A year before his tragic death, Brandon Lee talked about movie violence with Reba Merrill

By on May 9, 2018


In this revealing 1992 interview, celebrity interviewer Reba Merrill sat down to chat with the son of the legendary Bruce Lee, actor/martial artist Brandon Lee, who was out promoting his über-violent movie Rapid Fire, a year before he was to star in what turned out to be his final film, The Crow.

We no longer have this interview on Night Flight Plus, but do read on for more details.

Lee tells Reba about living up to the expectations of his father’s outsized legacy, and as well as revealing a few of his heroes, including writers like Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, and Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

In Rapid Fire, Lee stars as “Jake Lo,” an L.A. college student and martial arts expert still bitter about his father’s death at the Tian An Men Square massacre in 1989.


Lee had originally wanted director John Woo — known for his highly chaotic action sequences and frequent use of slow motion – to direct Rapid Fire, but the studio had wanted more of a straight martial arts-type film.

The L.A. TImes later said the movie ” launches Brandon Lee as a new martial-arts star who conceivably could move beyond the orbit of action films.”

At age twenty, Lee — born in Oakland, CA, on February 1, 1965 — made his first movie appearance in the 1986 TV pilot Kung Fu: The Movie.


That same year he had his first starring role in the Hong Kong film Legacy of Rage.

Lee tells Reba about one of its dangerous stunts which  had him leaping over a forty-foot cliff with his pants on fire (literally!).


It would be several more years before he’d make his American movie debut in 1991, with Showdown in Little Tokyo.

1992’s Rapid Fire was the first of his three-picture deal with 20th Century Fox (it would make a solid profit on its $10 million budget).


The Crow – a $14-millon gothic-tinged urban revenge saga, directed by Alex Proyas and set to be released in the summer of ’93 — began filming at Carolco Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina, on Lee’s birthday.

The Crow tells the story of a murdered rock star who returns as a crow one year later to avenge his and his girlfriend’s murders on Devil’s Night, the most violent night of the year, the rotting urban nightmare city torched up in flames.

It had originally been conceived as a musical (to star Michael Jackson!), although James O’Barr, who wrote the 1989 comic book/graphic novel it was based on, has said Joy Division and the Cure were his main musical influences.


Lee was cast as “Eric Draven,” who — along with his fiancée “Shelly Webster” (Sofia Shinas) — is murdered by a gang of hooligans under the employ of local crime lord Top Dollar.

Right from the start, though, the Miramax production was plagued by numerous accidents, mishaps and rampant cocaine abuse on set.


Then, on March 13th, a “Storm of the Century” off the coast of North Carolina destroyed most of the sets.

Lee — who got the starring role after River Phoenix, Christian Slater, and Johnny Depp had all passed first — joined the fatigued crew, who were openly talking about the production being “cursed,” in expressing his concern to producers.


Behind the scenes on the set of The Crow: Alex Proyas, Brandon Lee and Michael Berryman being made up as the supernatural Skull Cowboy (Berryman’s scenes were later cut)

Shortly after midnight on March 31st — with eight days left in the shooting schedule — they were shooting the scene on Soundstage Four in which Lee’s character is shot while entering his apartment.

Actor Michael Massee (“Funboy”) fired a Magnum .44 caliber handgun at Lee’s abdomen as he entered through a doorway, about fifteen feet away.

The grocery bag Lee was carrying contained a small explosive blood pack that was also detonated.


Lee collapsed to the floor, but fell backward, not forward, as expected. The crew were so moved by his performance they broke into spontaneous applause.

Something had gone very wrong, though: a fragment of a”dummy” bullet, loaded into the gun for a close-up scene, had shot out with the force of a real bullet, striking Lee in his spine.

Brandon Lee was rushed to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, and went into surgery immediately, his doctors working for the next twelve hours to save his life.

After surgery, his condition progressively deteriorated, and he was pronounced dead in the hospital’s ICU ward shortly after 1pm that same day.

He was just 28 years old.


A company called Dream Quest used new CGI-effects and “image stabilization” to impose Lee’s face over that of his stunt performers, Jeff Cadiente and Chad Stahelski, in a few of the film’s unfinished sequences.

The Crow was ultimately released on March 13, 1994, and went straight to #1 at the box office, earning nearly $12 million on its opening weekend on its way to becoming  a $115 million worldwide hit.


The Crow franchise spawned several lesser-quality low-budget sequels, creating a lasting cult following for the original film, and ensuring that Brandon Lee’s memory would live on despite the senseless tragedy that brought his life to an end.

“If Brandon Lee hadn’t died,” wrote L.A. Weekly critic Manohla Dargis, “it’s likely that The Crow would have been a great movie; as it is, it’s implausibly great. Inevitably, Lee will be folded into the same history as his father, Bruce. But Brandon Lee deserves to be remembered for himself.”

We no longer have Reba Merrill’s 1992 interview with Brandon Lee on Night Flight Plus, but have a look over there anyway.


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.