Every year countless articles, newspaper front pages, nightly news stories and award show In Memoriams are dedicated to the lost stars of Hollywood. Some die of old age, and we celebrate their lives and careers. Some are lost too soon due to personal demons and we mourn the waste of life, but we acknowledge the inevitability of what happened. And ever so rarely we lose life and talent far too soon by shear happenstance. In recent years, it was 27-year-old rising star Anton Yelchin who died in a bizarre, fluke car accident. Even though he was not yet 30, he had amassed quite a résumé and I, a massive fan from the beginning, can give you a list of his best films and greatest performances starting with 2011’s ‘Like Crazy’. An incredible artist, actor, and by all accounts friend, Hollywood and cinefiles mourned this immense loss.
But 26 years ago on the 31st March 1993, the industry and the world were forced to grieve for another young actor named Brandon Lee - not yet a “star”, the film and role that saw him lose his life also turned him into a household name and ended up becoming his adored legacy and fitting epitaph - ‘The Crow’. I may have only been eight when Brandon Lee died, but I have an older brother who introduced me to films and people like this, so when Brandon’s death hit him, it hit me too. Hard.
Based on the popular dark graphic novel series from 1989, 'The Crow' premiered in May 1994, 25 years ago. Despite the film’s cult-like popularity, continued graphic novel publication and woeful straight-to-DVD sequels (of which there are three, one starring Kirsten Dunst) and a short-lived 1998 TV series, there is an entire generation who have no idea about this incredible film and its dearly departed star. There have also been rumours swirling for years about a remake (that no one is asking for) with Aquaman himself Jason Momoa briefly attached before pulling out due to funding issues. Thank heavens for small mercies. But I have no doubt that, much like Eric Draven, this reboot nonsense will rise again.
A few weeks ago I witnessed a woman let’s say… in her 50s fail to describe Arnold Schwarzenegger to a 20-year-old kid during a parlour game. Once my stroke subsided, this blood-boiling incident got me thinking not only of just the generational disconnect of a woman trying (poorly) to describe the film ‘Twins’ to a millennial who had never even seen the movie much less heard of it, but of the countless works of art and artists that get lost in that gap. Eons ago, people and stories had to be passed on verbally from person to person in order for them to live and live on. Fast forward a few millennia, and while the medium of storytelling has evolved and grown, so has the volume. With each new story that enters our lives, one has to be sacrificed to the abyss. As an aunt to a five- and six-year-old, this is a fear that resides inside me quite loudly. A world in which neither of them know ‘The Goonies’, ‘Home Alone’, ‘Troop Beverly Hills’, ‘Dirty Dancing’ or ‘Mean Girls’ is a world I fear far more than whether or not they’ll have clean drinking water. Yes, my priorities are grossly out of whack, but my truth is my truth. Strong medically prescribed anti-anxiety medication and a deep-seeded resolve will eventually take care of this, but it also got me thinking of a landscape that could have been.
Were he alive today, Brandon Lee would be 54 years old. A quick Google search left my pondering, What if... Brandon was the star of the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise? What if… Brandon was Tyler Durden? What if… Brandon swallowed the red pill and entered the Matrix? What if… Brandon was the one to utter “I am Iron Man” and save the universe? As a talented, incredibly good-looking and charismatic biracial man - one half of his gene pool belonging to the most famous and celebrated Chinese martial artist and actor of all time, Bruce Lee - what if Brandon’s star power brought the popularity and screen representation of Asian actors in Hollywood forward by decades? Would ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ have ever been made? In the last week, Lucy Liu didn't mince words when highlighting that she is only the second Asian-American actress to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the first being Anna May Wong back in 1960. That’s a long time between drinks. Could Brandon’s survival have meant that Lucy was eventually the 15th Asian-American to be granted such an honour, or that she may have gotten it years ago instead? Could the “diversity in Hollywood” discussion be petering out in 2019 thanks, in part, to Brandon? These are questions that can haunt us and for people like me, it does - daily - but they can also serve as a cautionary tale. A tale of preservation. A tale of gratitude. A tale of not taking those for granted. And sometimes it’s simply an opportunity to let your imagination run wild to picture an alternate reality.
Were he alive today, Brandon Lee would be 54 years old. A quick Google search left my pondering, what if…
25 years ago, a film came out starring a virtual unknown, directed by fellow unknown - Australian music video director Alex Proyas - based on an underground comic book that had a moderate following. On paper, this film should never have been made. Once its star died tragically three days out from completing production, this film should never have been released - and yet here we are, a quarter of a century later, talking about it. Admiring it. Revelling in it. It’s soundtrack featuring The Cure, Stone Temple Pilots and that glorious Graeme Revell score still has pride of place on my iPhone even today.
Just because something is dead and resides in the past doesn’t mean it should be forgotten. We are living archives of not just our own lives and stories, but that of others as well. We far too often lose sight of that and our importance in that capacity.
“If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever.” - ‘The Crow’ (1994)