Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, 1993.
Directed by Rob Cohen.
Starring Jason Scott Lee, Lauren Holly, Robert Wagner, Michael Learned, Eric Bruskotter, Nancy Kwan, Sterling Macer Jr., and Ric Young.
A fictionalised account of the life of martial arts superstar Bruce Lee.
The life and tragically early death of martial arts legend Bruce Lee will forever hold interest, spark debate and inspire many different takes on what actually happened to the man but in 1993 – twenty years after his mysterious death – the world was treated to what has probably become the most popular depiction of Lee’s life in film, the Rob Cohen-directed Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, now given a DVD and Blu-ray re-release courtesy of Fabulous Films.
However, as with most biopics there were – and still are – rumblings about how accurate the depicted story really is, and within the first 10 minutes of the movie we are introduced to Bruce (Jason Scott Lee – Back to the Future Part II) through a series of scenes set in Hong Kong where he is taking on a group of unruly US sailors at a dance and then with his father in their home. We know from record that neither of these events is true to life – Lee did not take on drunken soldiers at a dance and he lived with his father, mother and four siblings – and neither are the scenes of his fighting in a back alley with his colleagues at a Chinese restaurant and various other fights that take place in the movie, but although they may not reflect what really happened to Bruce when he arrived in America they do give Jason Scott Lee (no relative) a chance to show just how good he is as Bruce.
And he has to be because he doesn’t actually look like Bruce Lee very much. However, he has the mannerisms down – the way of talking expressively, the movement of his mouth and – probably most importantly – he has the moves, which is even more impressive when you learn that Jason Scott Lee had no previous martial arts training, but he has the great man’s fighting stances and tics down to a tee, so much so that you could be forgiven in thinking it was Bruce with Jason’s face inserted over the top during certain scenes.
The movie focuses on Bruce’s internal fears and how those fears manifested themselves as a demon that attacks Bruce – and later his son Brandon, whom the demon goes after near the end of the film – in blackouts. In reality this was never based on anything other than trying to expand on the popular theory of a ‘curse’ in the Lee family, a theory (and a movie scene) made all the more poignant by the tragic death of Brandon Lee a few weeks before this movie’s release. The romance between Bruce Lee and his wife Linda (played by Lauren Holly – Dumb and Dumber) is also delved into quite heavily and, again, although events are ‘tweaked’ for emotional or dramatic effect – Bruce did not dictate his Tao of Jeet Kune Do book to his wife while he recovered from a broken back; it was pieced together by Linda from Bruce’s notes after his death, and he never broke his back in real life anyway – it does help emphasise how strong their bond was, especially when put against the backdrop of prejudice against their interracial relationship, which was a real thing. But what is wrong with telling a convincing love story, regardless of the facts, anyway? It gives the movie a heart that may otherwise have not been there had the filmmakers concentrated on the action instead.
Ultimately, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is less of a biopic and more like the best Bruce Lee movie that Bruce Lee never starred in. Yes, there have been liberties taken with true events – and some complete fabrications – but the seeds of the story came from Linda Lee Cadwell’s biography and interviews with Cadwell and Brandon Lee, and with Rob Cohen’s intentions to make a film that was more like a Bruce Lee movie than a standard dramatisation of a Hollywood star being the initial mission statement then the movie undoubtedly succeeds. The disc comes with an archival behind-the-scenes featurette that is pretty much the Bruce Lee fan service you expect it to be but the Blu-ray image is crisp and sharp, and along with the retro fashions on display it gives this 27-year-old movie set over two decades earlier a distinct freshness.
The real truth as to what happened to Bruce Lee will never be known and because of this a definitive version of his life will unlikely ever be made, or at least get authorised by his estate. If you go into Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story expecting accuracy and fact then you aren’t going to get it but that doesn’t stop it being a highly entertaining movie full of humour, action and romance with a story to tell that takes on an extra weight and sense of melancholy because of the timing of its original release with the death of Brandon Lee. Overall, it is the spirit of Bruce Lee that lies at the centre of this movie and it is beautifully recreated, regardless of its inaccuracies.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★