Be Water Review

Be Water

When you think of the name Bruce Lee, you think of the words, icon, hero, or legend. Several decades after his death in 1973 and Bruce Lee is still fondly remembered all around the world. But Bruce Lee was a complex man with an affinity for philosophy and a fiery attitude. While there have been several Bruce Lee documentaries already, Bao Nguyen’s Be Water looks to take a more intimate and personal approach. But is Be Water able to become the one definitive Bruce Lee documentary or does it simply fall to the wayside; caught up in the shadow of other documentaries?

Be Water doesn’t quite reach the status of “the definitive Bruce Lee” documentary but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The film offers a unique and personal perspective on who Bruce Lee was and the adversity he went through to become a star. 

Be Water follows Bruce Lee’s life as told by friends, family, and collaborators who knew the man best. 

Be Water
Credit: Bruce Lee Family Archive

If you’ve seen Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story or any Bruce Lee documentary for that matter then some of the information you’ll find in Be Water may seem familiar. The film goes through a lot of information that’s widely known for those who know his history. Things such as the reason why he went sent to America from Hong Kong or his vehement love of dancing. In a sense, Be Water is a biographical documentary.

But what differentiates Be Water from all the other documentaries is that this film offers such an intimate view of Bruce Lee as told by film historians/critics and those closest to him. Film historians/critics give the film a cultural perspective and provide history about the films that Bruce Lee starred in. Of course, friends and family share personal details about the man himself.

The film isn’t just a biography of Bruce Lee either. To fully understand Bruce Lee’s plight to become a superstar, Be Water also tackles America’s history of racism towards Asians. Be Water isn’t shy about exposing the blatant racism towards Asians either. With everything that’s been going on with the tragic death of George Floyd and all of the protests, the film’s highlight of racism towards Asians bears a sad resemblance to what’s going on nowadays. It must be said though that the film also reveals that the treatment of Asians is FAR kinder than those of black people—another tidbit that the film exposes as well.

What also differentiates this film from others is that this isn’t the kind of documentary where you’ll see a talking head. The interviews are done in a voiceover style. So you’ll never see who’s speaking until the very end. This can get a bit confusing if you’re not paying attention. If you miss the speaker card that pops up, you might confuse yourself as to who’s speaking.

Be Water
Credit: Bruce Lee Family Archive

It does happen quite a bit because what you see on the screen is so captivating. The absence of talking heads allows for an outright focus on the intimate home video footage and photos of Bruce Lee. This includes some seemingly never before seen home video of his funeral in both Hong Kong and Seattle.

If you’ve seen any of ESPN’s other 30 For 30 documentaries then you’ll recognize that Be Water follows a similar editing style and format. The way that the photos and private footage are displayed is done in a very modern and stylish way. This allows the filmmakers to show you everything in a kinetic and seamless way.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t bring to light some of the more complex and honest layers of Bruce Lee similar to what The Last Dance did with Michael Jordan. It does highlight some of the darker moments of Bruce’s life such His fiery personality to the negativities of fame—but only slightly. Be Water primarily focuses on fully fleshing out his story.

Overall, Be Water is a fantastic documentary that gives fans an intimate look at Bruce Lee’s journey to superstardom. The film might not set itself apart from other Bruce Lee documentaries and that’s okay. Bruce Lee is a highly complex individual. You can create a documentary about his philosophies or his life in America when he arrived from Hong Kong. There’s won’t be a definitive way to tell his story. You’ll just have to watch them all to fully grasp who he is, and I’d start with Be Water.

Be Water airs Sunday, June 7, 9 PM ET/6 PM PT on ESPN.

Rating: 4/5 atoms

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Mark Pacis
Mark Pacis 1598 posts

Self-proclaimed "Human IMDb" and comic book geek. Biggest Iron Man fan you'll probably ever meet.