Author: Paul Bowman
“This book features rare and previously unpublished photographs as well as removable documents from the Lee family archives, including handwritten letters and poems, hand-drawn illustrations and Bruce Lee’s observations and philosophy of martial arts. These all combine to tell the amazing story behind the legend”
As Filmwerk’s resident reviewer emergent, of all things Bruce Lee related; it was somewhat inevitable that this book might arrive on my desk. Depending on one’s point of view, this might be considered both a good and bad thing, depending on one’s thoughts on the bias of the fanboy. However, let us not bother with any of that particular kind of second guessing malarkey, and get on with objectively reviewing this magnificent looking tome, sitting here before me.
Now, I’m going to do all the chomping at the bit, impatient types a break, and state right off the bat, that if you are a fan of the legendary Chinese/American gentleman in question, then you absolutely need this book in your life. No ifs or buts; It’s brilliant, and you’ll love it. Now, get out of here, and go buy the book already.
Right, so now they’ve gone, for all of you slightly more sober temperament souls, who would like to know a little bit about the book under review here; please read on.
Some really amazing coffee table books have come through our hands over the last couple of years, and the very cream of these exhibit a quality that is hard to define, yet (as the slightly hackneyed saying goes), easy to recognise. Physical prowess helps of course, there’s no doubt about that. In the world of table books, bigger and heavier is quite often better, and so it goes here. The Treasures of Bruce Lee (TToBL from now on), is a good size to be sure (if not oversize), but including the reassuringly high quality, precision cut, stiff board outer cover (the book itself slides pleasingly out of this), it’s almost an inch and half thick. The outer cover design and layout is also very stylish, and feels smooth and high quality to the touch.
Once you remove the book from the outer cover, you are left with a pretty substantial, quality hardback book, thickly bound, and exuding a decent quality feel. These things aside, it is most definitely what is contained within it’s pages that will seal the deal in terms of convincing you this book is a class act.
So far, so good.
As the summary quoted at the top of this review mentions; the book contains a plethora of photographs, and removable, reproduced documents from the Bruce Lee family estate archives. The quote does not, however, mention the actual authored text of the book, this seems significant, and I will pick this point up again shortly.
So, all these removable items are presented within pouches scattered throughout the book’s pages of text, and take the form of individual reproduction pieces of interesting memorabilia. They run the gamut from the sublimely trivial (yet still immensely fascinating), to the almost mind blowingly impressive, and complex. For instance, there are delightful little things, like one of Bruce’s martial arts rate cards, reproduced exactly as it had been when he was using/distributing them, with dollar prices for tuition etc. Of course, It’s just a little folded white card, what’s the big deal? Well, the coolness of it, is that it represents a little example of something directly linked to the man himself. The flesh and blood, tangible Bruce Lee, as distinct from the more legendary figure he more often becomes. This reminds us of the Bruce Lee, who was just a man who gave Kung Fu lessons to people, and had business rate cards. If you don’t dig the pleasures of this sort of thing, then, although the book certainly has other charms to offer, it may not be your cup of jasmine tea. It’s all a bit like that, and for me, is a true delight as a result.
Going back to the memorabilia for a moment; On the other end of the scale, there is a perfect reproduction of one of Bruce’s small training/system notebooks, chock full of his hand written notes and diagrams, and several pages long. It’s amazing, and takes quite a while to read (and absorb), in and of itself. As you go through the book, seeking out the next item pouch, it really is a joy to discover what gems are lurking inside, and each pouch seems to bring forth ever more impressive items. It really is a candy shop of delights for any Lee fan, and my face was like the proverbial Cheshire Cat the whole time.
I just loved the attention to detail in the reproduced items. For example, there is a letter in an envelope, and the various scuffs, stains, tears and even faint pencil markings, are all replicated presumably exactly as they are on the original document. It’s really wonderful, and although you are of course aware that none of these documents are actually ‘original’ (of course not), they nonetheless possess the power to really feel like you’re getting an inside peek at things both important and trivial, in a way a mere transcript of, say, an airmail letter, simply wouldn’t.
