It seems the legendary dead are making a comeback promoting brands and products. There was undead Audrey Hepburn promoting Mars-owned Galaxy chocolate, while Bob Monkhouse was resurrected to highlight the plight of prostate cancer. Revival effects were also used in the commercial for Dior J’Adore, which brought back to life yesteryear’s beauties alongside Charlize Theron. Even earlier than that, Volkswagen and DDB London recreated Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain” for a commercial. And now “The Big Boss” himself is expounding on his philosophy about how to be a game changer.
The campaign was created by ad agency BBH China for Johnnie Walker in the newest iteration of its “Keep Walking” campaign. Celebrating the people he dubs “Gamechangers,” Mr. Lee spouts gems of wisdom, and according to the marketer, himself embodies a gamechanger, way before his time.
The Mill worked on the visual effects to bring Lee back to life, and Joseph Kahn shot the film, which was created in collaboration with the legendary martial artist’s daughter, Shannon. Video footage was initially filmed with Bruce Lee lookalike Danny Chan in Hong Kong. That footage was later blended with a 3D CGI model of Lee based on interviews, films and photographs with the late star. Every shot of Lee’s face was painstakingly created using CGI, a process that took over nine months, due to the level of detail required.
Director Joseph Kahn says that his team tried their best to honor Lee’s spirit by consulting his family. “We got Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter, to come aboard and we really picked her brain to make sure that everything was accurate from look to soul,” he says. “We wanted to be as respectful to the man and legend as we could.”
David Gianatasio points out what’s the real problem with this spot.
“Re-enter the dragon? Johnnie Walker and BBH resurrect Bruce Lee via CGI technology (and footage of lookalike actor Danny Chan) for this boring Chinese commercial. The spot, approved by Lee’s daughter Shannon, has proven predictably polarizing. Some critics trot out the old objection that showing dead stars in ads is in poor taste, while others claim the memory of Lee—a paragon of physical fitness and athleticism before his death 40 years ago this month, at age 32—is somehow tarnished by his doppelgänger pitching whisky.
The bigger problem is that the ad is dull, something its inspiration never was. Fake Lee walks around a Hong Kong balcony, runs a hand through some water in a pool and mouths lines like, “Dragons never die, because dragons draw power from water. Water. It’s like instincts … You cannot grasp hold of it. But let it flow and it has the power to change the world.” Dude, drop-kick the faux-losophy … you’re supposed to be Bruce Freakin’ Lee! The guy was a human CGI machine who routinely defied gravity with furiously elegant fighting moves he choreographed himself. How can you bring him back and not put him in motion—shirtless, freaky, fists-and-feet-flying motion!?
Heck, they should have shown CGI Bruce battling barehanded against Undead Audrey Hepburn – or at least something more groovy than what’s on display here. Far from being disrespectful, I believe a highly physical, even frenetic approach would have honored Lee and captured the essence of the man. Bruce Lee was a mischievous badass who reveled in his sensational stunts and brought a transcendent sense of subversive fun to his movies. His violent yet controlled release of kinetic energy forged his connection with audiences around the world. Flying through the air while screaming at the top of his lungs was his defining spiritual statement. Instead, the spirits brand pours us prattle about being a … “game changer”?! Bruce would have demanded such jargon expunged from his film scripts and employed his unshod feet to smack the silly screenwriters upside their heads.
Sadly, the ad fails because Lee is present in body—sort of—but not in spirit.”