Saturday, January 29, 2011

Time for a change...

By 1989 times were tough for Brandon.

He was in professional abyss, surviving just barely. His life both professional and personal had come to a crossroads, and so he decided something had to change.

Pondering over the unpaid bills, and how his film career had not really gone as planned.

He made the bold decision to go back to where it all started. Instead of running away from his heritage, he was going to embrace it.

He returned to the instructorship of Dan Inosanto, his father chief student. Brandon started to train several times a week at the world famous Inosanto Academy (which Inosanto set up after he left the IMB academy) located in the Los Angeles area of Marina Del Rey.

At first, Inosanto was unsure at how his other students would react to the news of Brandon training at the academy saying, "I was Afraid that some of my students might take it easy on him because of his father ,however, he turned out just beautiful."  

In fact Brandon's parentage was hardly even an issue.

His appearance at the academy was very low key. Brandon embrace not only training in his father's art of JKD, but he also wanted to learn anything he possibly could from a wide variety of other martial arts.

He attended seminars given by the academy, and in 1990 he took and passed his Muay Thai test for level one instructorship, which was an extremely difficult test to pass. Brandon Became only one out of 16 people certified that year under the Thai kick boxing master, Chai Sirisute. His commitment to his training paid off when a burglar broke into Brandon's house in Echo Park in late 1990. Brandon's martial artist’s instinct set in.

The burglar in question not only did not escape, but Brandon managed to break several limbs of the burglars.

After the burglar got out of the hospital he was sentenced to 2 years in Jail for breaking and entering. The story of the burglar became legendary, with Brandon bragging about the successful fight for several years.

Brandon had also reached new heights in his confidence towards himself and his own martial arts abilities. He began to take an interest in how fight scenes worked.

He studied his father's films and those of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, as well as other Hong Kong films and martial artists.

He broke the scene down to see what fights worked. Setting his mind on future roles he took his video camera down to the Academy and filmed how people moved naturally.

 It was his hope to portray more realistic fights on screen. Brandon's friend Chad Stahelski, who frequently trained with Brandon remembers Brandon's drive, "He'd have this idea of martial arts, what was cool and how to shoot it."

Often Brandon asked his academy friends to meet him at the Inosanto Academy of a Sunday, when it was closed to film mock fight scenes.

 In preparation for Rapid Fire, Brandon wanted to construct realistic fighting in a fantasy scenario.

For the first time in his young life, he was starting to finally being making strides in martial arts on his own, away from the label of being Bruce Lee’s son.

There had been a lot of changes in his life. 1990 served as the year Brandon would meet the love of his life, Eliza “ Lisa” Hutton.

The perceived shy and reserved brunette impressed Brandon at their first meeting.

 It soon became apparent that the couple were very much in love. Eliza was action director Renny Harlin's Personal assistant.

Harlin and Brandon shared the same agent, David Goldman at the William Morris Agency at the time.

After Brandon met Eliza he told his own manager/friend Jan Mc Cormack that he had found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.

The pair became inseparable. Note: For more on Brandon and Eliza please visit our page on this aspect of his life.

In early 1991, Brandon won the supporting role in Showdown in Little Tokyo (SILT). At the time Brandon had been working with Producer Robert Lawrence on getting Rapid fire off the ground.

He had been active on the audition circuit when SILT fell in his lap. It became his American feature film debut. After the completion of SILT, Brandon started filming Rapid fire (Originally called "Moving Target").

He was finally getting the chance to star in his own lead role and he was ready for this. In preparation, Lee had enlisted the help of a personal trainer to tone his body and make him look right for the part of an athletic college student. He met Darryl Chan on the set of SILT, where Chan was hired as a stuntman.

On the first day of shooting Lee had approached Chan and told him that he would be the first person he would be killing on screen, Chan replied that he was "honored” such a role.

Brandon observed Chan around the set, and quickly noticed how his biceps would not contract, assuming that Chan was not contracting his muscles on purpose, in order to make them look bigger, he finally got tired of staring at them, went towards Chan and grabbed arms and blurted out "Jesus you cant be holding them in that long".

After that, Brandon and Darryl talked. Brandon confided in Chan that he was searching for a good personal trainer, and after the film wrapped, Chan gave Lee his card, Lee was impressed that Chan was certified in sports medicine, after that the two exchanged phone numbers and started training.

Between doing promotion for SILT, and getting ready for Rapid fire, Brandon trained at Darryl's gym in what limited time they had.

Six days a week, he worked on his biceps, triceps, quads, and though at times they were large gaps in between their sessions, Brandon did achieve what he set out to do.

If you watch SILT, and then Rapid Fire, you will notice how much more toned Lee is in the latter.

Rapid Fire started filming in the summer of 1991. Its location was mainly in Los Angeles, but also filmed a much difficult scene on the Chicago train tracks.

Brandon had worked long and hard in pre production to not only look the part, but also to prove that he was up to what acting the script called for.

He worked closely with the scriptwriter, Alan Mc Elroy to ensure that his character was one the audience would sympathize with.

With Jeff Imada as the stunt coordinator for the film, Brandon had all round confidence in not only his acting, but his martial arts abilities as well.

 The experience arranging his own fight scenes was an enjoyable once, so much so that Brandon later said that he would never do another action film with him not arranging his own fight scenes.

