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How Bruce Lee Finally Beat His Kung Fu Movie Rival

Martial arts superstar Jimmy Wang Yu was regarded as Bruce Lee’s kung fu movie rival. Here’s how Lee was able to win their rivalry in 1972. Bruce Lee managed to get a victory over his kung fu movie rival in 1972. The only actor in the martial arts movie industry whom Lee considered a rival in any sense was Jimmy Wang Yu. Wang Yu, who passed away in April 2022, was once one of the biggest stars in the martial arts movie industry.

Wang Yu was a leading man in Hong Kong action movies long before Bruce Lee burst onto the scene in 1971’s The Big Boss. Around the same time that Lee was playing the sidekick of the main hero in ABC’s The Green Hornet show, the Taiwanese actor was busy headlining Shaw Brothers’ The One-Armed Swordsman. Released in 1967, the iconic sword-fighting period piece made Wang Yu a star and culminated in more major roles. In 1970, Wang Yu made cinematic history by writing, directing, and starring in The Chinese Boxer. As a movie that left swords behind in favor of hand-to-hand combat, The Chinese Boxer is regarded as the first true martial arts movie.

Given the success of The Chinese Boxer and how big of a star Wang Yu was in the early 1970s, it’s no surprise that the actor caught Bruce Lee’s eye when he came to Hong Kong to make his own kung fu movies. Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly revealed an account from Golden Harvest founder Raymond Chow where he discussed Lee’s intentions to outdo Wang Yu’s The Chinese Boxer. Lee emerged as a worthy rival to Wang Yu when he made waves at the Hong Kong box office with The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, but it wasn’t until 1972’s Way of the Dragon that Lee managed to get the win he wanted. Lee topped Wang Yu by defeating his rival at the box office and also making Way of the Dragon a bigger hit than The Chinese Boxer at the same time.

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