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living up to bruce lees legend
Danny Chan Kwok Kuen rises to the challenge of playing Bruce Lee.

Make no mistake about it – Bruce Lee is a real legend. He was the dragon who entered the film industry in the 1970s and smashed box office records all over Asia. He was the big boss who paved the way for other martial artists like Jackie Chan and Jet Li to become stars in their own right. His were the fists of fury that founded the Jeet Kune Do style of fighting. His birth in 1940 was a study in the way of the dragon – he was born in the year and hour of the dragon; and in the end, it was while filming Game of Death that he met his own untimely death.

With a life as enigmatic and legendary as his, it is a wonder that there has only been one significant effort to tell his story – the rather insipid Hollywood production Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, which starred Jason Scott Lee (no relation).

Thankfully, China’s state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) has stepped up to the task of paying a proper tribute to Lee by producing The Legend of Bruce Lee – an epic 50-episode TV series based on Lee that fans hope will finally do justice to the life story of Asia’s most famous superstar.

And who better to play the legendary star than Danny Chan Kwok Kuen, 33, who is not only the spitting image of Lee, but catapulted to fame with an impressive showing as a Bruce Lee lookalike goalkeeper in Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer

During a telephone interview, Chan admitted that landing the role to play the real deal was a dream come true for him. “I did feel some pressure at playing the role, but I was actually more excited than worried, to tell the truth,” he said.

After making his debut in Shaolin Soccer, Chan went on to feature in other movies such as It’s a Wonderful Life, Fighting to Survive, and Vampire Hunters. His other most prominent role was in Chow’s Kungfu Hustle, in which he ironically enough played down his resemblance to Lee to give Chow a chance to emulate the legend instead.

Besides Chan, the series also stars Michelle Lang as Lee’s wife, Linda Lee Cadwell; as well as guest appearances by Mark Dacascos, Ray Park, Gary Daniels, Ernest Miller and Michael Jai White, among others.

The script was approved by Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, who is also credited as an executive producer on the show.

The series was shot over nine month in various countries, including mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, the United States, Italy and Thailand; and gives a detail account of Lee’s life – from his teenage years in Hong Kong and the US, his rise to prominence after returning to Hong Kong, and his death in 1973, at the age of 32.

While his resemblance to the adult Lee is irrefutable, Chan has been criticised for his portrayal of a high-school-aged Lee.

“Of course I look too old to be in high school, I’m over 30 after all,” he said. “But we couldn’t help it, because we could not find someone who could play Lee as a high school student, so I had to do it instead!”

In a past interview with CCTV.com, Chan also expressed confidence that the series would show viewers a different, seldom-seen side of Lee.

According to him, the television series will affect the way people think about Bruce Lee. “His movies are good to watch ... but you won’t understand what he went through, what injuries he sustained, how he faced difficulties and overcame them. This series will shed some light on all that.”

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