As I said earlier; If you’re not wholly delighted by this aspect of the book, then there are other charms on offer. In a nutshell; there is of course, the written text, which I’ll talk about in a moment, plus a stunning cornucopia of pictures, and reproduced period artwork throughout the entire book.
The collection of pictures on display here are nothing short of breathtaking.
Having seen many a Bruce Lee picture book, as well as a plethora of TV documentaries over many many years, that all use a ton of still shots between them; It was obvious that a large percentage of the shots here, were going to be familiar to me. This much was inevitable, and we forget that poor Bruce did not live long enough for there to be so much photographic material that repetition is easily avoidable (although this book is a great testament to the vastness of content available despite this).
This familiarity is no way is meant to undersell the collection. As a life long fan of Bruce Lee, I definitely do not represent the average reader in this respect, so it is a real bonus, that there are a large amount of pictures that I can honestly say, even I’ve not seen before. I’ve managed to be a little long winded about this point, but this bodes well for readers less saturated in Lee documentary material than yours truly of course.
The book deftly manages to build a compendium of photos that compliments the removable items beautifully, while not being rigidly tied to them in any way.
It’s a very neat trick, and the harmony on show between these two aspects of the book’s content is pretty cool; and brings us to the third and final dimension; the written text.
So, it is necessary to tread lightly and carry a big stick, when it comes to talking about the written text in this book. I will say, right off the bat that, of the three primary components of the book; It is the weak link (at least for this writer). The introduction by Shannon Lee (not to mention, the Lee estate’s obvious involvement and contribution to the book as a whole), is very welcome, and certainly sets the text off on the right foot. However, the style in which author Bowman decided to go from there on, was in this writer’s opinion, a miscalculation. He creates lots of short pieces, specifically dealing with one subject or another, and few of them seeming to extend beyond a page or two in length. I’m sure this was done to perhaps better fit in with the vast collection of photos and removable items, but it has the effect of rendering the text disjointed and uneven. It also creates an impression more akin to a book aimed at older children, rather than strictly to adults. There is a ‘designed in’ lack of depth in writing this way, as you cannot hope to paint an holistic portrait of the subject.
Instead of what, in sound equalisation, is referred to as a ‘Parametric’ approach, where all frequencies are interlinked; and the adjustment of one, affects all the others; this book presents the text in a vertical fashion, with very little horizontal progression. Apologies for segueing into music theory, but I think the analogy is sound (excuse the pun). A quick example of what I’m talking about, might be the amount of space the book dedicates to both the death of Lee, and his continuing legacy….one page each, including photographs.
Personally, I would have loved this book to feature an in depth text that could stand alone, and work as a fluid, adult biography of Bruce Lee’s life and work. I’m sure there would have been a way to incorporate an approach like that, with all the other materials, and create something even more powerful than the book, as it appears here. I am of course expressing an entirely subjective opinion, and one dripping in wish fulfilment. However, as it’s highly likely that the lighter, vertical text is going to work better for casual readers, flicking through the book in a random access way, as is the ‘coffee table’ norm. Who am I to argue with what is probably a logical approach, right? I guess so, after all; the book is really about the visual/tactile contents after all.
Despite this, one is left, with the inescapable sensation that; while it would be easy to cherish the photos, and removable memorabilia items, and return to them often, time and time again; the text will probably not be read more than once. This seems in, and of itself, quite key, at least in terms of how these three disparate components come together for the seasoned Bruce Lee fan.
In conclusion, this book is bloody tremendous. Comments regarding the text, as mentioned; are both subjective, and relative. If you repackaged the book, and eliminated the text altogether; you would still have a monumentally attractive, and engrossing package, worth every penny of its sticker price. The book has appeal in abundance, to both the casual and the hard core reader. I think this is, at least in part; why the text is constructed the way it is. It understands it’s tertiary standing within the greater whole, and doesn’t intrude on the main event. Considered in this light, it does its job tremendously well, and I cannot, and will not knock it any further than I already have.
The Treasures Of Bruce Lee is a wonderful, Aladdin’s cave of delights, offers a plethora of rare goodies, and deserves to do very well indeed.