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Honoring Bruce Lee

Honoring Bruce Lee
Honoring Bruce Lee 07:00

In Los Angeles' Chinatown stands a bronze figure that's formidable and familiar.

It is also the only statue of Bruce Lee in America, one his daughter, Shannon Lee, says captures his strength and dignity.

"My father represents what's possible, like what is possible for a human being," Shannon Lee said.

A martial artist, actor and writer, Lee broke barriers and bridged cultures, a legacy that endures half a century after his tragic death at 32.

A statue of the late martial arts icon Bruce Lee is seen in Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles, June 16, 2013.
A statue of the late martial arts icon Bruce Lee is seen in Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles, June 16, 2013. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

"There is just no place in the world where people don't know who he is, don't have affection for him. So many people from so many walks of life all over the globe," Shannon Lee said.

And his life was amazing. Born in San Francisco in 1940, Lee grew up in Hong Kong and was in films at a very early age. He was also perfecting his own martial arts style, combining combat, self-defense and philosophy, and began teaching it after moving to Seattle.

It didn't take long for Hollywood to notice him, and in 1965, Bruce Lee gave a screen test to remember. Auditioning for the part of Kato in the TV series "The Green Hornet," Lee displayed his trademark kicks, jabs and punches. He won the role but faced discrimination as an Asian American in Hollywood.

"As the scripts were coming out, they would give him the lines to work on, but there were no lines," Shannon Lee said. "It was sort of like, 'Hello,' 'yes.'"

"The Green Hornet" lasted only one season, but Lee was a breakout star, and in the coming years would appear in a string of films showcasing his extraordinary talents.

"I would say every action film that's being made today, everyone's striving still to do what he did," Taiwanese-American filmmaker Justin Lin, who directed several of the Fast and Furious movies, said.

"There was something that was very authentic in his sequences, in his films. "It's these moments where unabashedly, they just cut to this close-up, and he's not saying anything. But he's saying everything," Lin said.

For Jeff Chinn, Bruce Lee changed everything.

"I actually grew up being ashamed of my Chinese heritage because of all the negative stereotype that you see in movies, TV, even comic books," said Chinn, who owns one of the largest collections of Bruce Lee memorabilia, now on display at the Chinese Historical Society in San Francisco.

Chinn said he was bullied at school for being Asian American. "I got picked on, I got called every racial slur in the book. So I was basically on my own," he said. That is, he said, until his father put a Bruce Lee posted on his bedroom wall.

"And I looked at the poster, and I was crying, and it was almost like Bruce Lee was speaking to me, saying, 'It's OK Jeff because I Bruce Lee am Chinese American and I want you to be proud of your heritage.'"

That poster was from the film "Fist of Fury." Lee would make just one more movie, "Enter the Dragon," before his life was cut short from a cerebral edema in 1973.

Actor and martial artist Bruce Lee poses for a Warner Bros. publicity still for the film "Enter the Dragon" in 1973 in Hong Kong.
Actor and martial artist Bruce Lee poses for a Warner Bros. publicity still for the film "Enter the Dragon" in 1973 in Hong Kong. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Shannon Lee was 4 years old when her father died.

"The thing that I remember about him the most, far and away the most, is how he felt and how I felt in his presence," she said. 

She spoke about the death of her father and her brother, Brandon, who was just 28 when he died after a prop gun discharged while filming "The Crow" in 1993.

"Loss, like the loss of my father and the loss of my brother, is traumatizing," she said. "It's traumatizing to the spirit and the body and the soul, and I have to really acknowledge my father's philosophies for helping me to get through those times."

She carries on his mission, from camps that instill confidence in children, to developing a story that he hoped to bring to the screen. It's called "The Warrior," a martial arts crime drama that she and Lin are producing for Max, now in its third season.

When asked what her father's message to the world would be today, Shannon Lee said: "I think he would try to encourage everybody to see each other as human beings first. We all may have subtle differences, but those differences should be celebrated. We all want the same things: to be safe, to be loved, to be seen. We all want that. He said it himself: Under the heavens, under the sky, we're all one family."

Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Lauren Barnello.

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