'Legend of a Warrior' on Home Video from the NFB

Corey and Frank Lee star in Legend of a Warrior.
Photo credit: Colin Smith. Courtesy of the NFB.

“In China, or Hong Kong, the practice of Kung Fu is just like Canada hockey,” says Frank Lee to his son, Corey, in a scene towards the middle of the documentary Legend of a Warrior. If hockey is the national pastime in Canada, or the sport that most often brings people together, then it’s fitting that Corey uses a return to Kung Fu to reconnect with his father and his Chinese roots. Corey was born in Canada after Frank left China, settled in the wintry North American nation, and had a family. Frank didn’t really participate in the raising of his family, though, as he brought to Canada his true love from China: Kung Fu. Frank Lee is a Kung Fu legend (he was inducted into the Canadian Black Belt Hall of Fame in May 2012), but his road to success led him away from his family, which is a bridge that Corey hopes to repair by becoming Frank’s student once again. Legend of a Warrior, now available on DVD and download to own from the National Film Board of Canada, follows Corey’s journey as the learns the art of Kung Fu from Frank and, in turn, gives Frank the opportunity to learn the role of a father.

Corey’s quest to fix his relationship with Frank is essential because he sees the importance of reconnecting such a tie for his own children. As Corey explains to his young son in the opening scene of Legend of a Warrior, the Chinese lineage of the Lee family is gradually being whittled away with each new generation. Corey is one-half Chinese, since his mother is Caucasian and Frank is Chinese. Corey’s son, likewise, is one-quarter Chinese, since his parents are of a similar cultural mixing. However, Corey realizes that an erosion of one ethnicity does not necessitate a loss of cultural ties. As Corey goes back to Frank’s gym and has the warrior reteach him the art of Kung Fu, Corey undergoes a gradual reawakening of his cultural roots.

Lee’s journey with his father is profoundly personal. Legend of a Warrior is a moving, poignant story not only of the relationship between fathers and sons, but also of family, history, and legacy. I reviewed the film when it had its world premiere at Hot Docs back in May and praised the film for its innovative mixed-form approach to storytelling (Lee makes smart use of animation to compensate for archival footage) and for the intimate accessibility with which Lee shares his transformative journey. Legend of a Warrior also landed on my list of the Top Ten Canadian films of 2012 and it deserves the spot thanks to its rich snapshot of Canadian multiculturalism and its smart look at the personal bonds that are forged through our shared experiences. Whether it’s shooting the puck in a game of hockey or sparring a few rounds of Kung Fu, the everyday traditions we practice with our friends and family members have a lasting effect. Legend of a Warrior shows that every attempt to absorb traditions afresh can restore our culture connections and renew them for generations to follow.

Legend of a Warrior is available on DVD and download to own from the NFB on Tuesday, January 29th.