cover image Bruce Lee: A Life

Bruce Lee: A Life

Matthew Polly. Simon & Schuster, $35 (672p) ISBN 978-1-50118-762-9

This thorough, well-sourced biography from Polly (Tapped Out) is an engrossing examination of the life of a martial arts movie star and his shocking, early death. Lee was born in San Francisco in 1940, but his family moved to Hong Kong shortly after his birth. He started acting there as a child, and at age 16 began studying under kung fu master Ip Man. In 1959, Lee moved to Seattle in pursuit of a career acting and teaching kung fu. He landed a few roles in American television series such as The Green Hornet, but, eager for better roles, he moved back to Hong Kong, where he starred in such action movies as Fist of Fury and The Way of the Dragon. Polly describes Lee as a patron of kung fu who “sought to straddle East and West” yet routinely faced racism (relatives of his wife, Linda, refused to attend their wedding in 1964). He possessed a volatile temper, a dangerously obsessive work ethic, and a propensity for extramarital affairs. In 1973, Lee collapsed and died while dubbing dialogue for Enter the Dragon, and Polly is especially strong as he sifts through the sensational aftermath of Lee’s death, rejecting tabloid rumors that he died in an actual fight and outdated medical opinions of death by “cannabis intoxication” in favor of the more logical cause—heatstroke, given Hong Kong’s heat wave that day. In what is certainly the definitive biography of Lee, Polly wonderfully profiles the man who constructed a new, masculine Asian archetype and ushered kung fu into pop culture. (June)