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Bruce Lee Martial Arts In American Movies:
Before Bruce Lee There Was BOND!

By Michael Quebec
March 15, 2004


Nowadays, one would be hard-pressed to watch a mainstream action/adventure movie & NOT see some form of martial-arts being used by the main actor or actress.

From the late 1990's up to very recently, "Charlie's Angels", "Daredevil", "Enough", "S.W.A.T.", "The Art of War", "Lethal Weapon 4", "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", "The Matrix" & many others have employed the martial-arts to enhance the visual aspect of their action sequences.

Bruce Lee The importation of Hong Kong action film stars such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Samo Hung, Chow Yun Fat, & Michelle Yeoh have also helped to establish the martial-arts as a regular aspect of American action films.

The Hong-Kong actioner "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" had helped martial-arts movies gain "respectability" by garnering an Oscar, a tradition that may continue with the recent epic "The Last Samurai", starring Tom Cruise.

Quentin Tarrintino saluted martial-arts films with "Kill Bill", while "Kung-Pao" & "Joe Somebody" garnered laughs from the popularity of those disciplines.

The martial-arts are now a part of current American popular culture, due in large part, to the above mentioned films. Kickboxing is employed for fitness, tai-chi for holistic health, & soccer moms regularly enroll their children in tae kwon do & karate classes as another afterschool activity, to be experienced by children along with dance classes & baseball.

Bruce Lee One might think that the popularity & mainstream acceptance of the martial-arts, which just ten years ago were regarded as "exotic", is a recent trend. Well, that's not really the case...

Conventional "entertainment history" suggests that the martial arts in American movies began with Bruce Lee in the early 1970's, with the release of that late actor's Hong-Kong-American co-production, "Enter The Dragon."

However, ten years before Bruce Lee...there was BOND. James Bond.

Sean Connery's James Bond of the 1960's regularly employed judo & karate te chniques to subdue killer agents of SPECTRE...and the beautiful women employed to seduce Bond. (Remember Honor Blackman as "Pussy Galore" in "Goldfinger?" She could man-handle Bond with a judo toss AND fly a plane!)

Martial-arts in spy films have been around since the beginning. James Cagney used judo in the World War Two spy thriller "13 Rue Madeleine" & Frank Sinatra & Henry Silva have a bone-jarring karate fight in 1962's "The Manchurian Candidate."

Yeoh But it was the James Bond series of the mid 1960's that first brought the martial-arts to mainstream American consciousness. "Dr. No" (where Bond uses judo to subdue an assasin posing as his driver), "From Russia With Love" (where agents of SPECTRE are seen training in judo & karate on SPECTRE Island), and most importantly, "You Only Live Twice" (where Bond is allied with ninjas!) all helped to make the terms "judo & karate" synonymous with "self-defense" during the 1960's.

It was no surprise then, that Bond's imitators ("Our Man Flint" & "In Like Flint", "Honey West", "Mission: Impossible", "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." & the "Matt Helm" films) & even Bond's spoofers ("Get Smart") employed the two physical disciplines to help get them out of sticky situations. Even Fred Flintstone, when spoofing Bond in an episode ("Jay Bond-rock"), used "judo chops with the side of the hand" to get he & Barney Rubble out of a villain's volcano strong-hold.

Bruce Lee Espionage & the martial-arts...that was the connection in the American mind-set during the 1960's. It made for a very popular (& profitable) combination in American action films...until Bruce Lee came along in the 1970's, making martial-arts "exotic" again.

But let's not forget that Bruce Lee's breakthrough film, "Enter The Dragon", owes something to Bond, as well. Lee plays an agent who has to infiltrate a villains island stronghold. (And the international criminal Lee is pursuing has a white cat, to boot!)

American martial-arts movies owe a great debt to Ian Fleming's creation, indeed...

Article written by Michael Quebec

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