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‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 07, 1993

 


Director:
Rob Cohen
Cast:
Jason Scott Lee;
Lauren Holly;
Michael Learned;
Nancy Kwan;
Robert Wagner
PG-13
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent


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Sometimes in the face of impending disaster, a movie pulls through anyway. On the face of it, "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" couldn't have more negatives.

In the tragic aftermath of the death of Brandon Lee (Bruce Lee's son), this Universal Pictures movie (although it was made before the accident) seems like a gross capitalization. It's based on the eulogistic biography "Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew," by Lee's widow, Linda Lee Cadwell. And what actor would dare imitate a screen legend who was the Nijinsky of martial arts?

Jason Scott Lee, that's who. A Hawaiian actor (no relation to Bruce Lee) who knew nothing about kung fu before this film, he's the movie's best move. With training from fighter Jerry Poteet (a disciple of Bruce Lee), he slips on Lee's athletic elegance and impish charm like an easy mantle. Yet, it's his acting that makes "Dragon" so watchable. With a personality like firecrackers, he charms and crackles his way through this movie.

"Dragon" is indeed a schmaltzy sanctification. It doesn't show Bruce Lee dying of a brain edema in the apartment of reputed mistress Betty Ting-Pei -- the latest take on his mysterious 1973 death. It portrays his life truthfully, but in cheesy, made-for-TV highlights.

Faced with a dead-end future in Hong Kong, Lee flees to the United States, but finds only poverty and racism. As a painfully shy philosophy student in Seattle, he starts teaching his revolutionary brand of fighting -- jeet kune do. He falls for lissome student Linda Emery (played by Lauren Holly) and, despite the protestations of her mother (Michael Learned), they marry.

When Lee gets the breakthrough part of Kato in "The Green Hornet," his future seems assured. But the worldwide fame he achieves with the 1973 "Enter the Dragon" is interrupted with various episodic hurdles: the Chinese martial-arts mafia that rejects his right to teach; his loss of the lead part in the TV series "Kung Fu" (Lee's original idea) to Caucasian David Carradine; and, in the movie's worst moments, his lifelong, surreal tussle with a mist-engulfed phantom -- a laughable symbol for The Fear in All of Us.

But it's tremendous fun. The movie -- directed by Rob Cohen -- switches pleasingly from exciting fights to moments of magic playfulness. It's doubly touching to experience Bruce Lee's fleeting life and, in the brief depictions of little son Brandon, to fatefully anticipate the tragedy to come.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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