Inspired by Bruce Lee’s story — as portrayed through the lens of director Bao Nguyen in the film Be Water — we created a series of posters. The spectrum of solutions, each by a different designer, aims to portray the film in a singular, and, sublime way. We held weekly meetings over 10 weeks — each time delving into topics raised by Nguyen’s film — as we edged ever closer to final polished designs. We are happy to share these today, on what would have been Mr. Lee’s 80th birthday.
Five designers from our studio participated in this project. We asked them to share their reflections on the documentary film and what informed their designs.
This documentary is as urgent today as Bruce Lee was back in his time. These posters intend to highlight that urgency by using contrasting ideas and visuals. The documentary taps into racism, politics, and other social issues through the lens of Bruce Lee’s life. The topics of the film are deeply important to me and some even personal: experiences of living in a country that is not yours, the struggles of overcoming stereotypes, and the fight for acceptance and equal treatment for all. With my designs, I wanted to create a sense of tension by contrasting opposing ideas — visually, culturally, and intellectually. The contrast between the iconographic Game of Death jumpsuit image of Bruce Lee, and a candid photo of him in San Francisco. The contrast between Bruce Lee the icon, and Bruce Lee the person.
The decision of adding the cantonese translation of the title intends to provoke thought about the issues depicted in the film and highlight tension at the same time suggesting inclusion.
This project is set in the context of a historic and tense moment in America’s injustice movements. Back in the 60s, Bruce Lee wanted to create a space for non-white heroes, but America wasn’t ready. Bruce’s story continues and is still very relevant today. I wanted to emphasize the political context that Bruce lived under, one that challenged his American dream and one that challenges the dreams of many individuals today. The poster refers to visual elements from social injustice posters used during many important social movements in the US. Bruce is here presented in a larger context. By reducing all non-important elements, the poster’s language is direct, universal, and clear. My goal is to affirm all of humanity by telling an important part of Bruce’s story. The typeface is Martin (Luther King) by vocal type. Martin is a non-violent typeface, inspired by remnants of the Memphis Sanitation Strike in 1968.
Bruce Lee, a martial arts icon, had to fight back against the public opinion of who an Asian American man is. Fighting for Bruce was his way to take on all different injustices. From racial barriers to being stereotyped in Hollywood. One man’s fight and the American gaze, this is what resonated with me after seeing the documentary. Inspired by his famous words ‘How to bridge the gap between me and my opponent?’ I reflected on who his opponent is. This poster reflects upon the gravity of his determination. The iconic Bruce Lee pose represents an act of intervention, humanity, and imagination.
Focused on the title of the documentary, Be Water, I explored how the concept of fluidity can communicate Bruce Lee’s philosophies and actions. This documentary tells us about everything that went into making the legend Bruce Lee that we know of today — the behind the scenes of the man. Using an image of Bruce on set, I defied what is so often expected from his appearance and focused only on his face — centering in on his attitude.
When I hear Bruce Lee say ‘Be Water, my friend,’ I feel an emphasis between ‘Be’ and ‘Water’. This slight trigger had me create space to think between ‘Be’ and ‘Water’. Classic cinematic elements were used to hone in on Bruce Lee himself in this poster. The first image is more about the icon but the last image is more about the man.
Bruce Lee is a global icon and like all icons, his image has been simplified along with his story. In Bao Nguyen’s film, we discover a multi-talented, sensitive, and complex Bruce Lee, who through his own personal power, battles against the monumental adversaries of ignorance and intolerance in society. Despite the hard barriers that stood in his way he remained vigilant throughout his life, adapting to each obstacle with dynamic, fluidic force. In my poster design, I attempted to portray both the iconic strength, intelligence, and skill of Bruce Lee as well as the unyielding (sometimes invisible) forces with which he battled.
Bruce Lee was a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted man but is known mostly for the characters he played in film. In the eye of the public the line between Bruce Lee the character and Bruce Lee the man is not clear cut. In this poster design, I used a simple graphic device, a stack of rectangular blocks, to deconstruct an image of the iconic fighting Bruce Lee character. If you were to realign the blocks, putting the image of Bruce Lee back together, you would find the photo to be misaligned and incomplete, much like the public’s understanding of Bruce Lee as only a character.
Bruce Lee’s philosophy was inspired by the properties of 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.” With this design, I am playing with the idea of occupying space. The typography stretches to fill the space and Bruce Lee’s image is contained within it. Due to the particular shapes within the letterforms, a tension is created between the text and the photography that fills it. The text becomes a window framing different aspects of his face. I chose a color that would bring out an emotional quality in the image.
Bruce Lee was much more than what we give him credit for. In Bao Nguyen’s film, we don’t see the fastest kicks ever seen by the world. We see a man who brought race, creeds, and gender together. The title of the film, “Be Water”, is very close to the Taoist concept of Wu Wei. This poster is all about a man and his philosophy. An enlightened human being.
“Empty your mind…” The opening words to Bruce Lee’s famous ‘Be Water’ quote echoes the sentiments of Bao Nguyen’s biopic, depicting the lesser-known arc of the legend’s inspiring life story. The legend of Bruce Lee in my eyes had been framed by the iconography of his cinematic roles. Witnessing the struggles and success of his remarkable off-screen life, it felt necessary to create something void of the vernacular Bruce Lee ‘the character.’ Inviting the audience to empty their minds, look closer, and reframe their perceptions of Bruce Lee, the man.