Top 5 Film Portrayals of Bruce Lee

For some reason, despite a trove of history and material to choose from, not as many Bruce Lee biopics exist as you would think there would be. Though a few films try to tell his sprawling and inspiring story, the process of finding Bruce Lee actors to match the moves and skills of the mutli-hyphenate martial artist is easier said than done. However, some Bruce Lee clones out there might make you check your eyesight after you see them in a film, even if not all of them portrayed the master of the one inch punch in the ways you may think. The best Bruce Lee portrayals find something interesting about the man who they’re putting on screen and milk that for all it’s worth.

Some actors go for the heart and hi-YAH's of Lee, while others go completely left field with the entire situation and take the audience on an entertaining if not entirely accurate portrayal of the Dragon. A multi-faceted man both on and off screen, Lee gives these actors much to work with in terms of personality, but his magnetic charisma and charm appear to be traits that are his alone. That being said, some actors attempted to channel it in their own way, to varying degrees of success. And if you're a fan, check out our list of Bruce Lee's best movies.

Photo: Groundswell Productions, BH Tilt, WWE Studios

  • Birth of the Dragon
    Photo: Birth of the Dragon/BH Tilt &WWE Studios

    Not only does Philip Ng look exactly like Lee, his moves recall the late Jeet Kune Do master in a way that makes Birth of the Dragon look like historical footage. Ng, who dazzled audiences with his work in Once Upon a Time in Shanghai, appears tailor made to play the Dragon, if for no other reason than his background in martial arts since age seven. When he started getting into his 20s Ng actually traveled to Hong Kong to train with Wong Shun Leung, a man who studied under Ip Man along with Lee. Is this the greatest portrayal of Lee in cinema history? It's definitely up there, within an inch you might say. 

  • Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
    Photo: Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story/Universal Pictures

    If you enthusiastically enjoyed the martial arts films of the '90s then you definitely saw Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story at least a few times. This 1993 film starring Jason Scott Lee (no relation) takes the audience on a quick jaunt through Lee's biography. While Dragon itself acts as a typical biopic, Jason Scott Lee still manages to bring out the inherent likability of the the Jeet Kun Do master even if he doesn't actually look like him. The coolest thing about his portrayal in Dragon lies in the way he portrays Bruce's dedication to his family as much as martial arts.

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  • Bruce Lee, My Brother

    Bruce Lee, My Brother
    Photo: Bruce Lee, My Brother/Media Asia Distributions

    Aarif Lee's turn as the Jeet Kun Do master provides an interesting nuance to the story of the Dragon, portraying him during his days growing up in Hong Kong as a child actor who also engaged in street fighting. Not a story you often hear about the world's most famous martial artist, Bruce Lee, My Brother is told with the help of Bruce Lee's own family. While Aarif Lee doesn't look as close to his subject as Philip Ng, he definitely captured the classic sounds of Lee's fighting style, right down to the high-pitched wails that any fan of the master knows all too well. 

  • The Legend of Bruce Lee
    Photo: The Legend of Bruce Lee/CCTV-1

    Alright, so Danny Chan is definitely a human being, but he also might be a clone of Bruce Lee. Such improbable scenario appears less outlandish when you see Chan's faithful depiction of the Dragon. Unfortunately this multi-part series which aired in Hong Kong in 2008 used a low budget and feels anachronistic. However, if you set aside these important aspects of biographical storytelling, there's a 50 part series for real Dragon-heads to dig into. 

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  • No Retreat, No Surrender
    Photo: No Retreat, No Surrender/New World Pictures

    In No Retreat, No Surrender (which features Jean Claude Van Damme sporting a beautiful mullet), the ghost of Bruce Lee - played by Tai Chung Kim - appears to a young American karate student to help him train in one of the most insane montages you will ever see. Kim's montage as Lee lasts for 15 entire minutes, but how well does it stack up compared to other portrayals of the Dragon? Though Kim lacks the personality of Jason Scott Lee, you can't discount the fact that he's playing a ghost in a training montage, and something as big as death definitely does something to your personality.