Real or Fake: Bruce Lee’s Nunchucks Ping Pong Video

Have you ever seen the footage of Bruce Lee playing table tennis or ping pong with a set of nunchucks?

If not, go ahead and check it out right now. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the deeper and more nuanced aspects of this video and try to determine if this amazing event ever really happened or not.

A Little Bit of Background Information

If you have never seen it until now, you’ll just need to know that there is a video clip available on Youtube that shows Bruce Lee playing an intense game of ping pong with nunchucks (also called “nunchuks” or “nunchaku”), which are two batons held together with a chain or rope. Nunchucks are primarily used as weapons and they were featured prominently in many of Bruce Lee’s most famous action scenes.

Lee Jun-Fan, who was known professionally in the entertainment world as Bruce Lee, was an actor and martial arts specialist who moved to the US from Hong Kong and who later became something of a global cultural icon after he starred in a series of commercially successful movies (this was mostly during the 1970s).

In the video clip that has now become widely available on Youtube, Bruce Lee’s expert use of the nunchucks are supposedly matched against two table tennis experts. He strikes the ping pong ball repeatedly with the nunchucks and he manages to score on every single point. The video itself is produced in a way that it seems old and almost grainy. Shot from the darkness, the video clip really has a voyeuristic feel. 


Some Basic Facts About Table Tennis

For people who actually want to learn more about the game of table tennis, it can be a good idea to spend some time on Youtube looking up some instructional videos of some of the most basic strokes. These types of videos will also teach you more about the official rules of the game, how to use backhand strokes and forehand shots, and how to control the ball around the table.

The Olympic Games and official tournaments organized by the International Table Tennis Federation can be the most interesting to watch as examples of authentic games played between professionals. Footwork is one of the most important basic skills in the game of table tennis.

It may seem best for players to simply beat their opponents by standing in one place and not moving around too much (as shown in the video clip), but in real competitive games with professional players on both sides of the table, there is far more chance of injuries like ankle sprains when the players do not move around very much.

Many players who have been active in the sport for a while find that they have to contend with ankle sprain injuries that result from the intensive level of their game. Table tennis is a weight-bearing game that can have serious effects on the lower body.

Very much unlike the way Bruce Lee is portrayed in the video clip, it is important for all players of this game to move around the table as much as possible to avoid ankle sprains in the first place because they tend to become much more likely to sprain again after the first time.

Some Basic Facts About the Video Clip

Bruce Lee Ping Pong

Many viewers of this particular video clip, especially in America and other Western countries, have seen so little real table tennis action that they really cannot tell the difference between a digitally altered clip and an actual match. Although people will generally take a few seconds to watch a short video clip on Youtube, they don’t really find ping pong entertaining enough as a sport to watch a full match.

That said, the game of table tennis has slowly been making it into various American commercials and tv shows and this continues to increase the exposure of the sort. The Bruce Lee video clip is one more example of this type of exposure, but most people don’t seem to understand a few basic facts about the clip: 

  • It was actually created in 2008 by the company Nokia as a way to promote a limited edition Bruce Lee cell phone.
  • The web address that appears at the end of the video has a .cn extension, which shows that they were originally targeting a Chinese market. 
  • If you watch the video clip closely, the ping pong ball was clearly digitally added.  This is not unlike the process used to add balls in the table tennis scenes in movies like Forrest Gump or Balls of Fury.
  • By the way, the title “Balls of Fury” (as well as much of the plot) was actually a play on the classic 1972 Bruce Lee film called Fist of Fury. 

So with a little background knowledge, it is plain to see that the video clip was fake. That really is not Bruce Lee in the video, and he really is not managing to return all those ping pong balls so expertly with the nunchucks. It is actually a Bruce Lee look-alike actor pretending to play ping pong, with his movements synchronized to the sounds of a real table tennis match.

The final audio and the visual images of the ball were added to the clip in the post-production stage. Admittedly, it is a video clip quite different from what you might expect from Nokia, a modern technology giant and leader in the digital world. The director of the ad campaign took great care and plenty of time to study the movements of Bruce Lee in order to discover the right up-and-coming actor to appear in the clip.

This video clip has amused and astounded so many worldwide viewers for more than ten years now. Like much of the content available online, the video clip was not often exposed to a fact check. But when it was, it became clear that all was not as it seems.

At the time it was released, the video spread so quickly that it soon earned a Snopes entry (“bruce-lee-ping-pong”), which credited the true origin of the video and even featured an interview with the creative director of the agency that first created it. 

Amazingly, the video clip was able to receive over 700,000 views in the first 24 hours of being released. The original video post on YouTube now has over 25 million views, and the numerous shared clips of the video clip around the world must surely account for many more millions of viewers.

 Closeup Bruce Lee Figure Model on display at The M Cafe

Even though the video has been outed as a fake, it’s managed to get more than 30 million views on YouTube.

Video Gone Viral 

In general, effective viral marketing relies on selling extreme ideas and concepts. It is only when people find video clips interesting and extreme enough the first time they watch them that they will spend a lot more time on those particular clips and share them with other people through various social media platforms like Youtube or Whatsapp.

