Johnnie Walker’s Eerie Bruce Lee Ad Sparks Intense Online Debate

Chinese-American martial arts expert and movie star Bruce Lee died 40 years ago, but Johnnie Walker brought him back to life last week in an unsettling yet impressively lifelike CGI animation in a 90-second ad for Blue Label in China. In the ad, the animated actor wanders through a luxe Hong Kong hotel, explaining the “Be Water” philosophy for which he was known.

“Water, it’s like instincts. Shapeless, formless, fluid,” the CGI version of Lee says in the ad. ”You cannot grasp hold of it. But let it flow and it has the power to change the world. I believe in instincts … Be water, my friend. Someday you’ll be more than a success. You’ll be a game changer.” The spot concludes with a final shot of a Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky bottle, which calls into question the assertion by Lee’s daughter that she doesn’t think the video is “about selling booze.”

The ad made waves on Chinese social media platforms, drawing a massive, yet mixed reaction to its contents. Since it was first posted on Weibo by JingHua Times on July 11, it has received over 2,500 comments and 12,800 retweets. While the ad has generally received mostly positive feedback from Sina Weibo, Bruce Lee fan forums were less than impressed.

Weibo users mostly regard the video as a moving tribute to Bruce Lee, with many specifically stating that they think the idea is creative and the advertising copy is great, while praising the 3-D technology and computer graphics used to generate Lee’s image. A few of these positive comments include:

It’s a cool commercial with amazing CGI.

I love the idea!

It’s great to combine the martial-arts hero and successful businessman. He’s an all-around male role model.

The advertising copy is excellent!

I haven’t seen such an impressive commercial for a long time!

However, the fans over at “Bruce Lee Baidu Tieba,” an online community for Lee’s fans, did not receive the ad so warmly. Some people argued that the commercial was in bad taste and inaccurate: Lee himself was teetotaler, and while he speaks Mandarin in the commercial, he was in reality a Cantonese speaker. “Bruce doesn’t speak Mandarin. His accent doesn’t sound like him,” said one user. The accent was not the only inaccuracy to his scrutinizing devotees, who were also unimpressed with the quality of the rendering. “He sounds nothing like Bruce Lee; he doesn’t even look exactly like him,” argued an upset fan, while others felt, “He looks older than Bruce Lee,” and “There’s no subtle facial muscle movements.”

Director Joseph Kahn responded to the criticisms on his Vimeo page, stating, “This spot isn’t about drinking, nor does Bruce Lee ever pitch, hold, talk about it. It’s a short inspirational film sponsored by Johnnie Walker.” He also noted, “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.”

Ms. Lee has also defended the high-end distiller’s role n the production process, stating that although her father wasn’t a drinker, he didn’t think drinking was immoral. She also thought the video would be an “innovative way to get my father’s ideas out,” according to Wall Street Journal‘s Scene Asia.

What do you think? Was the video a tasteful tribute or did it miss the mark? Tell us in the comments below.

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