Bruce Lee moved so fast that it actually created complications for The Green Hornet. For the most part, Bruce Lee’s speed was a big part of what made his film performances so entertaining. However, it apparently came with its fair share of problems, particularly during the filming of The Green Hornet.
A few years before becoming a martial arts superstar in Hong Kong, Lee found some degree of success in the TV industry as a co-star in ABC’s The Green Hornet series, a show designed to build off the popularity of Batman. In the one-season series, Lee fought crime alongside the Green Hornet (Van Williams) as Kato, his chauffeur and sidekick. During the show’s action sequences, Lee utilized his real-life expertise in kung fu. While he certainly earned some attention for his role in the ABC series, it didn’t immediately turn him into a martial arts sensation. However, it did lay the foundation for him to eventually get discovered by Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest, which was where he made four of his five movies.
Arguably the highlight of the Green Hornet show was Bruce Lee’s Kato character. His kicking moves and overall skill in martial arts led to some notable, scene-stealing moments, but were originally a hindrance. According to Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly, Lee had a lot of confidence in how his kung fu would look onscreen when he was shooting his scenes but was disappointed when he saw the first footage. His moves appeared to be a “blur”. Bruce Lee’s speed made it hard for the camera to capture his moves and it was impossible to see the blows connecting. As a result, Lee had to significantly slow down his movements so that his kung fu would look better on TV. Bruce Lee’s speed, which is often cited as one of his best qualities as a fighter, was a bit too good for The Green Hornet.
At the time, Bruce Lee’s fighting style was unprecedented for American productions. As noted in the book, The Green Hornet as well as most shows and movies from this era followed the pattern set by Westerns, which had fight scenes that happened at a slower pace and consisted mostly of punches. At the time, cameras recorded footage at a slower frame rate, so adequately capturing Bruce Lee’s speed just wasn’t feasible. Fortunately, Lee’s kung fu movies were shot at a higher frame rate. For this reason, movies like The Big Boss and Enter the Dragon didn’t hold him back nearly as much as The Green Hornet in the late 1960s.
The challenges The Green Hornet had in making proper use of Bruce Lee’s speed speaks to the impact the actor had on his movies and shows. Lee redefined The Green Hornet’s entire approach to fighting by taking a heavy hand in deciding how the fights should work. Sometimes to the chagrin of directors and others involved with his films, Bruce Lee and his unorthodox methods strongly influenced how they handled action. Looking at their individual legacies and box office success, they were all the better for it.