Aarif Lee (born Aarif Rahman on 26 February 1987) is an actor and Cantopop singer from Hong Kong. Lee also won "Best New Performer" at the 29th Hong Kong Film Awards in 2010, for his performance in Echoes of the Rainbow.
Aarif Lee was born in Hong Kong, the youngest of three siblings. His father is of Malay-Arab-Cantonese ancestry, while his mom is a Hongkonger. He grew up in Hong Kong and attended King George V School, of which he was the Head Boy from 2004-2005. After graduating from KGV, he attended Imperial College (London) to study Physics for three years. Before entering University, he had already signed a contract with Amusic; however, he completed his education before returning to Hong Kong to become an artist of Amusic.
The journey from physics graduate to international actor and pop star isn’t particularly well travelled. So when Hong Kong alumnus Aarif Lee returned to the South Kensington Campus recently, Simon Watts from Communications and Development took the opportunity to ask him just how he did it.
Aarif, who graduated in 2008, is primarily known for his music in Hong Kong, but has recently branched out into films, taking the lead role in Young Bruce Lee. As we toured his old campus haunts he spoke about his time at Imperial and why he swapped the Laws of Motion for Kung-Fu and CantoPop.
Always more the musician than the physicist, Aarif said the Music Technology elective course he took was instrumental in his development. After graduation he returned to Hong Kong where he began publishing and recording the songs he’d written in his basement flat of the Albert Hall Mansions. That early success brought him to the attention of a director looking to cast a young Bruce Lee. Without a martial arts background, the training proved intense: “We only had about two months for the martial arts and fitness training. And apparently Bruce was an ace cha cha dancer, so I had to learn that as well!”
We returned to the Library, scene of many a late-night cramming session, where Aarif recalled: “I’ve got a lot of memories from Imperial, and it’s quite amazing how much this place has shaped me as a person. I was never really one of those Physics geniuses so it was quite a challenge for me – the learning curve in the first year was really quite steep. Perhaps I’ll be like Brian May and return at some point to do a PhD.”
Bruce Lee's 70th birthday was on November 27 and to celebrate it, Hong Kong has released the much anticipated movie "Bruce Lee My Brother."
Starring the year's biggest new talent Aarif Lee, the film is a sentimental look at the kung fu legend's life before he turned 18 years old.
The choice of Aarif Lee -- no relation to Bruce -- to play the late martial artist was particularly apt, even if the young star doesn't think so himself.
"To be honest I don't think I look like Bruce Lee," Aarif told CNNGo. "But we have the approval of the Lee family [for the casting]; we've got their support to film Bruce Lee's story."
Touted as one of the most accurate portrayals of Bruce Lee's early life, "Bruce Lee My Brother" was made after consultation with Bruce's brother Robert Lee and his two sisters. The influence of the Lee family is certainly apparent -- it is hard to find any truly dark traits in any of the Lee family characters and their friends. Least of all, Bruce.
His gang fighting and run-ins with the law are all presented with a pink-hued wash of nostalgia and glorification of violence as a means to an end.
Aarif Lee's wholesome image was thus perfectly suited for the role. The actor-singer-songwriter was fresh off the festival trails from his debut in "Echoes of the Rainbow" a tear-jerking melodrama that won the Crystal Bear at the Berlin Film Festival 2010 and garnered a Best New Performer award for Aarif at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
His role was that of the elder brother to the protagonist, a straight A student and a jock who dies tragically young. A perfect precursor to playing Bruce Lee.
Transformation and devotion
But to fully transform himself into the martial arts phenomenon, Aarif Lee had his work cut out for him. Starting with watching Bruce's films for the first time.
"I wasn't a Bruce Lee fan back then [before making this film]," he says.
"Of course I knew how powerful he was. But it wasn't until I had done a lot of research and watched a lot of his movies after agreeing to the role that I realized he was truly amazing."
Leading up to the shoot of "Bruce Lee My Brother," Aarif trained intensively in wing chun and free-fighting. His changing physique became tabloid fodder.
"I devoted myself to the world of Bruce. Not only with his martial arts. I think what was more impressive was his philosophical thinking. He would keep trying to challenge existing principles and to challenge himself. Many great physicists are very much like this and they are the type of people who push the world forward each day," Aarif says.
The remark about physicists stems from Aarif's own background in the science -- he has a degree in physics from Imperial College in London. The brains-and-brawn combination makes him a standout in the sea of Hong Kong's manufactured celebs, as well as one fraction closer to Bruce Lee's spirit.