Video: Joseph Kahn Helps Bring Bruce Lee Back To Life For A Chinese Commercial

I must admit that when I first watched this commercial I was pretty blown away by how technically impressive it is.


Whenever celebrities are brought back from the dead to help sell something in a commercial two considerations always preoccupy me as I watch. One is whether the celebrity in question would be happy with their image being used and the other is whether the attempt to bring them back to life on screen is convincing.

The issue of whether Bruce Lee would be happy about his image being used in this way is certainly a tricky one and there is also the slightly sour taste commercials leave in ones mouth anyway, just by the virtue of being about selling something. It is worth noting that the commercial was made with the support of Lee's daughter Shannon Lee and that certainly helps sweeten that taste a little, even if it not completely.

The commercial's director, Joseph Kahn, also had the following to say regarding the making of it and some of the criticism it has already received from Lee fans,

I spent a year living and breathing this man, thinking about him every day. For me, it's not an ad. It's an exploration & celebration of him. This is a sculpture in a different medium, paid for by a different church. I stand behind it.

Very well put I think. The compromise involved in making a short film that is also a commercial is an incredibly tricky one and I'm certainly glad that I'll never have to wrestle with that particular issue.

Whether or not you agree with the ethics of this short/commercial it's hard to argue with what an impressive technical achievement it is. VFX company The Mill in London were responsible for creating the CGI head of Bruce Lee, which was laid over the head of an actor. It's really very convincing and far outshines any other recent examples, such as the rather creepy Audrey Hepburn in an advertisements currently on UK television.

I suspect that the degree to which we buy the fake Lee is not entirely in the quality of the VFX work, although that obviously plays a very large part, as the choice of lighting, location and reasonably slow camerawork most likely aid greatly in ensuring that the VFX are more convincing and the cracks less obvious.

I'm a big fan of Kahn's Detention and was fascinated by the way he drew upon the work he had done in commercials and music videos, using them as dry runs for ideas that found their way into that film. It'll be interesting to see if this trend continues and if this commercial has any impact on any future feature work he may do.

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