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Story in Leather: The Yellow of Bruce Lee and Beatrix Kiddo

Posted by Brainpulse Technologies on

Today, you’ll learn the secrets of one of the most iconic leather jackets of all time. Originally featured in the unfinished film Game of Death, Beatrix Kiddo’s infamous yellow leather jacket pays tribute in the Kill Bill series.  There has been much speculation about the origins of Lee’s yellow jumpsuit, but the truth is actually quite simple. We will explore the brief history of the jacket, why it is cool, and what it represents. Much of the meaning can be found by contrasting the two works and placing them in their historical and cultural context. Afterwards, I’ll talk touch on recent trends regarding individuality and leather.
For those of you who don’t know, Bruce Lee was a famous martial artist from China. He perfected the techniques of Jeet Kun Do, a style which he created. Coded within his movies is the pinnacle of martial arts. Just as he was becoming popular in the West, he suddenly passed away with great controversy. It has been suspected that he chose a yellow jumpsuit for one of the biggest budget martial arts films ever to comment on the poor treatment of Chinese immigrants in America.

This is untrue. Andre Morgan worked with Bruce on set and explained that the yellow jumpsuit was chosen by necessity. Since there was only a yellow or black jumpsuit to choose from, and the jumpsuit needed to display a dirty footprint from a kick, yellow was the only option.

In Game of Death Bruce Lee is forced to fight up a pagoda, a tall Japanese building. On each floor of the pagoda, he encounters a martial arts master, each better than the last.
Similarly when Beatrix Kiddo fights the Crazy 88, she is forced to fight an onslaught of increasingly difficult opponents. Tarantino is paying homage to Bruce and his work as both a director and martial artist. Bruce popularized martial arts mythology in the West. In Kill Bill, we learn that Beatrix studies under a mountain sage. Bruce does too in some of his movies. Both characters’ martial arts skills are a result of their inhuman perseverance and intellectual enlightenment. By the way, the above scene is full of Bruce Lee’s moves. Especially the moves on the ground.
Pai Mei Beatrix Kiddo

In Volume 1 of the Kill Bill Series Kiddo is hunting down her former group members to seek revenge. She is incredibly persistent and succeeds despite several moral and physical barriers. She quickly dispatches one of her old friends with her friend’s child nearby. When she dawns the vibrant leather, she still manages to track the yakuza. Even though she is wearing a bright yellow flag, she doesn’t attract anyone’s attention until she does something wild. This all part of her plan. She is winning psychologically before she wins physically. Her resolve, which she honed while training and while fighting comes out. Just like leather, she never quits.

The movies play on the theme of overcoming unfavourable circumstances. The jacket represents the victory of the underdog, and the freedom from circumstance. Think about it: nothing can stop these characters. They have faced and will continue to face situations that threaten their lives, but they always overcome them.
Freedom is spreading your arms wide

In the book Yellow Peril the Tchen documents the intellectual positioning of Eastern and Western knowledge over the past century. The book tries to understand the prevalent racism and fear of Asians. No doubt, Bruce faced many of these challenges as a Chinese actor in America. There has been much speculation surrounding his death, which highlights the role Bruce was playing in American culture at the time.

Although the yellow jumpsuit wasn’t chosen to make a statement about the repositioning of Eastern understanding, we can read it as if it does. Some people believed that Bruce was assassinated by Americans because his movies and his personality were undermining Western politics. It’s fascinating to review the defeat of Kareem Abdul Jabbar a 2.18 meter national basketball hero by a jumpsuit wearing Chinese man in this light.

Tarantino is giving a nod to the idea that Bruce was killed by pulling that specific reference. The defeat of Lucy Liu by Kiddo, in that jacket, represent a reversal of the circumstances. Bruce’s martial arts have been absorbed into the Western consciousness, but his race has not. Ultimately, the East was rejected by the West, though they were willing to steal deadly techniques.

The jacket represents the individual rising above their circumstances. It is the symbol of personal power. In a previous article, What’s so Great About Leather Jackets, we saw that leather can act as a personal armor. It can be a vehicle to deliver you into a situation fully prepared. Obviously, you might not want to bring a speedy motorbike or a samurai sword to your dinner party, but you get the idea. Whether you face steely glances or a gauntlet of dates, you have the tools sewn into a jacket. Now, unless you happen to be able to afford the original jumpsuit, you’ll have to stick with non-iconic designs.

Though neon yellow might not be your color, it represents the ‘I’ and vital energy. It is also represents assertiveness and a strong body. These are things we wish for you. Leather in all forms can represent fearlessness. When you by a copy of a copy of a copy the originality, or the spirit, of the commodity is erased.

As Bruce’s jumpsuit became Kiddo’s jacket, we saw the marketplace quickly absorb the idea behind it, erasing all of its vitality. Many websites are participants in the erasure of the referential meaning that Bruce and Tarantino are playing off. The jacket becomes devoid of its real value when it is ripped of the screen and into stores.
Custom jackets don’t do that.

Anyway, the jacket started as an accident. Golden Harvest studio had two jumpsuits. Why they had only two jumpsuits and why a jumpsuit was needed, we don’t know. Along comes a guy named Quentin Tarantino who grew up loving Kung Fu movies and samurai flicks. He managed to combine them into a yakuza bloodbath, while riffing on the cultural virus of Bruce Lee. Maybe in the future a director will be able to land himself in a discussion with the three, but for now it hasn’t happened.

That being said, individuality, freedom, and fearlessness are not dead. At least, they don’t have to be. As we move towards a period of health and wellness in the West, and the possibility of automating the roads, we may see individuality forced into new boxes.
For one thing, style is one of the freedoms we are allowed to maintain in Westworld. To a great extent, you can choose what to wear. You can choose your lifestyle. At Lusso Leather, we want to provide a bastion of hope in a world gone raving mad.
Another avenue of freedom is freedom of thought. Believe it or not, the choice to think and see is always ours. The yellow jacket doesn’t have to be just cool looking, it can make sense as a cultural artifact. It can tell a story.

The story of Bruce Lee overcoming unbeatable odds and landing onto your screens is a worthy one. The story of a nameless woman avenging her family’s death by defeating professional assassins is cool too. The story of the yellow jacket is fearlessness.
What’s yours?
 

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