Bruce Lee famously once said “To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities” and this could be easily be the mantra for the protagonist of today’s short film pick, appropriately titled The Afghan Bruce Lee. An 8-minute doc all about breaking free from the restraints of your societal situation, Jayga Rayn’s inspirational short takes you on an insightful and unconventional journey through the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan as we’re introduced to the film’s optimistic hero.
Right from the beginning, Rayn’s short draws the viewer into the energy of Kabul, through quick cuts and vignettes of daily life. It shows us the various faces (literally) and impressions of the surroundings, as well as the war-ridden ruins in a city that’s been through a lot. We are given the historical context and contemporary observations about what it means to grow up and live in Kabul.
That’s where we meet our narrator and the film’s protagonist: A man resembling the legendary Bruce Lee – wandering through the streets, training. We learn about his background and where his drive comes from. This is Abbas Alizada, a by now well known kung-fu athlete in his home country. But what does it mean to do something unprecedented in a region that is still facing many existential problems?
On the surface, The Afghan Bruce Lee seems like another conventional short profile doc about following your dreams and overcoming the odds. But that would only take one half of the film’s impact into consideration.
What makes this film special are its circumstances. The Afghan Bruce Lee gives us a specific glimpse into a world of which most of us might have a different picture. When you belong to the group of Hazara in Afghanistan, the notion of emulating a movie star in order to achieve fame and inspire others, raises the stakes of that venture immediately.
What would make for an odd little story in the U.S., most European countries and large parts of the world, here it becomes something bigger and more serious. With this in mind, director Jayga Rayn still manages to convey the opposite of a bleak outset: The film shows the determination and hope in Abbas Alizada’s journey.
The two-men team of director/producer Jayga Rayn and cinematographer Marc Ressang conceived the film to “highlight inspiring stories from a country that has been through so much, and has so much to offer.” Initially only planning to use one scene with the young boy in the film, who serves both as a potential successor as well as stand-in for Alizada’s past self, they got to know Alisina and decided to “put more into that narrative, building him out into a metaphor for modern Afghanistan.”
And so, by telling a very specific story that in consequence becomes universal, The Afghan Bruce Lee opens up our mind to new insights into parts of the world that normally don’t get a lot of positive attention in Western society.