Brandon Lee

Brandon Bruce Lee (February 1, 1965 – March 31, 1993) was an American actor and martial artist. He was the first child of martial artist and actor Bruce Lee and teacher Linda Lee Cadwell (née Emery), the grandson of Cantonese opera singer Lee Hoi-chuen, and brother of Shannon Lee.

Brandon Lee
Native name
Brandon Bruce Lee

(1965-02-01)February 1, 1965
DiedMarch 31, 1993(1993-03-31) (aged 28)
Cause of deathAccidental gunshot wound
Burial placeLake View Cemetery, Seattle, Washington, U.S.
OccupationActor, martial artist, fight choreographer
Years active1985–1993
Partner(s)Eliza Hutton (1990–1993; his death)
FamilyShannon Lee (sister)
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese李國豪
Simplified Chinese李国豪

At the age of thirteen, five years after his father's passing, Lee studied acting and pursued martial arts. By 1986, Lee made his acting debut opposite David Carradine in ABC's television film Kung Fu: The Movie, a spin-off of the 1970s television series Kung Fu where he received second billing and starred in his first leading role in Ronny Yu's Hong Kong action film Legacy of Rage that same year.

Shortly after, he starred in the television pilot Kung Fu: The Next Generation (1987), guest starred in an episode of the television series Ohara (1988) and played the leading role in the low budget action film Laser Mission (1989). In the 1990s, he started working with major Hollywood studios and his first American film was the Warner Bros' buddy cop action film Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), directed by Mark L. Lester and co-starring Dolph Lundgren. This was followed with the leading role in Dwight H. Little's Rapid Fire (1992) produced by 20th Century Fox.

In 1992, he landed his breakthrough role as Eric Draven in Alex Proyas' The Crow, based on the comic book of the same name, which would be his final film. On March 31, 1993, only a few days away from completing the film, Lee was accidentally killed after being shot on the set of The Crow by a prop gun that fired the tip of a dummy round that was accidentally lodged in the chamber. The film was completed by re-writing the script, CGI, and stunt doubles, and released one year after Lee's death to critical and commercial success. It is now considered a cult classic.

Early life

Brandon was born on February 1, 1965 in Oakland, California, the son of martial artist and actor Bruce Lee and Linda Emery. The family moved to Los Angeles, California, when he was three months old. From a young age, Lee learned Kung-Fu from his father, who at the time was an international martial art movie star. While visiting his sets Brandon developed a desire to become an actor.[1] The family lived in Hong Kong from 1971 to 1973, after which his mother moved back to the United States following the death of his father.

He attended high school at Chadwick School, but was asked to leave for insubordination—more specifically, driving down the school's hill backward. He briefly attended Bishop Montgomery High School, located in Torrance, from 1979 to 1980.[2] He received his GED in 1983 at the age of 18, and then went to Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, where he majored in theater.

After one year, Lee moved to New York City, where he took acting lessons at the famed Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute and was part of the American New Theatre group founded by his friend John Lee Hancock. The bulk of Lee's martial arts instruction came from his father's top students, and best friends Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo.[3]


1985 to 1990: Early roles

Lee returned to Los Angeles in 1985, where he worked as a script reader. Some time after, he was asked to audition for a role by casting director Lyn Stalmaster and got his first credited acting role in Kung Fu: The Movie.[4] It was a feature-length television movie that was a follow-up to the 1970s television series Kung Fu, with David Carradine returning as the lead.[5] In the film Carradine returns to his role as Kwai Chang Caine is forced to fight his hitherto unknown son, Chung Wang (Lee).[6] It aired on ABC on February 1, 1986, which was also Lee's 21st birthday. In Kung Fu: The Movie, Lee played Chung Wang, the suspected son of Kwai Chang Caine (Carradine).[7] Lee's real-life father was originally considered to play the leading role in the Kung Fu TV series.

