Johnnie Walker Offends by Using Bruce Lee in Chinese Ad

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In order to sell more scotch, Johnnie Walker is now running an ad in China that features a computer-generated Bruce Lee shilling for the booze brand. Not only is Johnnie Walker CGI-ing one of the most revered Chinese-American icons in history, they are shamelessly using a spokesman who never drank.  

Here's the ad which, is currently airing in China: 

The ad is stunning in the way that video games these days are—it's pretty to look at (it sort of reminds me of some of the scenes in Skyfall), and there are moments where Lee almost looks like a human being.

"Water, it’s like instincts. Shapeless, formless, fluid," CG-Lee says, almost making you forget that he's shilling for scotch. We say almost because, well, there's this lasting image at the very end:

"Do you have the guts to follow your gut? Do you have the courage who express who you are? Be water, my friend. Because someday you’ll be more than a success. You’ll be a game changer," virtual Lee says before the image turns to that bottle, instilling the idea that in order to be like Lee, you'll want to drink very expensive bottles of Johnnie Walker. 

The thing is, while real-life Lee might agree with computer Lee on things like following gut instincts and affecting change, he didn't need Johnnie Walker to do that. In fact, he didn't drink at all. And that inconsistency "has sparked ire among fans, who argue that Mr. Lee was a teetotaler and abstained from drinking alcohol for most of his life," explains The Wall Street Journal's Jason Chow.

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And some fans say the ad also ignores the reason Lee didn't drink. Yes there are health benefits to abstaining from alcohol, which could benefit an athlete like Lee. But according to the South China Morning Post's Jeremy Blum, Lee abstained from alcohol because of the problems it caused at home. Linda Lee Caldwell wrote in her 1978 memoir, Bruce Lee: The Only Man I Knew, that "the actor abstained from alcohol after a bout of drinking that temporarily estranged him from his family," as she explains. 

Add those incongruous factors up, and you can see why fans of Lee aren't happy. Edwin Lee, a Hong Kong filmmaker, told Blum: 

But to attribute all that talent so you can sell alcohol? I find it disgraceful. The man even abstained from alcohol...The fact that he is ‘revived’ in such vivid manner to promote a product [and] lifestyle he never conformed to nor has a choice in this matter is, I feel, immoral and shows you the lowest depravity of mass marketing these days. 

Johnnie Walker's explanation for using everything about Lee except his teetotalism is that they want to sell stuff  they consulted his daughter Shannon. Lee, according to The Journal, said that "while her father wasn’t a drinker, he didn’t think drinking was immoral. She also thought the video would be an 'innovative way to get my father’s ideas out.'" 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.