One of the most popular icons of the 20th century whose legacy remains firmly embedded in the frameworks of modern popular culture, Bruce Lee is, by all means, immortal. Known as the star who introduced Eastern cultures to the wider Western audiences, Lee was one of the most influential martial artists who left this world too soon.
Out of the many wonderful, memorable creations that Lee left behind, one particularly enigmatic cultural artefact, is the 1966 show The Green Hornet in which he starred alongside Van Williams (who played the titular character) as Kato. In subsequent years, especially after Lee’s untimely demise, The Green Hornet has become a bonafide cult classic that successfully engages newer generations of audiences.
In an interview, Williams recalled the conception of the project: “As I understand, I think Bill Dozier went to one of the kung-fu shows and saw him at the Long Beach auditorium. He said, ‘There’s Kato.’ It was a vigilante-type thing and to me, it was more of a James Bond-type deal that they were going to do. I don’t think I met Bruce until the press party.”
He also insisted that he liked Lee since their first meeting, even though they did not have the time to talk at length about anything: “Adam introduced us both and we were there. It was the first time I’d met Bruce and we didn’t really have much time to sit down and talk or anything else but I liked him from the moment I met him!”
According to the reports of his other co-stars like Wende Wagner, Lee was an obsessive trainer who devoted almost all of his time to the honing of his craft. While remembering his on-set behaviour, Wagner said: “He was constantly training. He was very, very diligent in that he was always working out and training and always in motion.”
The Green Hornet was recently referenced by Quentin Tarantino in his 2019 film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in which we see Brad Pitt beat up an annoyingly arrogant depiction of Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh) on the set of the show. This portrayal received backlash from many people, including Lee’s daughter, but was dismissed by Tarantino: “I can understand his daughter having a problem with it. It’s her fucking father. Everyone else: go suck a dick.”
Shannon Lee accused the film of failing to grasp how difficult it was for her father to work in a highly problematic system like Hollywood. While criticising the film, Shannon Lee wrote: “They have no idea and cannot fathom what it might have taken to get work in the 1960s and 1970s Hollywood as a Chinese man with (God forbid) an accent.”
Adding, “At a time when Asian Americans are being physically attacked, told to ‘go home’ because they are seen as not American, and demonised for something that has nothing to do with them I feel moved to suggest that Mr. Tarantino’s continued attacks, mischaracterisations and misrepresentations of a trailblazing and innovative member of our Asian American community, right now, are not welcome.”
For fans of the show and the icon who are interested in discovering the real Bruce Lee, check out this gem of a screen test from The Green Hornet in which Lee discusses his craft at length.
See the entire screen test below.