t's safe to say that Bruce Lee is a legend to most people,
a role model to a lot of people, and a fascinating man to even those who barely
know the name "Bruce Lee." Besides popularizing "gung fu" to
the West, Lee opened up the international film audience to Hong Kong and other
Asian filmmakers. Oh sure, those films were mostly chop-socky, cheapo
productions, but a foot in the door is a foot in the door, and Lee was certainly
a big reason for it, if not the only one. If nothing else, Lee certainly
changed the way Americans look at Asians. Not just Chinese, since your average
American couldn't tell the difference between a Chinese and a Japanese, but
Asians in general.
"Dragon" tells the story of Bruce Lee (Jason
Scott Lee) from his time in Hong Kong to his trials and tribulations in America.
In the States during the '60s, Lee experiences racial prejudice in every corner
of society, but still manages to fall heads over hells in love with the pretty
(and very white) Linda (Lauren Holly), open a successful kung fu school in
Downtown San Francisco, and take on all comers, Chinese or otherwise. By movie's
end, Lee has shot "Enter the Dragon," the movie that would make him an
international star, and begun production on "Game of
Death," the Hong
Kong film he would never finish because of his untimely death, which ended his
young and burgeoning movie career.
"Dragon" is, first and foremost, entertainment in
the guise of a biography, so those looking for a real, in-depth look at the
man's life from childhood to death need not apply. As with any person (famous or
not), it would take a lengthy mini-series to tell all the important
events of their life. Bruce Lee is no exception. So with only two hours at his
disposal, director/co-writer Rob Cohen ("The
Fast and the Furious") concentrates on hitting all the high (and low)
points in Bruce's life, adding sprinkles of "Bruce Lee-like" fight
sequences in-between to liven things up. As Cohen himself admits in the audio
commentary, much of the movie's fights were added to give Lee's main audiences
the kind of action they're used to seeing in real Bruce Lee films. Did Lee
really have all these violent encounters in real life? Probably not.
Playing Bruce Lee is Jason Scott Lee (no relation to the
real man), who seems to be channeling all the charm and charisma people know and
love about the real Bruce Lee. Scott Lee is a natural actor, and although he's
clearly not a martial artist in real life (Cohen points out that Scott Lee
didn't even know martial arts until he started training for this movie!), Scott
Lee nevertheless does a good job selling the action. He could have been faster
and more powerful in various places, but on the whole he does a very credible
job. But where Scott Lee really shines is in pure acting; the man is just talented,
and his face is a canvas of expressions that requires no words, much like the
real Bruce Lee himself.
The main woman in Bruce's life is Linda, whose book the
movie is partly based on. Besides telling her mom that she's "going
bowling" for the umpteenth time (so much, in fact, that Bruce quips,
"[Your mom] must think you're a bowling champ by now."), Linda
encounters racism alongside Bruce and grows as a person. Lauren Holly and Scott
Lee have good chemistry, and a couple of steamy scenes between the two don't
hurt the film, either. The other woman in Bruce's life is Vivian (Michael
Learned), Linda's mother, who is incapable of accepting her daughter seeing a
Chinese man. As Vivian tells Bruce, "You're an American citizen, not really
Of course "Dragon" isn't just about Bruce
encountering white bigotry. The film also takes aim at the secretive Chinese
groups who doesn't want to share their culture with the whites, despite living
among them. In fact, it's a Chinese martial artist who becomes Bruce's archenemy
throughout the film, and the two engage in fisticuffs numerous times, including
an excellent and exciting match inside a ring with a clock counting down.
Did everything that takes place in "Dragon"
really take place in real life? I highly doubt it. The film is more of a merging
of real broad strokes from Bruce's life and sequences taken from his movies. The
subplot about Bruce being stalked by a demon from his childhood is used as
metaphor, but comes across as much too literal a translation of a very
traditional Chinese (and really, Asian) theme.
In perhaps the most ironic realization of all, the film
ends with Bruce defeating the demon via an ethereal battle, and thus saves his
son Brandon by not passing the demon curse onto the boy. This was a good ending,
very creative, but after the real Brandon Lee's death on the set of "The
Crow" a few weeks prior to the opening of "Dragon" in 1993, the whole ending comes across as rather
eerie. Not to mention very
sad, since Brandon was about his father's age when he died.
went on to become a hit, as did Bruce Lee's "Enter the
both men movie stars posthumously.