Lee got his first leading film role later that year in the Hong Kong action crime thriller Legacy of Rage in which he starred alongside Michael Wong, and Regina Kent. In the film Lee plays the character of Brandon Ma who is a regular young man who works two jobs to support his life with his girlfriend May (Kent) and save up to buy his dream of motorcycle. His best friend, Michael Wan (Wong), is an ambitious and murderous drug dealer who eventually blames one of his crimes on him. For which he spend time in jail and vows vengeance on Wan.[8] It also featured a cameo appearance by Bolo Yeung who appeared in his father's film Enter the Dragon. Made in Cantonese and directed by Ronny Yu, it was the only film Lee made in Hong Kong. He was also nominated for a Hong Kong Film Award for Best New Performer in this role.[9] In May of the following year, it was a critical success at the Cannes Film Festival and commercial one in Japan.[10] On the 16th of July, the film got his cinematic release in the Philippines by Pioneer Releasing, under the title of Dragon Blood.[11] The film was number one in the country for its first five days and became a local success.[12][13] At one point between its original release and the making of Lee's first lead an American Studio film the action thriller Rapid Fire (1992), producer Robert Lawrence screened Legacy of Rage and saw Lee's potential to be an action leading man in Hollywood, which led to their collaboration.[14] After Lee's passing in 1993, in the US the film was released directly to Home media in 1998 and 1999 in Australia.[15] The Hong Kong action film is described to be a stylistic, fast-paced, with a good performance by Lee.[16] While some didn't think it was up to par with its lead's final film, most of them consider it to be a good and his best genre film.[17][18][19]

In 1987, Lee starred in the unsold television pilot Kung Fu: The Next Generation. It aired on CBS Summer Playhouse, a program that specialized in rejected pilots and allowed the audience to call in to vote for a show to be picked up as a series.[20][21] It was another follow-up to the Kung Fu TV series. In this film, the story moved to the present day, and centered on the story of the grandson and the great-grandson Johnny Caine (Lee) of Kwai Chang Caine.[22] While his father uses his fighting abilities to assist people in need, Johnny Caine choose the life of crime. Once caught doing a robbery, Johnny's father takes him in custody and tries to rehabilitate him, but he is tempted to go back to his mischievous ways. The pilot was poorly received and did not win the CBS Summer Playhouse contest to be an outgoing series.[23][24]

In 1988, Lee made a guest appearance alongside Pat Morita in an episode of the American television series Ohara.[25] He played a villainous character named Kenji. This was Lee's first and only guest appearance in a television series and also the only time he played a villain.That same year the action film Laser Mission was announced.[26] Shot mostly in South Africa it was his first English-language film. It co-starred Ernest Borgnine who shot his scenes with him in Namibia.[27] The plot concerns a mercenary named Michael Gold (Lee) who is sent to convince Dr. Braun (Borgnine), a Laser specialist, to defect to the United States before the KGB acquires him and uses both his talent and a stolen diamond to create a nuclear weapon.[28][29] In the United States the film was released on home video in 1990 by Turner Home Entertainment, and was a financial success.[30][31] The film is generally panned by critics with a few finding it to be an amusing action B movie.[32][33][34][35][36]

1991 to 1993: Hollywood breakthrough

In 1991, he starred opposite Dolph Lundgren in the buddy cop action film Showdown in Little Tokyo. This marked his first studio film and American film debut. Lee signed a multi-picture deal with 20th Century Fox in 1991. In the film Lee plays Johnny Murata, a Japanese American cop who is partnered with sergeant named Kenner (Lundgren) working in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. The two are sent to infiltrate the operations of new Japanese drug gang named the Iron Claw manufacturing a lethal methamphetamine while using a local brewery and nightclub as a front for the operation.[37][38] The movie faced largely negative reviews from critics.[39][40][41][42][43] Some contemporary critics find it to be entertaining for its genre.[44][45][46]

In 1992, he had his first starring role in the action thriller Rapid Fire, directed by Dwight H. Little and co-starring Powers Boothe and Nick Mancuso. Lee plays a student who witnesses a murder and is put under a witness protection programme. Lee was reportedly in talks with 20th Century Fox about making two more sequels. Many of the fight scenes were orchestrated by Lee, which contain elements of his father Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do fighting style.[47] Most critics didn't like the film, however many of them found Lee to have a lot of charisma.[48][49][50][51][52][53] More lenient critics found Rapid Fire to be a slick, well acted, and a serviceable action film.[54][55][56]

Also that year, Lee landed the lead role in the film adaptation of Alex Proyas' The Crow based on a popular underground comic book. The film tells the story of Eric Draven (Lee), a rock musician who is revived from the dead by a supernatural crow to avenge his own death as well as the rape and murder of his fiancée by a dangerous gang in his city.[57] Lee was accidentally wounded on set during filming by defective blank ammunition and later died in the hospital during surgery. With only eight days left of production, unfinished scenes that were to feature him were dealt with using a rewritten format in the script, a stunt double, and digital special effects.[58] The film opened at number one in the United States in 1,573 theaters with $11,774,332 and averaging $7,485 per theater.[59] The film ultimately grossed $50,693,129, above its $23 million budget. It ranked at #24 for all films released in the US in 1994 and 10 for R-rated films released that year. It was the most successful film of Lee's short-lived career, and is also considered a cult classic.[60][61] The Crow met with generally favourable reviews. The critical consensus states: "Filled with style and dark, lurid energy, The Crow is an action-packed visual feast that also has a soul in the performance of the late Brandon Lee."[62][63]

