Friday, January 21, 2022

The other Brandon Lee


What do you do when your University career isn’t going as well as it should be? Do you study a wee bit harder? Do you give up your part time job? Do you ask to repeat the year? Do you leave, drift about for 15 years or so then pretend that you are 17 again, enroll yourself back in the high school you used to go to and pretend that the intervening 15 years never happened?

That would never work I hear you say…. Well it very nearly did.

The latter is the route that Brian MacKinnon took and is now the subject of a film that is premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah later this year. The film follows how a 32 year old man posed as a 17 year old pupil at one of Scotland’s best secondary schools.

Obviously he has the guile, wit and intelligence of a convincing conman, as well as being a good actor as he played the lead role in the schools production of South Pacific that year. The second time around he qualified with A grades at every exam and got a place to study medicine at Dundee University. Like most Scottish Universities, Dundee has a very prestigious medical school but would never take a mature student over the age of 30.

Brian had renamed himself Brandon Lee and had returned to his old school saying that he’d been in Canada, had returned to Scotland  and was  resuming his education. His  documents were convincing and were accepted by the Education Board and he was re-enrolled in the same school he had attended the first time around. He even had the same maths teacher.

His second school career was completed  and his  deception was only uncovered in the summer after he had left school. Like most people with a Walter Mitty lifestyle, there are a few versions as to how he got caught. One is that he went to Tenerife on holiday with two female former classmates. There was a brawl in a pub and the Spanish police went to his accommodation afterwards and found two passports. One in the name of Brandon Lee aged 17, the other in the name of Brian MacKinnon aged 32.

Unlike my passport photograph Mr Lee’s/MacKinnon’s  shows a fresh faced youth, but the same picture on both.  My passport picture looks as if I have just been released after a long period of solitary confinement while being forced to listen to an Adele album.

Brian/ Brandon seems to have lived a life as a 17 year old. At that age some kids look like kids, others look like young men. It’s said he was a popular and outgoing student and told jokes just like anybody that age. Looking back, his fellow students can see the holes in his story. He said he was from Canada but never mentioned where, he said he lived with an Aunt but never mentioned where. He never invited his friends home. They presumed that his mature vocabulary was due to the fact he had travelled so much. There are a few things that maybe should have raised an eyebrow. One was a short story he wrote for the school magazine which was set in a pub ( the law here does not allow kids of that age in a pub). Another one was when he said he recalled where he was when Elvis died. The maths on that one just doesn’t add up.

In the end we was accepted by Dundee University to do medicine but his deception was uncovered before he got very far and he was expelled.

Also his choice of name is a little odd. Brandon Lee was obviously the son of the late actor Bruce Lee. Brandon tragically died while filming The Crow. Also Brandon is not a common Scottish first name, but it is the kind of name we’d expect from a cousin from ‘over the water’.

The film is called My Old School, a documentary voiced by Alan Cumming and is eagerly anticipated  in the hope it might answer the questions. ‘How on earth did he manage that?’  ‘How did he shave 15 years off his life?’  ‘Can I do that too?’

There are many, many questions about this. His father passed away when he was quite young. From what I’ve read there was only him and his mum.  So what was going on there?  If he lived on his own, did he leave the house everyday in his school uniform? If he lived with his mum,  where did he say he was going? What did he do for money? Is Calculus easier the second time around? There  must have been a time in Latin when he recalled vocabulary he had not been taught yet.

Does this mean that a time traveller could live amongst us and we’d not notice?

Would this be possible in the age of social media?

So many questions.  The main one being, do any of us really want to go back to being 17 and re doing Higher physics?  E=mc2    Although after Brexit, that’s probably not true any more.

Caro (aged 32)


  1. And then there's the question of how he did with the girls. Was he a more suave seducer than you'd expect from a 17 year-old? Or was he still a geeky nerd, unable to even talk to the girls? And, good god, yes, WHY would anyone want to be 17 again???

  2. In my career as a lawyer I came across several phenomenal imposter characters (both in my personal and professional life), but Brandon Lee is in a class of his own (pun only incidental). The most alarming thing to me is how many are out there running ingeniously made up lives, even in the face of all the tools available for checking out their bona fides.

    1. Class of his own? Jeff! 😂
      Age and/or career impostors always fascinate me. There was a guy (probably several) who knew nothing about medicine but somehow had an entire hospital believing he was a qualified physician. Seems to me that would be about the same as if I went into an airplane cockpit posing as a pilot! There've also been dodgy nurses--there was one even I worked with who, after some 10 years or so, someone figured out this guy was a serial killer who was murdering ICU patients by injecting them with lethal substances. I'll see if I can do a post on this now that Caro has stimulated the topic. BTW, being locked up for just 24 hours while listening to an Adele loop would be sufficient to make me hang myself.

    2. Sorry Kwei, sometimes I just can't help myself. :)

  3. Great blog, Caro. Actually, I can see exactly why he would call himself Brandon Lee. Anyone doing a Google search on the name would find the first several thousand pages were on Bruce Lee's ill-fated son and the theories surrounding his death. It wouldn't seem odd that they couldn't find 'their' Brandon Lee amid all that noise. Clever...