Prof. Jessica Ka Yee Chan1
1University of Richmond, Richmond, United States
Although fluent in Cantonese and English, Bruce Lee’s original voice is rarely heard in his film. Out of the films that Bruce Lee completed, the only one that features his original voice (in English dialogue) is Enter the Dragon (1973). As a record of his living, rarely heard, and irreplaceable voice, Bruce Lee’s signature scream, in his own voice, has acquired charisma, capturing colonial angst and raw emotions. This essay traces the (missing) voice of Bruce Lee and reveals the creative tension between dubbing and subtitling, symptomatic of the negotiation between spoken dialects (Cantonese), written languages (Chinese and English), and competing mother tongues in Hong Kong cinema. Typically shot without sound, Hong Kong action films in the 1960s and 70s were often dubbed in Mandarin during post-production for the Mandarin language market. A bilingual subtitling system, in Chinese and English, reduced the cost of dubbing in multiple tracks for multiple dialects and maximized profit by appealing to overseas market, especially Southeast Asia, where various Chinese dialects and English were spoken. Through close reading of image, sound, and script (subtitles), this essay examines the understudied role of dubbing and subtitling in making Bruce Lee a kungfu icon and transnational star.
Jessica Chan is Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Richmond, USA. Her publications include Chinese Revolutionary Cinema: Propaganda, Aesthetics, and Internationalism, 1949–1966 (I.B.Tauris, 2019) and articles in the East Asian Journal of Popular Culture, the Journal of Chinese Cinemas, and Modern Chinese Literature and Culture.