Starring Jason Scott Lee, Lauren Holly, Robert Wagner, John Cheung
Fight Choreography by John Cheung
Directed by Rob Cohen
When Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story came out fans of the Lee family were still reeling from the death of Brandon Lee, which had only occurred a few months before this film was released. I’ve always had a soft spot for this film, as I’ve always connected it with my feelings after Brandon’s death. I went to the theater twice to watch this film, and watching again has brought back some memories from that day, so yeah, it will probably color my review a bit.
Jason Scott Lee stars as Bruce Lee, whom we first meet as a child learning martial arts (while they don’t name him, it can only be Ip Man) and later as an adult, beating up several English sailors while they are harassing a woman at a lantern festival. The consequences of the fight becomes very, very real as Bruce’s father forces him to leave Hong Kong and go to the States to make his fortune. It is during his college days he meets Linda (Lauren Holly), falls in love but not without issues, and before long gets into Hollywood, first making a little TV show called The Green Hornet, and after many roadblocks returns to China after his father’s death, and agrees to make a film called The Big Boss, and the rest his history…
The first thing to understand about this film is that is a fictional telling of Bruce’s life, touching on many real-life events, but make no mistake this is a martial arts action film through and through. Jason Scott Lee, while he doesn’t look anything like Bruce, embodies and humanizes him in a way that other Bruce wannabes don’t, or can’t. While not a natural martial artist himself, Lee does a great job moving like Bruce, and its hard to tell that he didn’t really know much martial arts before the film. Lauren Holly isn’t bad as Linda, but while she’s stunningly beautiful in the film, the script didn’t really get into her enough beyond the broad strokes to truly care about her, particularly during some of the most emotional scenes, and her acting hadn’t evolved enough yet to mask the deficiencies in her character. The most standout parts of her are the scenes with Lee where they have to face various forms of racism at a restaurant, and with her mother before that. Those scenes were well done, and believe me those moments do happen in real life. Take that from someone who is living it.
Rob Cohen isn’t too imaginative as a director, but the fight scenes are, for the most part well shot. The script sprinkles in moments we are supposed to believe will inform Bruce’s films later, and while that is eye-rolling, I didn’t mind them quite so much. The scenes with Brandon, particularly at the end, when Bruce has to do battle with his demons, were more affecting and haunting than otherwise may have been if Brandon hadn’t died not long before the films’ release. If I recall at the time there was some discussion on putting off the release of the film, or at least changing the end fight, but they did add a dedication to Brandon, which was nicely done.
The fights in the film range the gamut from ok to pretty good. The fights versus Johnny Sun are the best in the film, well shot and the choreography by John Cheung is pretty on point (which is to be expected as he’s a veteran of early Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung films, and plays Johnny Sun himself) and the alley fight with the cooks was, to my surprise, a lot of fun, and was very reminiscent of the fight in the alley in Return of the Dragon (pretty sure that was intentional).
I have to toss a special shout to Randy Edelman, the music composer of the film, and this is one of the best soundtracks of any film in the 90’s. Lord knows just about every film trailer in the mid 90’s -early 00’s used parts of it, but as an owner of the soundtrack I stand by its greatness!
Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8
This was a star-making performance by Jason Scott Lee, and it’s a shame his star didn’t rise as it should have, but this is an entertaining film about Bruce Lee, albeit a Hollywoodized action film version of it.