In Pursuit of the Dragon: A Bruce Lee Pilgrimage – John Little
Let’s start the new year off proper with a little coincidence I experienced whilst on a flight between Seoul and Honolulu over Xmas. Regular readers (in particular the Bruce Lee contingent) may be aware of my previous involvement (albeit on the very periphery) in a new documentary on Bruce Lee by John Little.
Only a couple of weeks before Xmas I was bemoaning the lack of news from John on how the project was going (for which I owe him an apology) despite it being released in France a few months ago (but more about that later, so make sure you read on), and then I suddenly came across it as one of the viewing options on the Korean Air in-flight entertainment system. Weird. Anyway, here is a quick breakdown of what I saw.
Okay, so first off the official title is “In Pursuit of the Dragon: A Bruce Lee Pilgrimage“, and as mentioned it has already been release in France as a double pack with John’s earlier “Warriors Journey”.
The documentary is a travelogue-style look at all the locations used in the last four of Bruce’s films – basically the films for which he became internationally famous: The Big Boss – filmed in Pak Chong, Thailand, Fists of Fury – mainly studio based but utilising outdoor locations in Macau, Way of the Dragon filmed largely in Rome but with one key scene filmed in Hong Kong and finally Enter the Dragon which was mainly filmed here in Hong Kong.
The doc takes each film separately (in the same chronological order I have used above) and visits as many of the locations as possible with John providing the narration dealing with historical information and the odd anecdote from the various people involved in the films. I enjoyed watching it immensely but, obviously for my purposes, it is the HK and Macau side of things that are of more interest to me (mainly because I helped John identify them for inclusion).
I can say that the HK part of the doc includes the majority of locations that I have discussed previously on this blog: Ching Chun Koon, Tsing Shan Monastery, King Yin Lei, Aberdeen Harbour, Tai Tam bay, The American Club/Pacific View, Muslim Cemetery as well as a brief mention of the Samo fight location (my main, but late, contribution to the whole thing) and also includes an interview with Chaplain Chang as well as featuring various other non-film related locations such as 41 Cumberland Road, Kingsford Terrace, Mirador Mansions, Gaddi’s at the Peninsula. All in all a thorough look at many of the locations I had helped him identify.
John is not a happy bunny and it seems that the French release was premature – mainly pushed by the distributors to coincide with the 70th birthday celebrations. He has in fact re-edited the film a further 11 times to create what he feels is the final version (cut number 16 to be precise). Now you know why I hadn’t really heard from him, he has been working solid on this film for the past 18 months and has only just finished the final cut (they filmed the HK & Macau portion in August 2009).
John has told me he really wanted to stay focused on the film side of everything and so has taken out all of the non-film related stuff I just described. The problem was he found so many HK-based locations that he got sidetracked and ended up putting too much emphasis on them and it made the doc plod along too much (I must admit I didn’t really notice but it seems that John is his own best critic). The re-edited final cut is a much slicker deal and John will perhaps include the extra footage as some sort of DVD extra when the final release is issued. I hope so because I know for a fact that John also filmed at Wa Shan/Woodland Crest (the only time I was able to join them when they were filming), as well as conducted interviews with Stephen Tung Wei, Yip Chun, Yuen Wah, Anders Nelsson amongst others. It would be a great shame if those parts didn’t make it into the final version in some form or other.
So, you heard it here first, by all means buy the French version – which I am sure many fans will do anyway, because even as a rough cut the film has some valuable information – but bear in mind that it isn’t the final version of the doc and there is more to come.
UPDATE 2012: Okay, so after a near 3 year wait for this sucker to get it’s official release I have finally obtained a copy of the UK version – bought and paid for by myself I hasten to add (i.e. John hasn’t bribed me)
Anyway, I have to say that I am a bit disappointed with the final version. That’s not to say it’s not well done, it’s excellent actually – John has done a great job with the post-production, editing, music and graphics, all very impressive. I’m disappointed because the final/official version is only 62 minutes long meaning he has got rid of nearly 30 mins of stuff that was released with the French/Aus release.
To make the doc more film-centric – which was the whole point of the doc I guess – he has got rid of all the small incidental bits of film that are not directly related to the Lee films, so in the French release we saw him visit 41 Cumberland Road, La Salle College, St Francis Xavier’s as well as a snippet on top of Mirador Mansions and inside Gaddi’s at the Peninsula Hotel, all that has now gone. It’s certainly made the doc feel much less disjointed and slick but I feel that many fans are going to prefer the French version for all the extra bits.
There is no sign of the Stephen Tung Wei interview, Yuen Wah and Yip Chun interviews which is a big shame.
Of course the doc covers locations in Thailand and Rome as well but I’m really only interested in Hong Kong and Macau – as you can imagine. A couple of things niggled me as well – John makes a statement in his otherwise excellent commentary that all outdoor scenes for WOTD were filmed in Italy. This isn’t strictly true and John knows it because he spent a short time filming at the Sheung Shui location of the showdown between Lee and the great Jon Benn (and not so great Bob Wall). Okay, to be fair to John he has only stated this so the flow of the doc isn’t disrupted (it’s basically ordered by film/country) and it would be a bit silly to jump from Italy to HK and then back again to HK later for Enter. But anyway, I guess the HK location for WOTD is actually one of the worst preserved so I can understand the expediency of missing it from the documentary even if it claws at my conscience.
So anyway, all in all, I think John’s official release will appeal greatly to new fans of Bruce who are just discovering his films now (hard to believe this still goes on but that’s one of Lee’s enduring legacies). Older fans will still want to see it but may be a bit disappointed by the lack of other stuff that was in the French rough cut release. Big fans will probably buy both films anyway.