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‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 07, 1993

 


Director:
Rob Cohen
Cast:
Jason Scott Lee;
Lauren Holly;
Michael Learned;
Nancy Kwan;
Robert Wagner
PG-13
the volatile LeeSince "Dragon" is based on Emery's book, "Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew," it's not surprising that events are a bit sugar-coated But the film doesn't shy away from the couple's personal troubles, or from Lee's temper and frustration over racism -- which ruled both Hollywood's film industry and a closed Chinese culture that wanted its martial arts traditions kept secretThough "Dragon" is not for Bruce Lee and martial arts fans alone, there's plenty to keep that constituency satisfied as well The fights are true to Lee's manically exuberant spirit and gymnastic prowess -- he flies through the air often enough to earn frequent fighter miles Jason Scott Lee is thoroughly convincing, even though he had never done martial arts before being cast in the roleThe fight sequences include memorable re-creations of Lee-as-Kato on "The Green Hornet," the icehouse fight from "Fists of Fury" and the hall-of-mirrors climax from "Enter the Dragon" The highlights, though, are an intensely comical scene in which dishwasher Lee is attacked by four butcher-knife-wielding cooks, and a set of explosive confrontations generated by Lee's decision to simplify karate and make it accessible to non-Chinese studentsThat was a controversial move, but it revitalized and popularized martial arts worldwide The film suggests it may have contributed to Lee's mysterious demise; he suffered a cerebral edema after taking an aspirinDirector Cohen moves the story along briskly but smoothly, following it from Hong Kong to California and back again (Lee returned home after Caucasian David Carradine was given the lead in "Kung Fu," a project developed by and for Lee) It's an episodic celebration of Lee's life, not an inquiry into his death -- which is not even shown Jason Scott Lee invests his role with appropriate grace, power and humor, a physical dynamo who knows when to internalize his passion and when to simply explode That makes him, and "Dragon," more than credible: It makes them believable


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"Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" is rousing entertainment with many faces -- martial arts thrills, romance, mystery, comedy -- and a double dose of poignancy.

"Dragon" celebrates the life of Bruce Lee, the martial arts star who died under mysterious circumstances in 1973 at age 32 on the verge of superstar status. The film, completed last year, also shows him as the proud father of newborn Brandon Lee, who died under mysterious circumstances in March at age 29.

The few scenes between them now take on an undercurrent of inevitability, not the least because director Rob Cohen intersperses an essentially straightforward biofilm with surreal dream sequences in which towering samurai demons foreshadow Lee's fate. One dream involving both Bruce and young Brandon has the father desperately trying to protect his son. It's hard not to choke up knowing what happened 20 years later on the set of "The Crow."

Those metaphoric demons are used to suggest the inner fears Lee battled throughout his life, along with the public demons of racism and poverty. But for all its fussing and fighting, "Dragon" is also very much a love story, dealing with interracial romance, marriage and parenthood. Because the film is rated PG-13, the treatment given both romance and violence is more in the manner of a television movie, but certainly more involving.

Forced to leave Hong Kong after injuring some bullying Western sailors, Bruce Lee (Jason Scott Lee, no relation) moves to San Francisco, where he soon meets fellow college student Linda Emery (Lauren Holly of CBS's "Picket Fences"). Their romance provokes both parental and social disdain. But the relationship also proves to be a stabilizer and motivator for the volatile Lee.

Since "Dragon" is based on Emery's book, "Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew," it's not surprising that events are a bit sugar-coated. But the film doesn't shy away from the couple's personal troubles, or from Lee's temper and frustration over racism -- which ruled both Hollywood's film industry and a closed Chinese culture that wanted its martial arts traditions kept secret.

Though "Dragon" is not for Bruce Lee and martial arts fans alone, there's plenty to keep that constituency satisfied as well. The fights are true to Lee's manically exuberant spirit and gymnastic prowess -- he flies through the air often enough to earn frequent fighter miles. Jason Scott Lee is thoroughly convincing, even though he had never done martial arts before being cast in the role.

The fight sequences include memorable re-creations of Lee-as-Kato on "The Green Hornet," the icehouse fight from "Fists of Fury" and the hall-of-mirrors climax from "Enter the Dragon." The highlights, though, are an intensely comical scene in which dishwasher Lee is attacked by four butcher-knife-wielding cooks, and a set of explosive confrontations generated by Lee's decision to simplify karate and make it accessible to non-Chinese students.

That was a controversial move, but it revitalized and popularized martial arts worldwide. The film suggests it may have contributed to Lee's mysterious demise; he suffered a cerebral edema after taking an aspirin.

Director Cohen moves the story along briskly but smoothly, following it from Hong Kong to California and back again (Lee returned home after Caucasian David Carradine was given the lead in "Kung Fu," a project developed by and for Lee). It's an episodic celebration of Lee's life, not an inquiry into his death -- which is not even shown. Jason Scott Lee invests his role with appropriate grace, power and humor, a physical dynamo who knows when to internalize his passion and when to simply explode. That makes him, and "Dragon," more than credible: It makes them believable.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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