The Afghan Bruce Lee

A martial artist turns his uncanny resemblance to Bruce Lee into an inspiring message of hope in war-torn Afghanistan.

Abbas Alizada is a man who lives in Afghanistan. He also bears an uncanny resemblance to Bruce Lee, the legendary martial arts fighter and actor — a fact that he’s used to propel himself beyond his circumstances and towards his dreams.

Driven and optimistic, Abbas trains in kung fu, and with persistence and resilience has turned himself into a well-known athlete in his home country. But his achievements often have to compete with a region of the world whose problems are legion and overwhelming in scope and scale.

This remarkable short documentary doesn’t flinch away from these problems, but it also takes pains to show a lively, richer side of Kabul outside what is normally seen on the news. Understanding the rich, complex context that Abbas exists within helps the documentary transcend the usual “inspirational true story,” making the stakes even higher for Abbas.

Abbas becomes a social media star in his country, but he also runs afoul of the fundamentalists who are offended by his emulation of a movie star and his drive to transcend his circumstances — which makes his optimism and charisma all the more remarkable.

“The Afghan Bruce Lee” is a pleasure to watch for its central subject, whose hard work ethic, good spirits and ambition are genuinely engaging and enjoyable to watch. But it’s also a fascinating look at a part of the world troubled with strife, but still able to conjure a spot of brightness during a dark part of its history.

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