Into the wild

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By MUM­TAJ BEGUM en­ter­tain­ment@thes­

Ac­tor Ja­son Scott Lee is al­ways fight­ing the good fight to pre­serve na­ture.

earthy Ja­son Scott Lee is will­ing to take risks to live life on his terms.

Men­tion Ja­son Scott Lee and the first im­age that comes to mind is of him por­tray­ing mar­tial artist Bruce Lee in the 1993 film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Un­doubt­edly, it was Lee’s en­try point to star­dom – he be­came a house­hold name on a global scale thanks to Dragon.

While the film pro­vided him with a big shift in terms of his ca­reer as it al­lowed him to un­der­stand bet­ter both his act­ing and phys­i­cal skills, it also made him aware of other things within the in­dus­try – like Hol­ly­wood want­ing to shackle him to the role of an ac­tion star, bank­ing on his first suc­cess and mak­ing him their cash cow. Well, Lee was hav­ing none of that. He wanted to grow, not only as an ac­tor but as a per­son. this ul­ti­mately meant hav­ing to say no to lu­cra­tive projects. Forg­ing his own path, he took on roles that chal­lenged him on dif­fer­ent lev­els, and not just phys­i­cally.

this de­ci­sion led the Hawaiian to take on roles in a few in­spir­ing films and por­tray­ing a num­ber of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties such as an eskimo in Map Of The Hu­man Heart, a na­tive of Chile in Rapa Nui and an in­dian in The Jun­gle Book-book.

Cur­rently, he is looking­ing at an adap­ta­tion of ten­z­ing nor­gay’s story – play­ing the nepalese Sherpa who went up Mount ever­est with ed­mund Hil­lary in 1953.

on the sub­ject of his break­through Dragon, Lee also learned mar­tial arts for the role. to play the part, Lee trained in Jeet Kune Do with Jerry Poteet, a stu­dent of Bruce Lee. this, in turn, in­tro­duced him to one of mar­tial arts’ philoso­phies.

“one of the (el­e­ments of) evo­lu­tion of a mar­tial artist is, once there is noth­ing more the teacher can teach, you must leave the nest and con­tinue (learn­ing) by ob­serv­ing na­ture, which is your great­est teacher,” he says this in an in­ter­view at Putrajaya, hav­ing just come out of the jun­gles of Malaysia af­ter film­ing

Malaysian Jour­ney: Hu­tan for the national ge­o­graphic Chan­nel.

Think­ing about what he can learn from na­ture, his train of thought took him to the big ques­tion of how he wants to live his life.

as an artiste he has al­ways looked for a sense of free­dom in ex­pres­sion and an in­fi­nite (creative) can­vas that’s per­pet­u­ally chal­leng­ing him.

Want­ing to ap­ply the same prin­ci­ple to his life, he be­gan ex­plor­ing the op­tion of liv­ing a self-sus­tain­able way of life.

This ba­si­cally means work­ing the land with his own two hands to raise food to feed his fam­ily. So some 15 years ago, he bought a 22ha plot of land in Hawaii, named it Pu Mu (“sim­plic­ity” and “noth­ing­ness” in Hawaiian) and started farm­ing.

He chuck­les when asked what it’s like to eat the food he grows.

“i think i have a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of food,” re­veals Lee, who has a 15-month-old daugh­ter with his Sin­ga­porean wife.

His laugh nat­u­rally high­lights the crow’s feet on his tanned face – as if to prove fur­ther that he does spend a lot of time out­doors.

although the 45-year-old comes off re­laxed in per­son and very gra­cious, he car­ries him­self with a se­ri­ous­ness at all times. it’s al­most as if he is think­ing of some­thing poignant 24/7 – erm, some­thing like “by work­ing the land and tak­ing care of the plants it’s sort of like i am nur­tur­ing life.”

Lee can sure get into the deep stuff in con­ver­sa­tion.

“That’s a big part of be­ing a mar­tial artist. You learn these skills for fight­ing and the more highly de­vel­oped you be­come as a mar­tial artist, the eas­ier it is to take a life. Once you re­alise that, and you know that’s not the path you want to go on, you want to be on the path to nur­ture life, to give life.

