Almost 40 years to the day after his death, iconic martial arts actor Bruce Lee is being featured in an extremely controversial TV advert, which was shown for the first time in China on 7 July.
At just 90 seconds long, the advert is polemical on many levels and has already caused a stir throughout the world. But it’s the subject matter that is troubling fans the most. The advert is said to extol Johnnie Walker Blue Label, a leading brand in Scotch whisky, but Lee didn’t actually drink alcohol. He was a highly-trained athlete who abstained from any substance which could prove harmful to his body.
The advert shows a minute and a half of a computer-generated version of Bruce Lee, with a 3D image of his face superimposed upon another man, Hong Kong actor Danny Chan. It was called for a high level of precision, including recreating 250 of Bruce Lee’s facial expressions, according to Sam Driscoll, head of 3D animation in the advert.
We can now watch the martial arts icon move across the rooftops of Hong Kong, performing one of his most famous moves. This was recreated from the television series “Longstreet”, in which Lee played the protagonist – a martial arts teacher who tries to teach his student the principles of Jeet Kune Do, a form of martial arts that Bruce Lee himself created: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” The advert is based around these famous lines, using the theme of the power of water as a metaphor for the glory and stature of the icon.
This monologue had already been used in a 2006 BMW advert.
The computer-generated version of Bruce Lee also delivers the well-known quote “Follow your instincts. It’s the most honest path”, an interesting point to make, given the controversy surrounding the advert and its seeming lack of genuineness. However, it could not have been made without the agreement of Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon, who does not consider the advert to be contradictory to the principles her father taught and lived by.
Using deceased celebrities in adverts is becoming more and more popular in the world of advertising. French automobile firm Citroën was criticised by the public for using images of Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon to promote one of their cars. Particular criticism arose from the poor quality of dubbing of the celebrities, as well as for the advert’s message, at times contrary to values of the celebrity in question, particularly in the case of John Lennon.
3D technology was also at the heart of debates which took place in spring 2012, when a hologram of the rapper Tupac Shakur was projected onto the stage at the Coachella festival, for a duet “from beyond the grave” with his friends Snoop Dog and Dr Dre.