Brandon Lee did not give up on inheriting his father’s great legacy, the king of kung-fu neighborhood movies, but he wanted his name to have a meaning of its own without needing the dimension “the son of Bruce Lee”. He got it with ‘The Raven’ (1994). After wandering through countless action productions where his lineage was the main claim and having trained in the martial arts to honor the legend he carried on, the neo-gothic fantasy directed by Alex Proyas was markedly different from anything he had done before. In it he found the leeway to shine as his charismatic and dark anti-hero, a rocker named Eric Draven who returns from the grave seeking revenge, a year after a gang killed him and his girlfriend as they were about to get married.
“I don’t know if I was meant for this role, but I feel very lucky to do it,” told in his last interview. It was the film that was going to make him a full-fledged star, but he was not going to enjoy his success: On March 31, 1993, 30 years ago now, one of the most notorious work accidents in the history of the film industry took place, when, during the filming of an action scene, the remains of a real bullet (the lead tip, without gunpowder) that remained in a pistol loaded with blanks impacted on Lee’s abdomen. Despite the efforts of the doctors, the actor lost his life hours later and the news went around the world. Also the conspiracy theories about a curse or about the involvement, never proven, of the mafia or a sect that he sought to protect the secrets of martial arts, as was said with his father or would be said many years later with David Carradine.
Had 28 years old, four less than the age of his father also dying prematurely. Like Bruce Lee was left without knowing the great reception to ‘Operation Dragon’ (1973) dying six days before the premiere (according to research by Spanish scientists published last year, from drinking too much water), Brandon Lee didn’t live to hear the praise for his work on ‘The Raven,’ either.
Like the character he played, Lee was about to get married. On April 17, just two and a half weeks after the event, planned to marry his fiancée Eliza Hutton, as it was expected that the filming of ‘The Raven’ would have been completed by then. Despite the fact that Paramount canceled the project (they feared that the film’s content, so directly related to the theme of death, would be in poor taste), Hutton supported director Alex Proyas to try to complete the film in homage to his leading man, and eventually Miramax bought the distribution rights. and made the budgetary injection required for the special effects that would allow the part of the deceased to be covered. Lee’s friend and then-stuntman Chad Stahelski, now popular as the director of the ‘John Wick’ saga, doubled for him. Far from being exclusively marked by tragedy, the film transcended and had a substantial influence on contemporary cinema. And with her, her central figure.
Trained as a child by his father, Brandon Lee amassed extensive training in various types of martial arts, not with a view to competing in championships, but out of the knowledge that he would need those skills for his film work, destiny that assumed from very soon. Despite the inescapable shadow of the greatest action movie icon of all time, the young Lee soon achieved some notoriety: he made a couple of productions linked to the ‘Kung Fu’ series, but, above all, he met expectations with his first purely fighting movies. The Hong Kong action film titled in Spain, with not a little impudence, ‘Brandon Lee: The Legend Continues’ (1986) quickly put him on the map, with a pass at the Cannes Film Festival from which he came out with good reviews and unanimous acclaim to his physical abilities.
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Yes ok recalling in interviews the superiority in the depiction of combat in Hong Kong cinema and his desire to transfer that forcefulness (and respect for the movements) to his productions, Lee followed the expected path and began to count on action hero roles in the United States. Apart from ‘Misión Láser’ (1989) and ‘Rapid Fire’ (1992), his most popular and most remembered interpretation of him in this sense was that of ‘Little Tokyo: Frontal Attack’ (1991), a buddy movie starring Dolph Lundgren, the Scandinavian mercenary, where Lee gave free rein to his comic vision in the role of the tough cop’s funny partner, in a register that could be reminiscent of Kato, his father’s character in the series ‘The Green Hornet’ (1966-67).
In addition to the chemistry with her partner, the stupendous choreographies raised the whole of a title that was pure eighties hangover —is by the same author of ‘Commando’, Schwarzenegger’s insane film from 1985, and it shows— and which had a much longer run than it would have enjoyed without that essential added value. A film with a plot that is difficult to take seriously (a yakuza murders the parents of a child, the child stands up and defeats him in a saber fight, the yakuza flees and, as an adult, the child is Dolph Lundgren in search of revenge), but with highly serious tollinas.
In full consolidation, Lee had contracts with Fox to star in more action films and also with Paramount to appear in the sequels that, it was hoped, could arise from ‘The Raven’. In order to stand out and have its own acting entity, He refused to play his father in ‘Dragon: The Life of Bruce Lee’ (1994), which he did not see. It was rumored that the interpreter was also on the shortlist to also lead the cast of the adaptation of ‘Mortal Kombat’ (1995) or even ‘Matrix’ (1999). Stan Lee, for his part, wanted Brandon Lee to be the film incarnation of the Marvel character Shang-Chi, that he would not finally have his own movie until 2021, due to Hollywood’s little faith in non-Caucasian stars.
“It does not rain eternally”
The incident on the set of ‘El cuervo’ was followed by a process that was finally resolved out of court. Brandon Lee’s mother sued everyone involved, including the hapless actor Michael Massee, whose character pulled the trigger in the dire scene. Although the responsibility of supervising the contents of the different weapons obviously did not fall on him, Massee was traumatized, retired for a time from the cinema and, until his death in 2016, maintained in interviews that he had never been able to see ‘The Raven’. Although the urban legend spread that the film contained the moment of the actual shooting of Lee, obviously the recording (which, apart, the authorities immediately requested) it was not included in the assembly.
The most prominent consequence was the establishment of much stricter security protocols in the industry; among others, the prohibition of pointing a gun directly at another person to instead simulate it through camera angles. Nevertheless, Lee’s death returned to the present day in 2021 when, on the set of the still unfinished ‘Rust’, the actor and producer Alec Baldwin, formally accused of involuntary manslaughter, shot the cinematographer Halyna Hutchins with a pistol that he believed to be blank. Eliza Hutton, who did not give statements after what happened in ‘The Raven’, broke her silence as a result In an interview in People magazine: “28 years ago, I was broken by the shock and grief of losing the love of my life, Brandon Lee, senselessly. Now my heart aches again for the husband and son of Halyna Hutchins, and for all who are having to face this preventable tragedy. I ask those in positions of power to consider alternatives to real guns on set.”
The movie ‘El cuervo’, iconic for its aesthetics, atmosphere, soundtrack and careful action sequences, also set a precedent in the way of approaching the death of a protagonist and save the project. ‘The Imaginary of Doctor Parnassus’ (2009), with Heath Ledger, went ahead with a plot change that made his character change his appearance in certain scenes; ‘Fast & Furious 7’ (2015) overcame the loss of Paul Walker by recycling unused footage from other films and counting on his brothers as doubles; ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part II’ (2015) or ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ (2019) digitized the faces of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Carrie Fischer, respectively.
With a very short career, Brandon Lee demonstrated talent and commitment to both his father’s name and his own: he left behind a handful of minutes of personal good deeds and a range of records more than respectable, even from the role of villain, which he represented in the series ‘Ohara’ (1988). His work, especially in “The Raven,” continues to be seen and important 30 years after his death. Buried in the Seattle Cemetery next to Bruce Lee, On Brandon Lee’s tombstone is a quote from a book the actor had selected for invitations to his never-celebrated wedding: “Since we don’t know when we will die, we see life as a bottomless pit. But everything happens only a certain number of times. How many more times will you see the full moon? Maybe twenty. And yet, everything seems inexhaustible…”.