Over the course of his short but impactful career, Bruce Lee made an indelible mark on popular culture. He popularised the magnificence of Eastern martial arts in the west and by doing so, became an indispensable icon whose life was cut short. His works have influenced multiple artists belonging to different mediums, ranging from masterful anime like Cowboy Bebop to American filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino.
Lee wasn’t just idolised by fans; he was also respected by his Western colleagues like Chuck Norris who once said this in an interview with Black Belt: “The truth is Lee was a formidable opponent with a chiselled physique and technique,” Norris once said. “I totally enjoyed sparring and just spending time with him. He was as charismatic and friendly in the ring and at home as he was on film.”
While discussing what made Lee so special, Norris attributed his uniqueness as a fighter to the sharpness of his mind. In the same interview, Norris acknowledged that Lee’s agility and high intelligence made him invincible: “His confidence and wit were dazzling, and sometimes even debilitating to others,” he said. “Lee was lightning fast, very agile and incredibly strong for his size”.
Lee’s films influenced Tarantino in various ways but one particular homage that the filmmaker paid to the late legend can be seen in his 2003 arthouse action thriller Kill Bill. In the movie, the Bride (played by Uma Thurman) can be seen wearing a bright yellow tracksuit which is a direct reference to Lee’s final project Game of Death where he wore the same outfit. The helmet and the motorcycle used by the Bride are also taken from that very Bruce Lee film.
Described by scholars as the “arcade movie”, Game of Death has influenced the structure of fighting video games which use the level-based progression systems and the concept of level-specific unique bosses introduced by the film. In Kill Bill, Tarantino himself paid tribute to action anime films and violent video games in addition to the direct reference to Bruce Lee’s Game of Death.
Matthew Polly, the writer of Bruce Lee: A Life, claimed: “Bruce was a terrible skier and he borrowed a jumpsuit from Polanski. It was the inspiration for his yellow jumpsuit in Game of Death [the film that Lee died while making in 1973] — and that served as a model for the outfit worn by Uma Thurman in [the 2003 Tarantino movie] Kill Bill.”