In this gripping, intimate ESPN film, the life of the legendary Bruce Lee is explored in depth, both by those closest to the man himself and by cultural experts who chronicled the politically turbulent times he endured. All this is complemented by rare revealing archival fragments that reveal more about the icon, made too early, more than ever before…
By that time Be water Aired in June 2020, ESPN’s 30 for 30 has gone far beyond a mere anniversary celebration and has built a reputation for over a decade as an outstanding sports documentary. With this in mind Be water is an even bigger exception, as it has very little to do with the sports field (not to mention the fact that Bruce Lee is a pioneer of mixed martial arts). In fact, this documentary is much more about the exploration of the mysterious man and the environment in which he was formed.
If you’ve hit the play button expecting to be amazed by his kung fu movies and the prowess of his craft that he’s shown so effortlessly, you won’t be completely disappointed. Indeed, the creators seem to have foreseen this desire, because the first 10 minutes are a demonstration of the power of Bruce Lee’s peak. Featuring him in great action scenes on film sets and other flashes of a man at the peak of his powers. But having had enough of that, we quickly calm down and return to the early 1960s, where we begin the process of using the family archive to tell the story of a boy who never seemed to fully feel either in the east or in the east. west.
Shannon Lee, Bruce’s daughter, comes closest to the narrator here. She is not a narrator in the traditional sense, but she reads various passages from her father’s letters that serve as a kind of narrative anchor as the film progresses. On that note, this production doesn’t rely on the rather hackneyed “talking heads” trope that so many documentaries of this kind can fall into. Yes, people everywhere give their opinions, but they are never shown (at least not until the credits), instead the screen is used to show various pieces of archival footage and images relevant to the topic under discussion. This makes things visually interesting and removes the usual lull that often happens when the same person appears on the screen multiple times.
As far as what is discussed, racism is an early topic and revisits frequently throughout the 96-minute run. If you’re the type who gets a little nervous when this “awakening” topic is mentioned in today’s society, you may have already passed out. Nevertheless, this is indeed a worthy topic to discuss when analyzing the life of Bruce Lee. After all, he was born in 1941. Even as a child, an irrational distrust of all post-war Asians was at its height. Even for those who have done everything possible to settle down in American society. So, as Lee embarked on the dizzying but brief career that he is known for at the moment, it’s interesting to acknowledge and explore the various degrees of racism (both malicious and systemic) he fought to achieve this. I want to be clear that I didn’t find any of this arbitrary. Everyone is given time to speak (including a couple of people responsible for stopping his western career), and this is really not a sermon. Of course, what makes this whole fight against the system all the more poignant is that he barely had time to enjoy his success in America once it finally arrived.
Eventually, Be water is a documentary made to get the attention of the Lee family. He uses his access to a seemingly vast library to enrich the viewing experience and tell the intimate story of a man who worked his entire life to keep himself mysterious. He was smart enough to know what kind of public image he needed to succeed in the West, and at the same time refuse to put up with racial stereotypes. However, nearly 50 years after his death at the time of release, it’s time to show the world the man behind the legend, and it’s fantastic work.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Disney Plus Presentation
Be Water is available on Disney+ at a maximum of 1080p Full HD on compatible devices. Since this is a relatively recent TV special for ESPN, it has not yet been released on physical media at the time of writing.
Be Water does not currently have an “Extras” tab on their page at the time of writing, meaning that even the standard “promo clip” is not available.
Presentation rating: 4 stars out of 5
Be Water is now available to stream on Disney+ in multiple countries including the UK and Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the Netherlands and more. US readers will find the documentary on ESPN+.
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