Historic dub

Bruce Lee

The Bruce Lee classic Fist of Fury is to be the first ever film dubbed into Noongar and will premier at next year’s Perth Festival.

The makers of Fist of Fury Noongar Daa have already begun recruiting local voice actors to dub the Cantonese-Mandarin from the 1972 original, which made Lee an international star and was released a few years after Indigenous people were recognised as citizens of their own country.

Sadly Lee died aged 32 a year after Fist of Fury, but his explosive career changed the way Asians were represented in American films, and he became a hero for Asian-Americans, Afro-Americans, and the Noongar and wider indigenous community. 

“Bruce Lee perfected kung fu and mastered life,” says Fist of Fury Noongar Daa adaptor Kylie Bracknell.

“He was a moorditj (solid) philosopher who led by example. 

“Why not link the most prominent non-white film star – much more than an actor – of the 1970s with Noongar language?

“He’s a legend, a credit to the human race, and our people respect his journey, his art and his legacy.”

Throughout his short life, Lee stood up against injustice and racism off and on the screen.

Unlike other kung fu films of the time, Fist of Fury touched on historical and social issues like Japanese colonialism and imperialism.

“Fist of Fury has so many parallels to our Noongar way of life,” Bracknell says.

“The struggle aspect of colonisation was an obvious contributing factor but it wasn’t the sole reason for this Lee film selection.

“Fist of Fury honours the language of the body and the film isn’t dialogue heavy, it allows one to ‘read between the lines’ so to speak.

“Other relatable aspects include the significant burial ceremony at the beginning, the varied perspectives of grief and ‘pay-back’, Chen’s (the Lee character) dignified self-sacrifice quest in search for justice, paying homage to a loved and revered teacher, the modest love between Lee and his on screen fiancé, and the grounding Chen’s people have in philosophy and the land they exist on.”

Bracknell and Perth Festival film programmer Tom Vincent came up with the idea for Fist of Fury Noongar Daa after being inspired by Navajo Star Wars, a 2013 Navajo-dubbed release of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. “We thought ‘what if we tried something similar with Noongar’,” Bracknell says.

“This is an opportunity to further contribute to the survival and strength of Noongar as a living language.” 

The production of Fist of Fury Noongar Daa will employ about 40 locals, mostly from the Noongar community, but Bracknell was keeping tight-lipped on who would be the voice of Bruce Lee: “We can’t announce any casting news yet as we’re still in negotiation.”

Bracknell, who directed Perth Festival’s 2020 landmark play Hecate, the Noongar version of Macbeth, says Fist of Fury Noongar Daa will be challenging.

“The dubbing task for us will be far more difficult in some respects considering only two percent of the entire Noongar population speak their mother tongue,” she says.

“This is very much a language reclamation journey nestled inside an Australian first dub.”

Fist of Fury Noongar Daa, with English subtitles, will screen at Lotterywest Films at the iconic UWA Somerville outdoor cinema in February. 

For more details go to perthfestival.com.au

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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