After 30 years, The Fallen Son still Rises!
Photo collage: Stalkeye
"We had gone out to dinner — Brandon, myself, my wife and a bunch of other people — and we got into a discussion about the business. I was telling him how long I had been working and that I felt like I wasn't getting the breaks I deserved to get — all those actor sort of things. And he was trying to be encouraging, talking about how he had a three-picture [lined up] and was about to get married. He was like, 'Hang in there — if it can happen to me, it can happen for you.' And then the next day, he was gone. It was a real wake-up call. He was such a sweet guy, and it's such a shame what happened to him."
-Actor Ernie Hudson, costar of 1994's The Crow
I remember the shocking news as if it was yesterday. Where were you when you heard that actor and son of the legendary Bruce Lee died 30 years ago approximately around March 31st?
Back then, there was no such thing as the internet immediate word of mouth, just the local news, but in my case, a tabloid Television show that predated even TMZ, called "Hard Copy" who broke the news of Lee's accidental death while filming The Crow. Based on an indie comic book written by James 'o Barr, it is about a rock musician Eric Draven, who was murdered by a gang of thugs. Draven has been resurrected by a supernatural Crow. Draven is utilized as an avatar of vengeance. Kinda like a Gothic Punisher. Up and coming Actor and Martial Artist, Brandon Lee was reeling from the moderate success via Rapid Fire and previously Showdown in Little Tokyo Co Starring Dolph Lundgren and was originally offered the lead role as Bruce Lee in the biopic, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story but turned it down as he thought it was too odd portraying his iconic father.
Instead, Lee opted to play as Eric Draven which in hindsight, was an unfortunate choice. When Lee was filming a scene for the film in which his character is shot and killed by a thug played by actor Michael Massee who fires a 44 Magnum revolver at Lee's character Draven as he walks into the room. The gun in question was used as a prop that was improperly loaded with dummy rounds, improvised from live cartridges that had the powder charges removed by the special effects crew, making the close-ups appear to have normal-looking ammunition. The effects crew became lackadaisical and had neglected to remove the primers from the cartridges, to which at some point before the fatal incident, one of the rounds had been fired. Lee was struck by the round and when the Director, Alex Proyas yelled "cut" Lee did not get up from what was supposed to be his staged death, the crew immediately thought the actor was just fucking around until Stunt coordinator Jeff Imada, had immediately noticed that something was wrong when he came close and noticed how the actor was unconscious and breathing heavily.
Lee was immediately rushed to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina where there were several attempts to save him were unsuccessful and after six hours of emergency surgery, Lee was pronounced dead on March 31, 1993, at 1:03 pm. 28 years old! The shooting was ruled an accident due to negligence but that didn't stop the conspiracy theories from flooding into the social hemisphere.
Actor Michael Masse who played "Funboy" accidently killed Lee while filming The Crow.
At first, some thought it was an April Fool’s prank since the incident occurred on March 31st, then soon afterwards there were suspicions of the Triad, a notorious Chinese Mafia's involvement as retaliation for Bruce Lee teaching sacred Asian martial arts to "foreigners. " (Bruce Lee's first American student was a Black man.) Then there were the supernatural conspiracies surrounding both Bruce Lee and Brandon's untimely deaths, prior to completing or having their respective films released to the general public. As a fan of Bruce Lee, and one who saw the amazing potential from Brandon Lee after watching both "Showdown" and Rapid Fire, his death had affected me. I was saddened by Brandon's loss and at the same time, angry at how negligent the special effects crew, including Jeff Imada who was supposed to be Brandon's friend, was very nonchalant when a reporter for Hard Copy was on the "cursed" set of The Crow prior to Lee's fatal incident. The reporter was inspecting the weapons and questioned their functionality. Then there's "Jeff" who barks at him telling the reporter to "put it back!" Yes, this was on video footage as part of the tabloid's expose.
I remember an Entertainment Weekly obit written by Glenn Kenny, who mentioned that Lee starred in a South African film called, "Laser Mission" during the era of apartheid and how his fate was possibly due to "Karma."
I can't lie at how disappointed I was, in Lee working under a brutally racist system, however, I can't say that his death was just desserts just like I don't take joy at Freddie Mercury dying from AIDS after Queen performed in Sun City. At the most, they lost a modicum of respect. Michael Masse was traumatized after feeling responsible for Lee's death and took a lengthy sabbatical from acting. Brandon's incident haunted Masse until his death from stomach cancer in 2016. After Lee's mother Linda Lee Caldwell sued the filmmakers including Edward Pressman for negligence, which resulted in an undisclosed settled case, part of the settlement agreement may have something to do with Caldwell insisting that the nearly completed film should resume production as a means of paying respect to her son and the late actor's legacy. Chad Stahelski who is responsible for the John Wick franchise, was used as a stand-in and Lee, thanks in part to CGI effects that were still in its infancy. Fast forward a year later, when The Crow was released in theaters and became a sleeper box office success, ranking in $50,693,129 in the United States and Canada, and $43 million internationally, which counts toward a worldwide total of $93.7 million compared to its budget of $23 million!
While many attendees arrived at the theaters due to a sense of morbid curiosity surrounding Lee's passing, there were those like me who arrived to pay respect to a great martial artist and action star, who was gone way too goddamn soon! Lee for whatever footage of him was completed, gave it his all throughout the movie! There were some surreal moments, when his character Draven, was venting his anger towards him and his fiancée’s killers, and subtlety with him laughing in the rain while children are going trick or treating. I loved his interaction between both Sarah and Daryl Albrecht the latter, played by Ernie Hudson. Sure, there were a few funny moments, but this movie can be sobering as fuck! I had fond memories of how the audience was going nuts during the penultimate action scene where Eric, hellbent on vengeance goes after Top Dollar and his cronies, then fucks them up with guns, hand to hand combat and even swords, prior to him telling them, “You’re all going to die!” That’s some gansta shit!
After the movie was over, I walked up to Crow creator, James o'Barr while signing autographs, and spoke to him for a brief minute or two and I can see how distraught and saddened he was.
Sad that Lee wasn't around to enjoy the success from this cult fantasy classic, and equally sad that he feels at fault for Brandon's death as it was o' Barr who came up with the Crow's concept after experiencing real life tragedy when his girlfriend at the time was killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, as far as my memory can recall. The driver got a slap on the wrist, and out of James' disillusionment with the judicial system, he turned his pain and anger to pen and paper. To me it was a bittersweet experience and a reminder that Tomorrow is not promised to anyone! I had trepidations of asking James, if Brandon’s death was staged as a hit, but I had to go there! His publicist immediately dismissed the theory as hearsay, and I left it at that. O’Barr signed a copy of a magazine that he did not recall, being interviewed by. He looked stunned, and I left after shaking his hand, wishing him well as my girlfriend at the time, waited in the theater lobby. So, here's to The Crow. A movie born out of pain and tragedy only to influence other action films from the nineties, be it Blade of The Matrix. But most importantly, cementing the actor who delivered an outstanding performance in what was his curtain call.