Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993)

Posted: August 8, 2014 in Movie Review
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Dragon The Bruce Lee Story (1993)

Director: Rob Cohen

Starring: Jason Scott Lee, Lauren Holly, Robert Wagner

There will never be another figure quite like Bruce Lee. Without him, it is very likely that the martial arts genre of film would not exist as the entity it is today. Lee was a great philosophical man, and an innovator to match. During a time when it was accepted that those within the Chinese community did not teach non-Chinese, Lee dared to share his culture with “outsiders.” Lee founded Jeet Kune Do under the principle that combat was too spontaneous for any one particular “style” of martial art to be effective enough for one to anticipate their opponent’s every move, merely to respond to them (“Using no way as way. Having no limitation as limitation”). The son of a famous Cantonese opera and film star, he was an actor since early childhood, eventually bringing his talents to American television (“The Green Hornet” and various guest-starring roles) and film (most notably “Enter the Dragon”). No motion picture could ever do Bruce Lee the proper justice… and so it is that none ever has. Yet, still, there is always the conceit that a dramatized biography, however lazy it is with historical accounts, is still quite capable of providing quality entertainment. Case in point, “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.”

The film follows Bruce Lee (Jason Scott Lee) from early childhood to his arrival in the United States, his meeting with future wife Linda (Lauren Holly) and the birth of their children, Brandon and Shannon, through his work on “The Green Hornet” and founding of Jeet Kune Do, and his all-too brief film career (highlighting “The Big Boss” and “Enter the Dragon”). “Dragon” does not paint Bruce’s life in a completely rosy picture. With the triumphs, there are also the failures… among them his crippling back injury in 1970 and his struggle for acceptance as an actor of Chinese heritage, which included being passed over in favor of David Carradine for the lead role on TV’s “Kung Fu.” Sadly, like most biopics, the story must end with the subject’s demise at a young age, leaving behind quite a legacy but also much unfulfilled potential.

Purporting to be based on Linda Lee Cadwell’s book, “Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew,” this movie receives a considerably low grade on historical accuracy. A large percentage is either made up entirely, or is presented out of its correct chronological order. Bruce did compete in a no holds barred match for the rights to teach whomever he pleased (a match he won in all of three minutes), but his fallen opponent did not cause his back injury out of spite. The two also did not have a subsequent rematch. The real Bruce caused his own injury in a weight-lifting accident. Bruce could not have learned of his father’s death while watching the premiere episode of “Kung Fu” (which aired in 1972), because Lee Hoi-chuen died less than a week after the birth of his grandson, Brandon, in February of 1965. Also, these events are depicted as transpiring before the release of “The Big Boss,” Bruce’s first starring vehicle. This is also faulty, since “The Big Boss” was a 1971 film. There was no impromptu fight on the set of that movie, and certainly not with the brother of the guy he beat in the aforementioned match. The stuff about the Reaper-like Samurai/Demon haunting Bruce’s dreams? Complete bullshit, especially considering the real Bruce’s stance on religion.

The only thing that Bruce’s hallucinations of the demon does is creep you out, especially when you consider the scene where Bruce imagines himself protecting his young son from the shadowy figure, and then you remember that Brandon tragically died in an accident on the set of “The Crow” less than two months before “Dragon” was released to theaters. That is why both Lees are mentioned in the dedication at the film’s end.

Grading the entertainment value is another matter, because this is the factor that is of more importance to a martial arts action film. In this area, “Dragon” delivers most satisfactorily. The fight sequences are, to put it mildly, outstandingly choreographed. Whatever screw-ups the writers made in Bruce’s timeline, they obviously are fans of his on-screen work. There are whole sequences that feel as though they could have fit right into one of his movies. There was no way anyone could completely duplicate Bruce Lee’s charisma, his lightning quick reflexes, or that infamous battle cry, but dammit, Jason Scott Lee comes ever so close. Lauren Holly is naturally sweet and tough (and sharply dressed) as Linda. Just as beautiful as the lead actress is the soundtrack. “Bruce and Linda” is another of those musical tracks that, admittedly, got overused by numerous movie trailers over the years. But that was only because it was recognizied as the nice piece of music that it is! And the sets! Perfectly re-imagined are the ice factory from “The Big Boss” and the mirror room from “Enter the Dragon,” as well as a set from a non-existent episode of “The Green Hornet,” notable because Jason Scott Lee trashes it in the same over-the-top manner as Bruce Lee did with James Garner’s office in the movie “Marlowe.” He tells the show’s producers that he figured it’d be more exciting that way. He was right.

It is imperative that one go into “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” seeking the adrenaline rush that any good action movie provides. To truly understand who Bruce Lee was, one should either read one of the many books written about him or, better still, look up archival footage of interviews he gave. He was an interesting man, and is still fascinating to listen to. That he was the same age as I am now when he died really puts into perspective all that he was able to accomplish in the short time that was given to him, and the impact that his teachings and his other creative works continue to have some forty years after his passing. We should all be so fondly remembered for how we lived.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    You did well to mention the biographical errors and then to explain why it is still an exciting, well-paced movie worthy of viewing. Here is another movie we should enjoy watching together at some point in the future!

  2. This one, we actually can since I own a copy on DVD. Another tidbit I forgot to mention is Shannon Lee’s cameo as a member of the band playing a cover of “California Dreamin’.” Nicely placed, this cameo comes in the same scene where Linda tells Bruce she is pregnant with their second child… Shannon!

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