Take a sneak peek at “Be Water,” an upcoming ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about the life of martial arts trailblazer, Bruce Lee.

30 for 30 is the title for a series of documentary films airing on ESPN, its sister networks, and online highlighting interesting people and events in sports history.

‘Be Water’ – June 7, 9pm ET on ESPN

Rejected by Hollywood, Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong to complete four films. Charting his struggles in two worlds, BE WATER explores questions of identity and representation through rare archive, intimate interviews, and his writings.

In 1971, after being rejected by Hollywood, Bruce Lee returned to his parents’ homeland, Hong Kong. Over the next two years, he’d complete four iconic films that would define his legacy, a legacy cut short when he died, stunningly, in the summer of 1973. He was 32 years old.

Be Water is a gripping, fascinating, intimate look at not just those final, defining years of Lee’s life, but the complex, often difficult, and seismic journey that led to Lee’s ultimate emergence as a singular icon in the histories of film, martial arts, and even the connection between the eastern and western worlds.

The film chronicles Lee’s earliest days, as the son of a Chinese opera star born while his father was on tour in San Francisco, and then raised in Hong Kong over what became an at times troubled childhood. Sent to live in America at the age of 18, he began teaching Kung Fu in Seattle, and established a following that included his future wife, Linda.

His ambition ever rising, Lee eventually made his way to Los Angeles, where he strove to break into American film and television. There, despite some success as a fight choreographer and actor, it was clear Hollywood wasn’t ready for an Asian leading man – and so he returned to Hong Kong to make the films that would in fact make him a legend, his international star skyrocketing just as his life was cut short.

Be Water is told entirely by the family, friends, and collaborators who knew Bruce Lee best, with an extraordinary trove of archive film providing an evocative, immersive visual tapestry that captures Lee’s charisma, his passion, his philosophy, and the eternal beauty and wonder of his art.

Aside from martial arts and philosophy, which focus on the physical aspect and self-consciousness for truths and principles, Lee also wrote poetry that reflected his emotion and a stage in his life collectively. Many forms of art remain concordant with the artist creating them. Lee’s principle of self-expression was applied to his poetry as well. His daughter Shannon Lee said, “He did write poetry; he was really the consummate artist.” His poetic works were originally handwritten on paper, then later on edited and published, with John Little being the major author (editor), for Bruce Lee’s works. Linda Lee Cadwell (Bruce Lee’s wife) shared her husband’s notes, poems, and experiences with followers.

She mentioned “Lee’s poems are, by American standards, rather dark—reflecting the deeper, less exposed recesses of the human psyche”. Most of Bruce Lee’s poems are categorized as anti-poetry or fall into a paradox. The mood in his poems shows the side of the man that can be compared with other poets such as Robert Frost, one of many well-known poets expressing himself with dark poetic works. The paradox taken from the Yin and Yang symbol in martial arts was also integrated into his poetry. His martial arts and philosophy contribute a great part to his poetry. The free verse form of Lee’s poetry reflects his famous quote “Be formless … shapeless, like water.”

Lee emphasized that every situation, in fighting or in everyday life, is varied. To obtain victory, therefore, it is believed essential not to be rigid, but to be fluid and adaptable to any situation. Lee compared it to being like water, saying “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” His theory behind this was that one must be able to function in any scenario one is thrown into and should react accordingly.

One should know when to speed up or slow down, when to expand and when to contract, and when to remain flowing and when to crash. It is the awareness that both life and fighting can be shapeless and ever changing that allows one to be able to adapt to those changes instantaneously and bring forth the appropriate solution. Lee did not believe in styles and felt that every person and situation is different and not everyone fits into a mold; one must remain flexible in order to obtain new knowledge and victory in both life and combat. It is believed that one must never become stagnant in the mind or method, always evolving and moving towards improving oneself.

Bruce Lee:

“Many people will come to an instructor but, most of them, they say, “Hey man, like what is the truth? You know, would you hand it over to me?” So, therefore, one guy would say now, “I’ll give you the Japanese way of doing it.” And an-other guy would say “I’ll give you the Chinese way of doing it.” But to me that’s all baloney because unless there are men with three hands or there are men with four legs, then there [cannot be] a different way of doing it. But since we only have two hands and two legs, nationalities don’t mean anything.
A constant process of relating. When I see a Japanese martial artist, for example, I can see the advantage and I can see the disadvantage. In that sense, I am relating to him. Man is living in a relationship, and in relationships we grow.”

Bruce Lee:

“I personally do not believe in ‘style’. Because of ‘styles’, people are separated. They are not united together because styles became law.”

Brian Welk (Film Reporter, The Wrap):

Title of the movie ‘Be Water” refers to really the kung-fu philosophy this idea and maybe I’ll let you explain it, but I was moved by how philosophical the film got.

Bao Nguy (Director ‘Be Water’):

Like as you said, it’s a very famous quote and sometimes when people just see ‘Be Water’ they know immediately that it’s about Bruce Lee. But I think in many ways, the way we approach the film in terms of the fluidity of the structure and without seeing like talking heads. I was really trying to immerse the audience in the film and in the present day of 1960s and 1970s America.

Bao Nguy (Director ‘Be Water’):

So in that way we were trying to have the film flow like water, but also I think when Bruce Lee the way he approached life, was that he didn’t approach it with a sense of like rigidity. He wanted to be open to meeting different people and of all different cultures. And I think especially today, where there’s a lot of polarization, he kind of an example of the beauty of multiculturalism. The beauty of diversity, the beauty of people, being able to express themselves freely, and that comes with the idea of just being fluid and open to things.

Brian Welk (Film Reporter, The Wrap):

What do you think his legacy would be today, if he were still alive? What would he be doing? Where would he be? How would we remember him or know him?

Julia Nottinggham (Producer, ‘Be Water’):

Obviously, you know, it’s very difficult to kind of imagine the future, but I I do think it would have been quite different. I really do, you know, I think, I think he was such a kind of shining star in terms of his presence on screen, that without a doubt, you know, I’m sure. Again, I can’t predict The future, but you know he would have been I hope winning awards. And continuing to you know make bigger movies. And he’d also be supporting younger talent and I think I can imagine someone like that, really nurturing younger talent, you know. And maybe you know, we would be kind of further along in this kind of diversity. You know, conversation than necessarily we are you know today.

Bao Nguy (Director ‘Be Water’):

Right, I also think that he would have been more active in other kind of fields of society. Not just a you know film, but also possibly politics. So who knows, Bruce Lee 2020, would have would have been a possibility, because he was born in America, right. And he, I think, he was such an inspiration to many people, that I could imagine him being going into politics. Going into more realms of activism. And it is a tragedy that he didn’t kind of live to to kind of live through the fruits of his labor. But at the same time, he we talked about it a bit in the film, you know, VP, he was a man. When you know he passed away at the age of 32, and he solidified his his image, and his myth in that way.

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