As part of the Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month collection, X1 Asian American Film & TV will highlight various Game Changers, influential Asian Americans across entertainment.
The following interview is with Shannon Lee, the CEO of Bruce Lee Enterprises. She is the daughter of late martial arts film star Bruce Lee and retired martial arts teacher Linda Lee Cadwell, the granddaughter of Cantonese opera singer Lee Hoi-Chuen, and the younger sister of Brandon Lee. She is an executive producer of Cinemax’s “Warrior,” which is based on her father’s writings.
Congratulations on “Warrior”! Can you give some insight on how it all came together?
Shannon Lee: Thank you! The story of a treatment written by my father that had never been made was part of the Bruce Lee lore for decades, and so Justin Lin, having heard the story, called me up one day to tell me he’d heard this story and ask me if it was true. I told him that it was true and that I had the treatment my father had written. So we got together and I showed him the treatment along with a number of notes and drafts, and he said, “We should make this the way your father envisioned it!” We started talking about it and Justin was not only a great collaborator, but also he wanted to really do right by my father’s legacy and said that if we couldn’t make this show the right way, then we shouldn’t make it at all. He really wanted to create something that we could all be proud of – my father included!
Why do you think your father’s legacy is perhaps stronger than ever?
SL: My father was way ahead of his time in so many ways. He was an innovator in martial arts, action filmmaking, on screen representation, personal growth and consciousness. His fights for personal freedom, representation, self-actualization, realism, self-expression are all things that are relevant topics right now and also universal concepts that speak to the human condition. I think he represents an interesting mixture of someone who was exciting and super cool, while at the same time (to use a popular term) woke. We’re kind of all just catching up to him now. And his energy is still very much alive. You still feel it and get inspired by it when you see him move or speak. The way he lived his life was impactful and meaningful and whoever discovers it is moved by it.
What are your favorite films and/or filmmakers who have inspired you?
SL: I have been inspired by many films. I love films that play with reality a bit and films that make you feel and think. My favorite films cut across a wide gambit of genres – from action to sci-fi to musicals and drama. I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and I’m Bruce Lee’s daughter, so my first loves are things like “Enter the Dragon” (of course), “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Indiana Jones,” “Star Trek,” “The Terminator.” The early Spielberg films are all first loves, as are “West Side Story” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” I’m a bit all over the place! I’m a big fan of Justin’s, especially after having worked with him. He has a certain magic for combining amazingly entertaining action with great story and heartfelt characters, which is a real talent. And I love the way his mind works. I’m a Christopher Nolan fan too. Ang Lee kind of goes without saying, right? And I love Hayao Miyazaki.
How does your Asian heritage influence your work?
SL: My Asian heritage influences all my work because it is part of me, and I am my work. Of course, in all that I do for my father, who he was and what he loved, this is front and center. There’s not going to be a Bruce Lee project that doesn’t have Asian characteristics, whether that’s in casting, storytelling, martial arts action, etc. And my father’s philosophies are steeped in Taoist principles. And while who I am at my core, at my essential center, is more about who we all are as human beings and ultimately as energy and stardust, this current manifestation of me is born in part of Chinese blood and a great Chinese ancestry that is inextricably tied to how I show up in the world. Along with all the other parts of myself, it’s what makes me and informs what I do and create.
What is your outlook on the state of Asian Pacific American film and TV?
SL: I think we are in a moment of greater possibility. There is still a ways to go to get to a place of more openness toward representation behind and in front of the camera, but we are seeing a shift in acceptance by the people in power. I think there are plenty of audiences for Asian stories of all types, multi-faceted Asian characters, and Asian voices and influence at all levels, but there hasn’t been enough impetus on the part of the people in control to be open to moving firmly and consistently in that direction, let alone getting to a place of colorblind casting and hiring wherever possible. But we are starting to see a shift. And with every project and every success, I believe we will start to see power align with the people more and more.
As the head of Bruce Lee Enterprises, can you give us a sneak peek of any other future projects?
SL: Well, I have written a book due out beginning of next year, about my father’s philosophy and how to use it in your life, tentatively titled “Be Water, My Friend.” I’m really excited to share that with the world. On the production side, we have many things in development. Justin and I are working on a new collaboration (yay), and I have a couple of biographical projects I’m working on focusing on different spans of time in my father’s life. We are working on an all-new format for the Bruce Lee Podcast as well as launching our summer programs for Camp Bruce Lee in Seattle and LA.
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