Today we’re mixing the China Fight cocktail to celebrate Bruce Lee’s birthday. We figure that as a movie star, pop culture icon and perhaps the most influential martial artist of all time we should toss one back in his honor. Even if he wasn’t much of a drinker.
Many Bruce Lee legends exist. But whether or not a given legend is true he was certainly the first to bring the “one inch punch” into the mainstream. Quentin Tarantino, of course, had to incorporate it into Kill Bill through the character of Pai Me. But only Pai Me had a death blow, the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. Bruce Lee, alas, did not.
But he did have his own style of martial arts that he called Jeet Kun Do. And he taught it to celebrities such as Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Even Dean Martin got a few lessons, but Lee found him too lazy and clumsy. For all we know Martin may have just had a few too many Flame of Love cocktails.
The Bruce Lee Story
Our protagonist was born on November 27, 1940 in San Francisco but was raised in Hong Kong where his father introduced him as a child actor to the Hong Kong film industry. He also began studying martial arts, training in Wing Chun (a form of kung fu) under the legendary Ip Man, himself the subject of a film series, tai chi and boxing. He won a Hong Kong boxing tournament and frequently engaged in street fights.
Lee got in a lot of trouble, so in 1959 Lee’s parents sent him back to the San Francisco area to live with his sister and finish high school. But he was soon in Seattle and started to teach martial arts, his own version of Wing Chun.
Soon enough his stunts at martial arts exhibitions drew the attention of Hollywood. In 1966 he introduced Asian martial arts to television audiences when he played Kato in The Green Hornet. (We mixed the Stinger cocktail for that occasion.)
Lee played in various Hollywood roles but was unsatisfied with his supporting roles. Producer Fred Weintraub advised him to return to Hong Kong to make a feature film he could showcase to studio executives. Lee headed to Hong Kong, unaware that The Green Hornet was a hit there and was unofficially referred to as “The Kato Show.” He soon signed contracts to star in two films.
Bruce Lee’s first leading role was in The Big Boss, which was a huge success and catapulted him to stardom. That was soon followed by Fists of Fury, which broke the records The Big Boss had set. With that kind of star power, he formed his own company and had complete control as writer, director, star and choreographer of the fight scenes.
The Legend and His Death
Hollywood paid attention and in 1972 offered Lee the opportunity to star in Enter the Dragon. He accepted, but only a few months after the completion of filming and six days before the film’s 1973 release, he died.
Enter the Dragon went on to become one of the highest-grossing films of the year and cemented Lee as a martial arts legend in worldwide pop culture. His untimely death, at the age of 32, furthered the legend.
Lee died in the Kowloon area of Hong Kong on July 20, 1973. He was a star with a wife and two children, was working on a number of new projects. The world was his oyster. But he went to take a nap after complaining of a headache and never woke up.
His death was attributed to cerebral edema, a swelling of the brain. Many theories have been floated for why that happened. At first the claim was that it was caused by hypersensitivity to a prescribed medication. More recently it has been suggested that his death was due to drinking too much water. He barely drank alcohol, so it just goes to show you it’s best to go light on the water. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as a statue on the Avenue of Stars in Kowloon.
The China Fight Cocktail
Where does this leave us when we need a Bruce Lee drink? It turns out the China Fight cocktail was invented circa 2017 by Aymeric Tortereau of Café Juliette in Lyon, France. Interestingly, despite the drink’s name, all its active ingredients are of French origin.
Of the ingredients, the Bigallet China China is reminiscent of the legendary Amer Picon that went extinct in the 1970s. We discussed that in the context of the Hoskins cocktail and have used the ingredient in a variety of drinks like the Brooklyn cocktail and Poison Arrow cocktail. And as a reminder, please note that the China China in its name does not refer to the country. Rather, it’s “kee-na” to denote quinine as part of the mix.
China Fight Cocktail
- 1½ oz Cognac
- ¾ oz Bigallet China China
- ¾ oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
- Garnish: orange twist
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
- Rinse and repeat.