How Bruce Lee Got His First Big Break 45 Years Ago This Month

When Bruce Lee first entered cinema in 1971 via the Hong Kong martial arts action film “The Big Boss”, he immediately took the film industry by storm.

Forty-five years ago, South China Morning Post dubbed his entry to the local movie scene as “the biggest thing to hit the Mandarin film business since the invention of fake blood,” noting how quickly it became poised to dominate the local box office.

“Every cinema showing this film is packed to the fire exits,” the article said, while praising the first time actor for being talented enough to carry a convincing performance.

The film would later surpass the previous record set by the Hollywood classic “The Sound of Music” in 1965 by raking in $2.7 million within a week and eventually become the highest-grossing film in Hong Kong which remained unsurpassed until Lee’s second film, “Fist of Fury”. 

Lee, whose performance made him an instant sensation, explained how he got started doing movies via an interview with SCMP:

“After I left the University of Washington in Seattle where I was study­ing – are you ready for this? – philosophy, I planned to open a whole bunch of schools, teaching martial arts.

“I started off in basements and parking lots and places like that, and then eventually I started teaching actors. I used to make very good bread doing that, man,” he said, noting that Steve McQueen was one of his students.

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“Just about that time I discovered I didn’t really want to teach self-defence for the rest of my life, I went to the Long Beach International Karate Tournament and got myself discovered by Hollywood,” he narrated, signaling a shift in his career in 1964.

His first foray into show-business however, was momentarily halted when a film, where he was signed up to play the Number One son of Charlie Chan, was never made.

“I got into the Batman series, and finally did a season playing Kato in The Green Hornet. You know why I got that Green Hornet job? Because the hero’s name was Britt Reid, and I was the only Chinese guy in all of California who could pronounce Britt Reid, that’s why,” he shared.

Bruce Lee’s portrayal of Kato was even credited for helping the Green Hornet to become more well known, at the same time making martial arts more popular in the United States in the 1960s.

Lee’s colorful film career, however, would later come to an abrupt end when he died in Hong Kong on July 20, 1973 at the age of 32.

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