The kung-fu master Bruce Lee did not like the idea of “crystallisation” – by which he meant entrenching stereotypes. Hence he gave his own martial art style an unconventional name: Jeet Kune Do, or the “the way of the intercepting fist”. Prizing a mix of styles, the essence of this philosophy was “interception” – from obstructing the moves of an attacker through to pre-empting the negative situations in everyday life.
Shannon Lee, the daughter of the martial arts master, has heeded her father’s advice. And one thing that she’s been trying to intercept is exploitation of her late father’s image. On December 26 she filed a lawsuit against Guangzhou-based Kungfu Catering Management, alleging that it has been using him as a trademark without permission for 15 years, and demanding Rmb210 million ($30 million) in compensation.
Kungfu Catering runs a fast-food chain called Real Kungfu with 600 outlets across the country. Its logo features a black-haired man in a yellow jumpsuit with black stripes, looking poised to fight and reminiscent of a martial arts pose made famous by Bruce Lee in his unfinished movie Game of Death.
Bosses at the firm said they were shocked to receive the legal complaint after adopting the image for so many years, adding that it had obtained authorisation for both its trademark and its logo from the government.
Founded in 1994, the eatery started deploying the said image in 2004 in a rebranding exercise. It took its cues from foreign rivals KFC and McDonald’s, which both enhance their brands with distinctive figures (Colonel Sanders and Ronald McDonald respectively), according to Logonews.
Another of Lee’s ‘interceptions’ took place in October, when she was successful in delaying the release of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in China by lodging a complaint with the national film authority. In an interview with The Wrap, she explained that the Quentin Tarantino movie had unfairly portrayed her father as an “arrogant asshole who was full of hot air”, highlighting the scene where Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh) picks a fight against a fellow stuntman (played by Brad Pitt) on the Green Hornet set.
In the film he also makes a disapproving dig at legendary boxer Muhammad Ali – behaviour that she says is at odds with the true character of her father.
Tarantino refused to remove the scenes upon Shannon’s request, thinking that she had missed the point in taking a satire too literally. He also defended the tone of the scene by citing the biography of Bruce Lee’s wife, Linda. “I didn’t just make a lot of that up,” he argued.
Shannon Lee protects her father’s heritage through an entity called Bruce Lee Enterprises. “I started looking after my father’s legacy at the end of 2000, but the business was truly launched in 2011 when I was able to regain full control of my father’s name and image,” Lee says on the enterprise’s official website.
Much of the original rights were recovered from Universal Pictures, which produced Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, a biopic released in 1993, according to Los Angeles Magazine. Bruce Lee Enterprises now inks licencing arrangements for a range of commercial deals related to the kung-fu star’s image, including soda drinks in the US, earning millions of dollars in revenue every year.
Whether it can enjoy similar financial success in China too may depend on how its legal action against Real Kungfu is resolved.
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