He felt that this project was going to be a stepping-stone to a great start in a long career.

In addition to Jeff, Brandon hired his young sister, Shannon to work as his assistant on the film. Shannon had just graduated from her voice degree in New Orleans and enjoyed watching her big brother at this important stage in his career.

Shannon later revealed she really loved the experience, but commented that it was probably a good thing that she was related to Brandon, as he joked that he wished that he could “call her up at 3am and ask her to bring a six pack down to set”.

However, he felt that he couldn't do that because she was his baby sister. During Rapid Fire's filming Brandon learned about suffering for his art.

In a scene, he kicked against a much stronger padded door and broke several bones in one of his feet. The accident caused him to take 1 month off production on bed rest.

After filming the film, Lee prepared himself for heavy promotion. He was made more appealing after he signed to film deals with both Carolco and 20-century Fox Studios. Lee was enjoying the spotlight. Finally he was having his moment in the sun, and one that he had worked so long and hard to obtain. In Interviews, there were always the questions about Bruce, which Brandon tolerated.

Brandon was very polite at shifting the focus off negative aspects like his Father's death on to more positive ones like his own career and his movie at hand.

Brandon understood that the public were interested in knowing about Bruce's son. His charm and wit won over even the most cynical journalist. He was living proof that sheer determination and natural talent can accomplish and overcome any obstacle life may deal you. Brandon lee was his own little American dream.

Enter the Crow...

It was the summer of 1992, when Brandon first read the Crow script.

After only reading half the script, he told his manager that, "you just have to get me this part." Through his talent Agency William Morris, Lee was introduced to producer Jeff Most and executive producer Edward R Pressman. Several meetings later he was given the part.

Contary to popular belief, no other actor was offered a deal. Lee was eager to prove to critics and film producers that there was so much more to him then just his surname.

Brandon felt that he could finally bring a deep sense of emotional maturity in his work, that would promise to give him the opportunity to express his versatility as an actor, much more than what he had up till then.

Brandon was on the promotional tour for Rapid Fire in Europe in late 1992, where he discussed his new upcoming role in The Crow, “ My next role is called ‘The Crow’. In it I play a musician who is murdered and returns to avenge the murders.

I am looking forward to the role a lot”. The role promised Brandon the opportunity to branch out of the limitations of straight martial arts features, whilst

The story of two soul mates love being the power to bring justice in the world help finally legalize things with him and his own soul mate, Eliza. Whilst on the tour, Brandon proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Eliza on a trip to Venice, Italy.

After returning home to the United States, Brandon, and Eliza threw a cocktail party for their family and friends.

They took this opportunity to announce their engagement. At last, it seemed every dream of happiness was coming true for Brandon.

Say goodbye to Hollywood…

In late January 1993, Brandon arrived in Wilmington, North Carolina with Eliza by his side.

The principle photography began the day of his 28th birthday, February 1st, 1993. Everyone on the set was enthusiastic watching Lee as the painted face un-dead rocker, Eric Draven.

Brandon had done sufficient research into his character, though Eric Draven was obviously fiction. He even packed himself with bags of ice in order to prepare.

This was in order to determine how his character would walk, when he came back from the dead.

Producers of The Crow were furious with the actor because if this incident. Brandon said in an interview before his death, that he got into argument with one of the producers over his research techniques, but was totally unapologetic for how he method acted.

It was not long into production when frequent on-set accidents started to happen. First, a carpenter was badly burned in a set fire, then a freak storm destroyed one the back lots. There were rumors some crew had resorted to taking cocaine to deal with the long hours required on set, but has never been supported by any kind of factual evidence or statements.

Brandon, ever the humanitarian, became concerned with the safety of his and his co-stars, and even put in a formal complaint via his Manager Jan McCormack, just days before his death.

He had told Jan that for was barely getting any sleep, and that conditions on the set had become ' sub-human.' When McCormack put in a complaint, the response from Bob Rosen was less then helpful.

Rosen said in no unspoken terms that the production had to finish at all cost, and he did not care what it cost as long as it was not money. Jan Mc Cormack's fired back at Rosen, not knowing how poignant her words would later become, saying, " I don't care about your damn movie Bob.

You guys are killing Brandon down there". Brandon's complaint was ignored and safety conditions did not improve. Four days later Brandon was dead.

The weeks leading up until Brandon’s death were stressful indeed. Brandon, himself started to suffer from chronic insomnia, and was by all accounts counting the days until he was back home in California.

However, not even poor working condition was going to hamper his happiness to finally marrying the love of his life, and the person he credited for changing his life for the better - Eliza.

He was intensely excited about his upcoming marriage to Eliza, slated for April 17th, 1993, and the event was his chief motivation to get the film finished.

His thoughts were constantly on his new role as husband to Eliza, and boasted to any crew member or visitor to the set how much he was in love with Eliza

He proudly would tell journalists visiting the set of his next project, commenting to A Magazine Editor, Jeff Yang when asked what his next role was, that “It starts production April 17th, it's all been cast, and is going to go on for about 50 years – I am getting married”.

His beloved fiancée, Eliza Hutton was on set for much of the production, but returned to LA just days before his death, in order to make the final preparations for their wedding in Mexico.

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