“in essence, your be­ing, your qual­ity of life be­comes richer be­cause you have this ev­ery­day ef­fort and ac­tiv­ity that is nur­tur­ing life. Un­der­stand­ing that en­hances every­thing that is around you. and you end up want­ing to take care of all the things that have no voice, like the for­est and the an­i­mals in it – things that have no one to stand up for them and are slowly be­ing pushed out.”

With the in­tent of want­ing to take care of the land, Lee plants his food – mak­ing sure he doesn’t use any­thing harm­ful to na­ture – and re­for­ests de­for­ested land next to Pu Mu.

He talks ex­ten­sively about the cru­cial re­la­tion­ship be­tween the preda­tor and prey that ex­ists even at the in­sect level, and how tak­ing out even one species – no mat­ter how small – from the environment will dis­rupt the en­tire agri­cul­tural ecosys­tem.

“We have to learn to put na­ture first be­fore our own con­sump­tion. That’s the big ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy that i ad­vo­cate,” he says.

Lee’s ap­ti­tude for na­ture be­gan at a very young age thanks to his fa­ther who used to take his daugh­ter and three sons with him to spend time out­doors.

Work­ing as a su­per­vi­sor and later an en­gi­neer for a tele­phone com­pany, the half- Hawaiian and half-chi­nese dad would take one child per out­ing on a bor­rowed boat to go fish­ing or crab­bing.

“He stepped up to deep-sea fish­ing when i was very young, i couldn’t han­dle the ocean back then but now i go out fish­ing all the time. So i am sort of re­liv­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence,” re­calls Lee.

at one point dur­ing the in­ter­view, Lee ad­mits that he prob­a­bly in­her­ited his stead­fast per­son­al­ity from his fa­ther, whom he de­scribes as “very staunch and old school.”

That in­grained qual­ity came in handy es­pe­cially when he wanted to grow his own pro­duce.

Hav­ing no idea about farm­ing, he turned to a friend from the amish com­mu­nity to find out how his peo­ple grow food and take care of live­stock.

a few tips here and there took him to Ja­pan to visit Masanobu Fukuoka, a sen­sei of nat­u­ral farm­ing. at this farm, Lee worked for three months ob­serv­ing, work­ing and in­ter­act­ing with fel­low farm­ers.

“We worked from 8am to 5pm ev­ery day, six days a week. We had Sun­days off, and one hour for lunch. That gave me a strong foun­da­tion to his tech­nique on how to grow or­gan­i­cally. i went home and ap­plied that method, mod­i­fy­ing it where needed be­cause of the dif­fer­ent soil and cli­mate – learn­ing by trial and er­ror.

“When i met him, he said: ‘So, you like this life­style?’ and i said yeah. He said, ‘i only have one piece of ad­vice for you,’ and he was 88 years old at that time. He said, ‘if you want to go down this path, don’t give up. it may seem sim­ple but it’s not easy.’

“and i fi­nally un­der­stand what he meant. Be­cause ev­ery year when i start on the work, i want to give up; it’s ridicu­lously hard. But ev­ery year i stick to it and i re­alise that it starts to build char­ac­ter. and i con­tinue to ex­plore and there is so much more to learn. So it’s like a gi­ant en­cy­clopae­dia that’s un­fold­ing.”

While his farm keeps him busy all year long, Lee re­mains ac­tive in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try – he re­cently had a stint in Hawaii

Five-0 and from time to time does projects that make a dif­fer­ence (like work­ing with national ge­o­graphic Chan­nel and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes with the state depart­ment in Hawaii).

But when ques­tioned whether he misses the pam­pered “movie star” life, he says, “no. i re­ally don’t. That’s the scary thing.”

He adds: “i have al­ways done things that in­spire me. Farm­ing was frowned upon be­cause i was at a cer­tain sta­tus in so­ci­ety. now, look­ing back, i’d say it has al­ways been there.

“When i was grow­ing up, we had a gar­den. My fa­ther would take us so far into the sea that i couldn’t even see the is­land. We went camp­ing, had bar­be­ques at the beach. Those were the hap­pi­est times – when you didn’t look at the clock, and en­joyed the com­pany of your fam­ily. i thought if i could rein­vent my life i would like it to be of that; that would be my great­est art.”

Down to earth: Ja­son Scott Lee try­ing his hand at the iban tra­di­tional dance, Nga­jat, in Sarawak; and (in­set) Lee play­ing the tit­u­lar role in


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