2000: Posthumous

Lee made an appearance in the 2000 release of the Swedish film Sex, Lögner och Videovåld. It is a low budget horror film, that manages also to get cameos from Mel Brooks, Micke Dubois, and Christina Lindberg.[64]


On March 31, 1993, Lee was filming a scene in The Crow where his character is shot and killed by thugs.[65] In the scene, Lee's character walks into his apartment and discovers his fiancée being beaten and raped. Actor Michael Massee's character fires a Smith & Wesson Model 629 .44 Magnum revolver at Lee as he walks into the room.[66] A previous scene using the same gun had called for inert dummy cartridges (with no powder or primer) to be loaded in the revolver for a close-up scene. (For film scenes that utilize a revolver where the bullets are visible from the front and do not require the gun to actually be fired, dummy cartridges provide the realistic appearance of actual rounds.)

Instead of purchasing commercial dummy cartridges, the film's prop crew created their own by pulling the bullets from live rounds, dumping the powder charge and then reinserting the bullets. However, they unknowingly or unintentionally left the live primer in place at the rear of the cartridge. At some point during filming, the revolver was apparently discharged with one of these improperly deactivated cartridges in the chamber, setting off the primer with enough force to drive the bullet partway into the barrel, where it became stuck (a condition known as a squib load). The prop crew either failed to notice this or failed to recognize the significance of this issue.

In the fatal scene, which called for the revolver to be fired at Lee from a distance of 3.6–4.5 meters (12–15 feet), the dummy cartridges were exchanged with blank rounds, which feature a live powder charge and primer, but no bullet, thus allowing the gun to be fired without the risk of an actual projectile. However, since the bullet from the dummy round was already trapped in the barrel, this caused the .44 Magnum bullet to be fired out of the barrel with virtually the same force as if the gun had been loaded with a live round, and it struck Lee in the abdomen, mortally wounding him.[67][68] He was rushed to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he underwent six hours of surgery. Attempts to save him were unsuccessful, and Lee was pronounced dead on March 31, 1993 at 1:03 pm. EST. He was 28 years old. The shooting was ruled an accident due to negligence.[69]

Lee's body was flown to Jacksonville, North Carolina, where an autopsy was performed. He was then flown to Seattle, Washington, where he was buried next to his father at the Lake View Cemetery[70][71] in a plot that Linda Lee Cadwell had originally reserved for herself. A private funeral took place in Seattle on April 3, 1993. Only close family and friends were permitted to attend, including Lee's immediate family as well as fiancée Eliza Hutton's parents and younger sister, who flew in from Missouri. The following day, 250 of Lee's family, friends and business associates attended a memorial service in Los Angeles, held at the house of actress Polly Bergen.

The gravestone, designed by North Snohomish County sculptor Kirk McLean, is a tribute to Lee and Hutton. It is composed of two twisting rectangles of charcoal granite which join at the bottom and pull apart near the top. "It represents Eliza and Brandon, the two of them, and how the tragedy of his death separated their mortal life together", said his mother, who described her son, like his father before him, as a poetic, romantic person.[72]

In an interview just prior to his death, Lee quoted a passage from Paul Bowles' book The Sheltering Sky.[73] Lee had chosen for his wedding invitations; it is now inscribed on his tombstone:

Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless...


After Lee's death, his fiancée and his mother supported director Alex Proyas' decision to complete The Crow. At the time of Lee's death, only eight days were left before completion of the movie. A majority of the film had already been completed with Lee, and he was only required to shoot scenes for three more days. To complete the film, stunt double Chad Stahelski, who was a friend of Lee's at Inosanto Academy, served as a stand-in; special effects were used to give him Lee's face. Another stunt double, Jeff Cadiente, was also used to complete Lee's unfinished scenes for the movie.

The Crow was released in May 1994 and became a box office hit, grossing over $50 million in the U.S.,[74] and retaining a loyal cult following many years after its release.[75] Lee's portrayal of Eric Draven posthumously earned him an MTV Movie Award nomination for Best Male Performance and a Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Actor. The film is dedicated to Brandon and Eliza.

