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Title: Nothingness in motion : theorizing Bruce Lee's action aesthetics
Authors: Wong, W 
Issue Date: 2019
Source: Global media and China, 2019, v. 4, no. 3, p. 362-380
Abstract: This article argues that Bruce Lee revolutionized kung fu cinema not only by increasing its authenticity and combativity but also by revealing its inherent connection to wuyi (??), or martial ideation. Martial ideation refers to a specific negotiation of action and stasis in martial arts performance which contains a powerful overflow of emotion in tranquility. Since the early 1970s, Bruce Lee's kung fu films have been labeled "chop-socky," offering only fleeting visual and visceral pleasures. Subsequently, several studies explored the cultural significance and political implications of Lee's films. However, not much attention has been paid to their aesthetic composition-in particular, how cinematic kung fu manifests Chinese aesthetics and philosophy on choreographic, cinematographic, and narrative levels. In Lee's films, the concept of martial ideation is embodied in the Daoist notion of wu (nothingness), a metaphysical void that is invisible, nameless, and formless. Through a close reading of Laozi's Daodejing, it is possible to discover two traits of nothingness-namely, reversal and return-which are characteristics of Lee's representation of martial ideation. The former refers to a paradigmatic shift from concreteness to emptiness, while the latter makes such a shift reversible and perennial via the motif of circularity. The discussion focuses on films in which Lee's creative influence is clearly discernible, such as Fist of Fury (1972), The Way of the Dragon (1972), and the surviving footage intended for The Game of Death featured in Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey (2000). These films shed light on the complicated relationship between the cinematic (action and stasis), the martial (Jeet Kune Do), the aesthetic (ideation), and the philosophical (Daoism). The goal is to stimulate a more balanced discussion of Lee's films both from the perspective of global action cinema and Chinese culture.
Keywords: Action aesthetics
Bruce lee
Jeet kune do
Kung fu cinema
Martial ideation
Publisher: SAGE Publications
Journal: Global media and China 
ISSN: 2059-4364
EISSN: 2059-4372
DOI: 10.1177/2059436419871386
Rights: © The Author(s) 2019 Article reuse guidelines:
Creative Commons Non Commercial CC BY-NC: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
The following publication Wong, W. (2019). Nothingness in motion: Theorizing Bruce Lee’s action aesthetics. Global Media and China, 4(3), 362–380 is available at
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