.
Contemporary Responses to Bruce Lee Movies in Japan: Japanese Villains, Fans, Media
Research in the emerging academic field of martial arts studies has drawn largely on English and Chinese-language sources, and the preponderance of extant research appears to focus on kung-fu movies (understood broadly) or on the practice and representation of various Asian martial arts in Euro-American cultural contexts. This paper aims to complement this focus and expand the field of contemporary martial arts studies by providing an overview of the small body of relevant Japanese-language research while exploring possible avenues for productive collaboration between Japanese scholars and those working in other languages. For example, Japanese scholars conducting research primarily in the history or sociology of sport have produced valuable empirical studies of judo, jiujutsu, and other national martial arts traditions and of their diffusion overseas (Sakaue, ed., 2010), but the purview of this research rarely extends to non-Japanese martial arts or to the complex problems related to representation and the mass media. Conversely, a handful of Japanese academics grounded in film studies or cultural studies (see Yomota, 2005 and the Oct. 2013 special issue of the cultural theory journal, Gendai shiso) have discussed Bruce Lee’s significance both inside and outside Japan, but such research constitutes a rare exception and has only begun to engage with related studies published in other languages. Although I have written extensively about Japan’s jazz culture and have long been engaged in research on the representation, reception, and domestication of “foreign” cultural practices in Japan, this paper constitutes the first step in a project that I hope will eventually serve as a bridge between Japanese-language scholarship and the emerging field of contemporary martial arts studies.
Beyond the Dragon: Charting the influence of Bruce Lee and Black Power Activists in the rise of Martial Arts in 20th Century, African American Communities
This paper explores the historicization of the rise of martial arts in urban, Black American communities during the Black Power Era. The Black Arts Movement’s call to create economically and aesthetically independent institutions fostered an environment for African Americans to teach and learn martial arts inspired by East Asian and African influences. However, thus far, scholars have primarily used Bruce Lee and Afro-Asian polyculturalism to historicize 20th century African American martial artistry. This scholarship has been valuable for demonstrating positive interethnic relations and drawing attention to African American participation in the martial arts. However, such work consistently uses Lee’s popularity as the focal point for exploring the rise of martial arts practice in Black communities instead of the work of Black Power and Black Arts activists. By charting both Bruce Lee’s rise in American martial arts and the rise of martial arts in Black communities, I contend that Black instructors who began martial arts programs in the 1950s and 1960s are the roots of martial arts participation in Black communities rather than kung fu films stars such as Lee. By institutionalizing martial art spaces in Black communities, instructors like Shaha Mfundishi Maasi, who taught for the Committee for a Unified NewArk, provided Black Arts teachings that directly transformed community members’ lives. While movies like those of Lee could inspire Black youth to improve themselves, it was these instructors who taught them self-defense skills as well as Black cultural knowledge and self-esteem. Many of these instructors had already established schools before Bruce Lee’s rise to fame. Thus, the oral histories and primary documents examined here indicate that even though Bruce Lee inspired youth to study martial arts, they were able to do so because of martial arts spaces already established in their communities.