At the time of his death, his father's biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story was ready for release. The film was released two months after Lee's death, with a dedication to his memory in the end credits. In the film, his father was portrayed by actor Jason Scott Lee (no relation).[76]

In August 1992, Bruce Lee biographer John Little asked Brandon Lee what his philosophy in life was, and he replied, "Eat—or die!"[77] Brandon later spoke of the martial arts and self-knowledge:

Well, I would say this: when you move down the road towards mastery of the martial artsand you know, you are constantly moving down that roadyou end up coming up against these barriers inside yourself that will attempt to stop you from continuing to pursue the mastery of the martial arts. And these barriers are such things as when you come up against your own limitations, when you come up against the limitations of your will, your ability, your natural ability, your courage, how you deal with successand failure as well, for that matter. And as you overcome each one of these barriers, you end up learning something about yourself. And sometimes, the things you learn about yourself can, to the individual, seem to convey a certain spiritual sense along with them.

...It's funny, every time you come up against a true barrier to your progress, you are a child again. And it's a very interesting experience to be reduced, once again, to the level of knowing nothing about what you're doing. I think there's a lot of room for learning and growth when that happensif you face it head on and don't choose to say, "Ah, screw that! I'm going to do something else!"

We reduce ourselves at a certain point in our lives to kind of solely pursuing things that we already know how to do. You know, because you don't want to have that experience of not knowing what you're doing and being an amateur again. And I think that's rather unfortunate. It's so much more interesting and usually illuminating to put yourself in a situation where you don't know what's going to happen, than to do something again that you already know essentially what the outcome will be within three or four points either way.[78]

Personal life

In 1990, Lee met Eliza "Lisa" Hutton at director Renny Harlin's office, located at the headquarters of 20th Century Fox. Hutton was working as a personal assistant to Harlin, and later became a story editor for Stillwater Productions, in 1991. Lee and Hutton moved in together in early 1991 and became engaged in October 1992. Brandon and Eliza planned to start a family immediately after they were married, but they had yet to conceive when he died. They planned to get married in Ensenada, Mexico on April 17, 1993, a week after Lee was to complete filming on The Crow. At the time of Lee's death, Hutton was working as a casting assistant and was on set of The Crow so much that she was later credited with being Lee's on-set assistant. After his death, Hutton petitioned to have gun safety regulations tightened on film sets. The Crow is dedicated to the couple.

Brandon Lee was trained in Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Muay Thai, and Shaolin Kung-Fu.


Year Title Role Notes
1986 Legacy of Rage Brandon Mac Alternative title: Long Zai Jiang Hu, Dragon Blood
1989 Laser Mission Michael Gold Alternative titles: Mercenary Man, Soldier of Fortune
1991 Showdown in Little Tokyo Johnny Murata
1992 Rapid Fire Jake Lo
1994 The Crow Eric Draven/The Crow Shot and killed as a result of negligence during filming. Special effects and a stand-in were used to complete Lee's remaining scenes.
2000 Sex, Lögner och Videovåld Bystander Cameo in low budget Swedish film, released posthumously.
Year Title Role Notes
1986 Kung Fu: The Movie Chung Wang Television Film
1987 Kung Fu: The Next Generation Johnny Caine Television Pilot. Aired on CBS Summer Playhouse
1988 Ohara Kenji Episode: What's in a Name

Awards and nominations

Year Awards Category Nominated work Result
1986 Hong Kong Film Awards Best New Performer Legacy of Rage Nominated
1994 Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best Actor The Crow Won
MTV Movie & TV Awards Best Male Performance Nominated

See also


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  67. Pristin, Terry (August 11, 1993). "Brandon Lee's Mother Claims Negligence Caused His Death : Movies: Linda Lee Cadwell sues 14 entities regarding the actor's 'agonizing pain, suffering and untimely death' last March on the North Carolina set of 'The Crow'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
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  77. Little, John (1996). The Warrior Within - The philosophies of Bruce Lee to better understand the world around you and achieve a rewarding life. Contemporary Books. p. 129. ISBN 0-8092-3194-8.
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Further reading

  • Baiss, Bridget. The Crow: The Story Behind The Film. London: Making of The Crow Inc, 2000. ISBN 1-870048-54-7.
  • Dyson, Cindy. They Died Too Young: Brandon Lee. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001. ISBN 0-7910-5858-1.
  • Pilato, Herbie J. The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western. Boston: Charles A. Tuttle, 1993. ISBN 0-8048-1826-6.
  • Brandon Lee on The Tonight Show on YouTube
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