Eye For Film >> Movies >> Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993) Film Review
Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
Reviewed by: Stephen Carty
No matter how big a fan you are of the impossibly-iconic martial arts legend Bruce Lee, you’d have to admit that none of his movies (well, possibly Enter The Dragon) did him justice. It’s slightly ironic then, that 20 years after his tragic death it’s a movie about the cultural icon’s life without him in it that finally provides an experience worthy of the man.
Based on the book ‘Bruce Lee, the Man Only I Knew’ by wife Linda Lee, some will argue that this biopic following his progress from the early delinquent years in Hong Kong to his fresh start in America is more of a glossy tribute than a tell-all biography.
Regardless, whilet the high-kicking star is often painted in a heroic light, director Rob Cohen doesn’t just offer a superficial portrayal of a flawless demigod - he tells a story about a flawed man full of life and drive, who didn’t recognise barriers of any kind despite constantly encountering racial prejudice. Of course, given that he was a bit handy Kung Fu-wise, there’s plenty of combat scenes. Though some are slightly overdone - back-flipping onto tables, shirt ripping open - they’re frequently hypnotic and consistently spectacular, while loyal to the master’s own style.
Importantly though, the set-pieces never come before the story. While almost entirely focussing on his adult years, the amount of different time periods and important happenings to cover means Cohen moves with pace. But that doesn’t result in a lack of substance, as each facet of the man-myth’s existence is captured appropriately - the harsh struggle for initial acceptance in the US, the inspirational creation of Jeet Kune Do, the exciting move into TV with The Green Hornet, the heart-break of losing following series Kung Fu, the uplifting reaction to The Big Boss, the tragedy of death just before making it big time… and so on.
The fantastical waking-nightmare battles with his ‘inner demon’ might be too much for some, but given the mysterious nature of the icon’s death (he once complained that something was trying to drag him away from life) they fit perfectly.
Ultimately though, Dragon wouldn’t work without a worthy lead – and the unrelated Jason Scott Lee offers a triumphant portrayal. While most viewers will merely comment on his vague physical likeness and fighting prowess (amazingly, he had no martial arts background prior to training with one of Bruce’s disciples), where JSL really impresses is in capturing the essence of the man. Charismatic, spontaneous, funny, infectious, Scott Lee doesn’t just play the dragon, he inhabits him. As Linda Lee (played fantastically here by Lauren Holly) notes on the DVD: “It was worth waiting all this time for Jason to grow up and be old enough to play Bruce.”
Biased perhaps, but Dragon is a dazzling and moving biopic of the world’s first international Chinese-American movie star.Reviewed on: 29 Jul 2010