Bruce Lee: Real? Fake? Whatever: I believe

I am no great fan of 1970s Chinese martial arts films but sometimes you have to see it to believe it.  I don’t even know the provenance of these videos, though one is a Nokia ad for the China market — the ‘making of’ for this would be something to see in its own right — and the other is labeled “Bruce Lee ping pong, part two” though there is no ping pong played in it.  No matter: they must be watched.

The first one (above) has Bruce Lee playing table tennis with nunchucks and is presumably a masterful piece of editing incorporating an old Bruce Lee martial arts film because he died many years before this Nokia phone was introduced. Maybe, in fact, that is not Bruce Lee at all. It is to be commended all the same. If you really want to know how that video was done, I’ll include an explanation at the bottom of this post but, honestly, it is much cooler not to know.

In any case, it is the video below that caused me to marvel.  In it, Bruce Lee has taped a small friction board onto the end of his nunchucks and then uses it to light a match held in a man’s mouth.  OK, you think, that’s impressive: but then he starts to flick the matches out of the air and you can see their flames arcing through the dark room.  To the literary minded, it recalls the climactic scene in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet in which Narouz stands on his balcony with a whip lashing bats as they dart around the evening sky.  But that was fiction.

Are you sure you want to know how they did that Bruce Lee ping pong video? This is your last chance. OK, if you watch the video below it will seem, at first, like it’s just one of those crazy Japanese TV shows that Lost in Translation made famous but it reveals how the Bruce Lee video was done — along with some editing, of course, to get “Bruce Lee” in there. Once you’ve watched this one, go back and watch the Nokia ad and you’ll see that the retouching of the guy wielding the ball-on-a-wand is pretty obvious, actually, though they distracted you by adding in some other smudges in the background.

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Update Oct 2013: This is a strange post: it gets a lot of traffic but I delete many of the comments because they’re by people calling me an idiot for thinking that is really Bruce Lee in the Nokia ad.

It is not Bruce Lee. It is not even vintage footage of Bruce Lee — I am being a good sport up there by allowing that possibility because it is a fun ad and I thought it was so obviously not Bruce Lee it did not need articulating. Also, no, the actor paid to look like Bruce Lee is not hitting a ping pong ball or lighting matches with nunchucks.

The question, though, is how it was done. The commenters all point to two sources. One is a Snopes article that says: “The video employed a Bruce Lee look-alike actor pretending to play ping-pong against an opponent, their movements sychronized to the sounds of a genuine table tennis match, with the final audio and the visual image of the ball being added to the clip in post-production.” I am a big fan of Snopes but they document this explanation with a long excerpt from an interview — this is the commenters’ source #2 — with Polly Chu, the Chief Creative Officer at JWT Beijing, who made the ad. This interview, even on its source page, reveals nothing at all about how the ad was shot or what was done in post-production. So, it appears, Snopes is speculating when it says the visual image of the ball was added in post, extrapolating from the fact that an actor was hired to stand in for Bruce Lee.

I am also speculating: I think that if you track the way the ball moves across the table it resembles closely the ball-on-a-wand trajectories in that Japanese video above; add to that the discernible presence of a recurring dark spot where the wand operator would be standing and I think it is a more compelling explanation for how this video was likely made than the notion that it is two people in a dark room swinging at the air. I could be wrong. So could the commenters. So, in this rare instance, could Snopes.

But here is the real point: have some fun with this. It is a cool ad. Does it really matter how it was done?
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3 Responses to “Bruce Lee: Real? Fake? Whatever: I believe”

  1. atlantis says:

    fake or real who cares hes still a legend

  2. C Watts says:

    They explained how the Nokia add was done. There is no ping pong ball, it was added in post production and the guy is a look alike who didn’t even have anything in his hands. So before you speculate on how something is done, maybe have a little look into it. Polly Chu from J. Walter Thompson created the clip to be a viral ad.

  3. Roy G Biv says:

    Sean Rocha WRITER + PHOTOGRAPHER (but not a researcher…)

    Ok, that’s a bit harsh as I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say you made this blog post before the snopes story at http://www.snopes.com/photos/advertisements/pingpong.asp and the agency.asia interview at http://agency.asia/issue-02/126-inter%C2%ADviews/237-jwt-beijing.html was made.

    Still you should update it to show you’re not an idiot because this blog post makes you look like one as it was not made the way you stated.

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