Chuck Norris

How the speed of Bruce Lee forced directors to film differently

There is truly no name bigger or more respected in the world of martial arts than Bruce Lee, the athlete and actor who starred in over 30 projects in his career that span from 1946-1973. Starring in such films as Way of the Dragon alongside Chuck Norris and The Game of Death with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bruce Lee became an icon of Asain cinema as well as an influential figure in the world of martial arts. 

As one of the most hyped and since, most celebrated on-screen fights of all time, Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee’s bout in Way of the Dragon has been immortalised online as one of the finest cinematic brawls of all time. As well as appearing on screen together, the two actors enjoyed spending time together outside of the ring, often sparring and engaging in typically youthful play fights. 

Speaking about the iconic martial artist, Chuck Norris once stated in an interview with Black Belt, “The truth is Lee was a formidable opponent with a chiselled physique and technique. I totally enjoyed sparring and just spending time with him”.

How Bruce Lee's speed forced directors to change frame rate

Continuing, the actor added, “He was as charismatic and friendly in the ring and at home as he was on film. His confidence and wit were dazzling, and sometimes even debilitating to others. […] Lee was lightning fast, very agile and incredibly strong for his size”. 

His penultimate film before his mysterious and untimely death in 1972, Way of the Dragon would be followed by arguably Bruce Lee’s finest film, Enter the Dragon in 1973, featuring the actor in his final ever film role. In addition to the greatness of Bruce Lee’s final two projects, he was also well known for his appearance in the TV series The Green Hornet, starring as Kato, a valet and martial arts expert.

In what sounds like an urban myth, Bruce Lee forced a brand new cinematic technique upon the filmmakers behind the series after he discovered that his kicks were simply too fast for the cameras to register. Having to do several retakes as the cameras could only pick up a vague blur of motion, Bruce Lee recalls in a biography named after the actor, “At first, it was ridiculous. All you could see were people falling down in front of me”.

Jackie Chan on working for Bruce Lee: 'Everyone thought he was a god' |  South China Morning Post

Continuing, the actor added: “Even when I slowed down, all the camera showed was a blur,” with Lee suggesting that he be recorded at a higher frame rate to ensure that his moves could be registered on camera. 

As this poorly recorded footage from 1970 Hong Kong demonstrates, Bruce Lee’s kicks were indeed lightning fast, so quick in fact that it certainly takes away any cinematic intensity as the viewer doesn’t even have time to register its impact. The decision to slow down the footage was certainly a wise one, whilst also giving Bruce Lee one of cinema’s coolest ever accolades, with skills and agility so fine-tuned that he was faster than 24 frames per second. If there was ever such a real-life superhero, Bruce Lee may have just been him. 

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