On Feb. 1 ageless David Carradine faces off against a dangerously youthful assassin. And this time, the familiar-looking upstart just might have the kung fu credentials to do Carradine bodily harm, or worse, upstage him. The handsome hired killer certainly has the genes. Debuting on his 21st birthday in a CBS-TV pilot called Kung Fu: The Movie, Brandon Lee is launching an acting career that he hopes won't be a martial arts mirror of his legendary father's.

Brandon is the only son of Bruce Lee and his American wife, Linda Emery. Bruce died of a brain edema when Brandon was 8, and the boy, his mom and sister Shannon, now 16, moved back and forth between Hong Kong and America several times when he was growing up. Brandon learned to speak Chinese and make his way around the crowded and sooty streets of Hong Kong. There, the self-defense he learned from his father and others often came in handy.

"As a small boy," remembers Brandon, "I traveled all over the place with Dad, appearing on talk shows and performing all sorts of martial arts feats." After his father died, the most difficult feat was controlling Brandon, who became a sort of rebel without a pause. He was thrown out of two high schools and dropped out of a third. After spending a year hitchhiking around the U.S., Lee passed a high school equivalency test, which he describes as "an insult to everybody with free intelligence in the universe." Brandon didn't like Boston's Emerson College any better than high school, but he did enjoy putting on a one-man production of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance during his year there. A lot of his time was spent commuting to New York for acting classes.

Serious acting is his goal, but for now Brandon sits in his "small, very grungy apartment" in L.A., impatiently awaiting the results of his first break. His conversation veers from the profane to the pretentious. "I believe in the philosophy of nonconformity," says Brandon, although he is well aware of the typecasting threat his ancestry and skills create. "I don't want to be known only as Bruce Lee's son—to take a magic-carpet ride on my father's achievements. It's been very hard...but you could blame me too. I could have been a dentist."