Fans might be dismayed by their alcohol-free idol endorsing  a whisky, but Bruce Lee’s daughter attempted to comfort them, saying the ad was a tribute sponsored by an alcohol brand rather than the other way round.
Speaking exclusively to the South China Morning Post, the late kung fu legend’s daughter Shannon Lee said the much criticised Johnnie Walker Blue Label advert was intended to be a vivid way to pay tribute to her father.
“I don’t think that it’s about selling booze,” Lee said.
“To me this was a way to pay tribute to my father and in particular his philosophy, and to do it in an interesting way with the use of technology,” said Lee, who was a consultant of the ad’s technology and her father’s philosophy – told by a highly realistic animated version of the Enter the Dragon star.
The ad drew criticisms from fans, who were condemning it for its “bad taste” in associating the non-drinking Bruce Lee with whisky. They also criticised the ad, which was premiered on the mainland and circulated online, for featuring a Putonghua-speaking Lee.
“The alcohol was never on-screen with him. It’s like Johnnie Walker sponsoring a mini film about Bruce Lee. That’s the way we saw it. I don’t have the ability to fund a mini film made with such advanced CG technology.”
Lee said she understood fans' trouble: “My father did not drink, that’s true...[he] did not have a problem with people who drink occasionally...He was never knocking drinks out of people’s hands if they were having an enjoyable time...
“This could be troubling for some people. We thought about that as well. But this commercial was for China and we thought the point was to get his philosophy out [...] to a large number of a people, in a way that would hopefully capture their attention and make them think.”
Lee currently runs Bruce Lee Foundation, a charity to promote the late star’s legacy. She will be in Hong Kong next week for the Heritage Museum’s Bruce Lee exhibition, which will open next Saturday – the 40th anniversary of the death of the cultural icon.
The Lee family also runs a licensing company that takes care of the intellectual property rights of Bruce Lee’s image and works.
Lee admitted Johnnie Walker was required to get a licence from the family’s licensing company to produce the ad, but she did not disclose the deal details. The ad premieres in Hong Kong on the night of July 11 at the AMC Cinema, followed by a cocktail party. The commercial aired in Hong Kong will be in Cantonese.
“No he did not speak Mandarin [in reality]. But [the ad] was for China,” she said. “I have to be honest – when I hear my father is dubbed into English, speaking in someone else’s voice, it’s extremely disconcerting.”
She said movies were dubbed into local languages and the commercial will also be the same. She did not find what the animated version of her father spoke in the clip problematic.
“In the end, we felt that bringing my father’s message to a large audience, particularly in China, was important,” Lee said.