Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
1993 Directed by Rob Cohen. Starring Jason Scott Lee, Lauren Holly, Nancy Kwan, Robert Wagner, Michael Learned.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 7, 1993
Though it could hardly be termed a stroke of luck, the timing of this Bruce Lee film bio could hardly be better. Ever since his sudden and premature death in 1973 at the age of 32 only a few weeks shy of the debut of his most successful film, Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee's demise has been shrouded in mystery, rumor, conspiracy theory and whispered lore. Now twenty years later, this loving film biography fashioned from his widow Linda's memoir, Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew, is scheduled for release only a few short weeks following the apparently accidental gunshot death of rising film star Brandon Lee, son of Bruce and Linda, while working on the set of a movie called The Crow. Coincidence? Fate? Ancient curses? Foul play? It's the type of family history that, perhaps, only a Kennedy can understand. This movie will always be a tough one to separate from its moment in time. Dragon, nevertheless, does a better-than-fair job of capturing some of the spirit and vitality that were so unique to Bruce Lee and his films. It has some well-thought-out action sequences and camera choreography. Also, star Jason Scott Lee (no relation to Bruce or Brandon) renders a reasonable facsimile of Bruce Lee's sinewy and precise physical movements as well as his well-known mercurial temperament. In fact, all the actors in Dragon are good -- the young American beauty who becomes Lee's wife despite familial racial resentments played by Holly (formerly Julie Chandler on All My Children), the suntanned Hollywood exec played with oily pleasure by Wagner, Kwan's matronly restaurateur (and former Suzie Wong) who advises Lee to get out of the dishwashing business, and Learned's mother, who'd rather see her daughter dead than in the arms of an Asian man (interestingly, it's the birth of Brandon that brings grandma back into the family fold). Another thing that's nice about Dragon is its frank treatment of racism and stereotyping in Hollywood and Lee's constant struggle to change all that. It lends a level of dignity and importance to the story that might otherwise be written off as martial arts hagiography. Where Dragon falters, however, is in its one-sided history of Bruce Lee as seen through wife Linda's eyes. She is his sole inspiration, his muse, his partner, his biographer. From her perspective, this can't help but be a love story. Inevitably, that focus blinds her to many of the thornier issues and questions surrounding her husband's life and death. Thus, Dragon should never be regarded as the utmost in historical veracity, though it certainly captures a great deal of the spirit and flavor of what we so fondly remember as the essence of Bruce Lee.