Title: Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993)
Director: Rob Cohen
Cast: Jason Scott Lee, Lauren Holly
Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is a biographical film based on the book written by Linda Lee Cadwell, Bruce Lee’s wife. The book was called Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew. It’s good to keep that in mind because the film is told mostly from the point of view of Linda Lee; something I rather enjoyed about this movie. It’s a love story, and a very engaging one. Bruce Lee is idolized by millions across the world, he truly is an example of what we can achieve when we commit our minds to achieve a certain goal; for this I’ve always admired Bruce Lee. He was focused, disciplined and determined, something we should all aspire to be in life. That plus he had such charisma, such a glow, it’s no surprise he became the icon that he became. Did this film do justice to the hero?
Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story starts out when Lee was in China, dreaming of coming to America. He gets into a brawl over a girl and ends up having to leave his country in order to escape the authorities, a situation he has no problems with because he loves the American culture, he loves movies and James Dean. After he arrives to America, we see how he goes from dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant to college student, to karate teacher, to becoming a husband and a father and finally, a powerhouse movie star. But one thing is always hounding Bruce Lee and that’s the demon that’s always followed his family. Will he ever confront his own personal demons? Will he always live in fear of them?
The film was directed by Rob Cohen, a director who’s never really wowed me with anything he has done. He’s the guy behind Dragonheart (1996), xXx (2002), Fast and the Furious (2001) and Stealth (2005), not the greatest bunch of films, watchable sure, but good or great, nope. This is why Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is a surprise to me; it is without a doubt Cohen’s finest film. Unfortunately, he’s never truly done anything as good as this. But that’s okay, hey, at least he’s got this one great film on his repertoire, and what a beautiful film it is. It’s purely entertaining, while still managing to tell us Bruce Lee’s story and his fantastic rise to fame. I loved how the film ends up being a film about films, we get to see Lee work his way through all the Hollywood backstabbing. We see his devastation when they give the role that was supposed to be his for the television show Kung Fu, to David Caradine. In retrospective this was probably a good thing, had he ended up as a television star, maybe he wouldn’t have gone on to make the great films he made. And speaking of Lee’s films, on Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story we get to see him on the set of The Big Boss (1971) and Enter the Dragon (1973), which is quite fun, I loved how Rob Cohen played around with these familiar images and situations, especially those scenes that take place in the mirror room on Enter the Dragon.
The film is told from the point of view of his wife, Linda Lee, the film is after all based on her book. Having Linda Lee give her input to this production is a wonderful asset to the production because she was the closest to him throughout his entire life. She was there through his college years, she was there through the first time he opens his karate schools, she was there when he made his first television show, his first movie. She was always there, so her side of the story is probably the most complete side of the tale. What I also enjoyed was how romantic the whole film is, the way Bruce and Linda fell in love is a beautiful love story that broke through racial barriers, they had to deal with Linda’s parents rejecting Bruce over him being Chinese. I’m so glad that their love for each other was stronger than racism; it was a triumph to humanity. It also helps that Lauren Holly and Jason Scott Lee had wonderful on screen chemistry.
The role of Bruce Lee was at one point offered to Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son. Unfortunately, Brandon declined to play his father. I wonder how Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story would have turned out had Brandon Lee taken the role because Brandon Lee turned out to be a wonderful actor; he truly blossomed as a performer when he made The Crow (1994), his final film. Not to mention all the input he could have brought to the role, after all, Bruce Lee was his father. It’s interesting to note that had Brandon Lee accepted to play his father, then maybe he wouldn’t have died while making The Crow, since both movies where shot on the same year. Sadly Brandon Lee was accidentally shot while shooting The Crow less than two months before the theatrical release of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. This is a tragic real life story; Brandon Lee’s death only adds fuel to that myth about Bruce Lee’s family being cursed, which is just silly non sense. So instead of Brandon Lee, the production ended up using Jason Scott Lee to play the role of Bruce, which was an excellent choice in my book, Jason Scott Lee not only has the look, he also brought that physicality to the role. He captured to perfection the mannerisms, the intensity and the charismatic persona of Bruce Lee.
The only thing I don’t like about the film is that it takes some artistic liberties with Bruce Lee’s life story. The film has many discrepancies with Lee’s real life story. For example, in the film, they lead you to believe that the Chinese are angry that he is teaching Karate to the Americans, so he fights with these Chinese dudes who end up breaking his back. In real life the story is substantially different, this fighting match did take place, but it was in Lee’s own Karate school and not in some temple like in the film. And even worse, Bruce Lee actually won that fight! In the movie they make you believe that he loses this fight and that one of the fighters purposely injures his back. This was not true either; his back was injured not by an angered fighter, but because of a weight lifting incident, so Lee’s back injury was self inflicted! In the film they make you think he actually managed to see his book ‘Tao of Jeet Kune Do’ published, in real life the book was printed posthumously. And speaking of his death, the film leaves it as something of a mystery, when in fact he died because of an allergic reaction to a muscle relaxant called ‘Equagesic’, which apparently worsened a condition he had been suffering from called, cerebral edema, basically, excess fluid in the brain. For the most part the film tells Lee’s story like it is, but it takes artistic liberties to make things more dramatic or visually interesting, which is to be expected on any biographical film.
In the end, the film ends up being very inspirational. It’s one of those movies that makes you want to do something with your life after seeing it. It makes you want to believe in yourself, it sends out that idea that if you put your mind to it, you truly can accomplish anything. Linda Lee says she’d rather remember her husband for the way he lived his life, than for his death and I have to say I agree, the guy lived an amazing life overcoming racism, personal fears and demons. The whole demon part of the story is where the film kind of dives into the fantastic because we actually get to see him fighting against this giant Samurai demon. This is yet another scene in which the film takes artistic liberties, but I didn’t mind because it is all kinds of cool to see Bruce Lee fighting a giant Samurai demon, plus it’s just so symbolic of all the struggles he went through to get to where he got. I guess life is like that, you always feel like there’s something hounding you, trying to stop you from achieving your goals, but Lee fought those and won in my opinion, the guy went on to become a legend in life and death. Bruce Lee remains one of my personal heroes, he exceled at what he did and always aimed higher, trying to be all that he could be.
Rating: 5 out of 5