The other day I came across this Bruce Lee quote , the “Be water my friend ,Be formless” .That got me thinking about the man, and the legend that he became while alive and even more long after his death. More than any other individual, he has been responsible for the spread of Martial Arts into the mass conscious of the world. He has been immortalized in video games, where characters have been created in his likeness, and he is constantly referenced in movies till this date. Many people tried to imitate him, coming up with names like Bruce Lai, and the like, copying his look, hairstyle, dress sense and fighting style , but none of them could ever be like the original, who after 40+ years after his untimely death at age 32 is still fondly remembered.
Shortly after the legend passed away, there was a young rising star, who co-starred in a bit part with Bruce, where he put up a good fight but promptly got a can of whoop ass opened on him. This young star was one of those dreaming of being the next martial arts legend, to fill the void that the departed legend had abruptly left. Unlike many others , who cut their hair like Bruce and tried to be his replacement, this young star decided he didn’t want to be the next Bruce Lee, but the first him. He was already trained in the martial arts, dance and acting, all benefit of the Peking Opera school where he met future collaborators Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung.
He was a huge fan of the silent movies from America, the comedic works of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and The Three Stooges. Takes those great inspirations, he fused them with his martial arts training creating something that had never been seen before, Martial arts movies with a comedic edge.
He’s gone on to become one of the biggest stars out of Hong Kong and maybe even bigger than Bruce ever was. As a writer/director/producer and stunt co coordinator he gave us great movies like; My Lucky Stars, Dragons Forever, Armour of God and many more films that captivated fans, not only for their extraordinary martial arts feats, but their rib cracking characters, stories and hilarious characters. That young man was Jackie Chan. He made a successful American crossover with Rumble in the Bronx and went on to make Shanghai Noon and it’s sequel and the Rush Hour movies.
Jackie refused to me a duplicate or be a copy of anyone else. He chose not to be the next Bruce Lee but the first Jackie Chan and today not only is he a beloved global movie star,According to his bio page on IMDB, Off screen he has been directly involved in many philanthropic ventures providing financial assistance to schools and universities around the world. He is a UNICEF GoodWill Ambassador, and he has campaigned against animal abuse and pollution and assisted with disaster relief efforts to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami victims.He refused to live in or be the shadow to anyone and the world of entertainment is much better for that choice.
In the early 90’s there was a video store clerk who is the very definition of the word Cinephile . If there was a thing like mainlining on cinema this clerk was definitely doing that. He lived , breathed and talked Cinema. He wanted to star in such movies and become an actor, He got bit parts here and there but nothing of significance to take him out of his day job. So he decided to write scripts. With a few screenwriting classes and his encyclopaedic knowledge of movies from the works of; John Ford, Howard Hawks, Jean Luc Goddard, Ringo Lam, Martin Scorsese, John Woo, Brain De Palma, Sergio Leone he started to craft scripts and he soon was able to sell one of them. It was an amazing script, and it was directed by a young Oliver Stone, the next script was directed by another director who had made his name making Tom Cruise a household name. Rumour has it that he wasn’t completely satisfied with how his scripts were brought to life, despite the fact that they were well received by the fans.
With his success as a screenwriter he also did some un-credited work as a script doctor in some major films, but inside he had the burning desire to become a Director of his own creations, and with that in mind he wrote a heist movie with a difference. Reservoir Dogs went on to become one of the most talked about films of the decade, and its director Quentin Tarantino would go on to become one of the best known and most anticipated director of the decade. After the release of Reservoir Dogs many aspiring film makers would try to replicate but would fall flat on their faces, many tried to copy his unique dialogue but no ever successfully duplicate
Duplication is often a strong temptation in the creative arts. Someone does a brilliant heist movie that is not only commercially successful but critically acclaimed and soon, you see as string of copy cats that pale in comparison and are blatant attempts at replication. Such efforts are met with disdain because they have none of the appeal or charm that the original has. Like a photocopy of an original it can never be like the original, and with a copy of the copy it degrades and no one would accept it. Getting inspiration from your favourite artists, whether they are screenwriters, directors, novelists, painters or graphic novelists is great. Everyone needs some sort of inspiration whether it’s a direct influence to your craft or even unrelated. But it should remain inspiration and never duplication.
My advice to young film makers is this: Don’t follow trends, start them –Frank Capra(Director -Arsenic &Old Lace, It’s a Wonderful Life)
Take what you can from them and make it your own, add your own personality, idiosyncrasies and style. Whether it be as an actor, performing artists, screenwriter or film maker bring out your own original fusion of your creative influences and left people see you as the next YOU and not the bad copy of this person or that person. Justin Timberlake is influenced by Michael Jackson but he is not trying to copy MJ. Many boxers are influenced by Muhammad Ali, but few can be him even if they tried. Chris Nolan is influenced by Stanley Kubrick, but it’s clear that Nolan is his very own man, and many are grateful for that. Like a child of a famous person that tries to use his father’s fame to dive his own, he’ll forever live in the shadow of the father’s achievement and be mocked if he doesn’t meet up with the legacy of his father.
As the Warren G and Nate Dogg song about imitators goes. “You could be closer than close, originals they never would be”. Never be a shadow to anyone, a shadow falls behind but the light is so easy to find, be true to you, cos nobody can be a better you than you can.