Bruce Lee really had some extreme martial arts skills and this made him a very good choice for the subject matter of the video clip. According to Investopedia, the process of viral marketing “seeks to spread information about a product or service from person to person by word of mouth or sharing via the internet or email.”

The word of mouth aspect in viral video is a crucial part of it. Content that goes viral inspires consumers to share a powerful marketing message with their friends, family members, and other acquaintances. The video clip in question was released in 2008, which was fittingly the year of Bruce Lee’s 30th anniversary.

The major purpose of the video clip was to engage people around the world for long enough to be able to learn more about the Nokia N96 Bruce Lee Limited Edition phone, and ultimately to buy the product, which is always the main objective behind most television commercials that you see today.

What happened is that many customers started thinking of the product as being as cool as the video clip. In an interview with Agency.Asia, Polly Chu, Chief Creative Officer of JWT Beijing, said that the idea behind the video clip was to make it look like never-seen footage and therefore, more likely to go viral.

The ad agency launched the 10-second teaser first and waited. After 700,000 views within 24 hours, they launched the full version of the video with the product shot and website address where people could order the limited edition phone. It was a very well-planned e-marketing campaign.

The full version of the video actually became much more popular than the phone and people continue to believe the video to be authentic. It is interesting that no one in the clip even said that the actor is Bruce Lee. His name was never specifically mentioned. In reality, it was a similar-looking actor who was also good with nunchucks. But probably the main reason for the confusion is that people simply wanted to believe in a hero. 

Could Something Like This Ever Really Happen?

Bruce Lee was indeed a very skilled martial artist, but no one could ever be so good with nunchucks to be able to hit ping pong balls with them as perfectly as shown in the video. For one thing, the balls would approach far too quickly to consistently hit each return with the nunchucks. An extremely skilled user might be able to hit two or three balls in quick succession, but it would be almost impossible to maintain that for an extended rally.

For example, it is vitally important in table tennis for players to pay attention to the way they hold the ping pong paddle. The grip can be a major factor when it comes to the amount of control and accuracy that players can get with their shots. If you watch professional table tennis players, it soon becomes pretty clear that they have specific ways of holding their paddles or rackets that are very different from the way you might find an amateur holding them.

If you spend any amount of time watching some of the professional players at work, you’ll soon discover that there are all kinds of different types of grips that can be used. Most people would expect Bruce Lee to use the Chinese pen-hold grip, in which the blade is held downward, with the index finger and thumb wrapped around and three fingers of the hand curled along the rubber on the opposite side for good wrist flexibility and rotation.

This grip and each of the other types of grip can be used by professional players against different opponents to try and vary their playing style between games. But it soon becomes clear that these types of grips can only be used on ping pong paddles and they certainly can’t be used on a set of nunchucks.

Trying to ascribe this impossible level of skill to an almost mythical figure like Bruce Lee was such a good marketing strategy for the ad agency because the story is almost believable. Bruce Lee has a reputation for being almost superhuman. For example, many people believe that Bruce Lee was a great fighter or kung fu master, but that is not true.

He really was a good martial artist especially when it came to karate, and he was also a good actor when using the standards of the time. However, he was never in a real fight, so it is impossible to judge whether his fighting skills were actually as potent as they appeared to be on film.

Some people speculate that he would be doing great in the UFC if he was in his prime today. Some fans even go as far as to say that he could beat professional mixed martial artist and boxer Conor McGregor himself. However, they would never have met inside a UFC octagon simply because Lee was much too small and of a lower weight class. At his peak, Bruce Lee weighed only about 60 kilograms.

As a simple comparison, a very dehydrated Conor McGregor weighs in at just over 70 kilograms even after he spends weeks cutting a lot of weight. The thing is that Lee never actually pretended to be a real fighter. It was just his legions of fans that created this false label. He was just a martial artist and an actor. And he really was an expert with nunchucks too, but that doesn’t mean that he could play table tennis with them.

The myth of Bruce Lee is so strong that plenty of modern people want to see him as the kind of hero he was in those legendary old-school movies. Bruce Lee really was an amazing actor at the time and an excellent martial artist. He inspired entire generations of hopefuls to train and become professional fighters themselves, despite the fact that he never actually was one himself. However, the legend of Bruce Lee has become much bigger than his actual history.

Official Consensus of the Video Clip

The video clip that is most widely available is of two players engaged in an intense game of table tennis and it has been claimed that one of the two players is famous martial arts artist Bruce Lee, who is using nunchucks (or nunchaku) to play ping pong against his opponent. This priceless clip appears very convincing and it is really entertaining and engaging.

However, the full version of the video shows that the clip is not an actual recording of a real event. It is a digital creation intended as a viral advertisement for the Nokia N96 Limited Edition Bruce Lee cell phone, produced in 2008 (35 years after Lee’s death) by the Beijing office of the JWT (J. Walter Thompson) advertising agency.

Riley Draper

Avid table tennis player, world traveler, and content creator. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn.