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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Retro Review: Dragon The Bruce Lee Story (1993)

Dragon The Bruce Lee Story
Cast: Jason Lee, Lauren Holly, Nancy Kwan, Robert Wagner
Genre: Biographical Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $63 million

Plot: The brief but eventful life of actor and martial arts trailblazer Bruce Lee, based on the biography written by his widow Linda Lee Caldwell

'Factually Inaccurate, Yet Compelling Somewhat & Entertaining, But Can't Shake Off Its DTV Status'

Overdramatic, the use of heightened music did take away from some of my enjoyment of the movie with a feel that is akin to a low budget straight to DVD/ TV movie this side of Hallmark channel, look, I knew before I rewatched this movie that I wasn't going to get a typical martial arts fighting-based action flick, but a biopic on one of the most famous, well make that the most well-known and famous martial arts stars of all-time. & a romanticised one for that matter as well. 

For those of you who don't know who Bruce Lee is, though I'm sure many of you film fans have seen his face adorn the DVD covers of films such as The Big Boss, Enter The Dragon, he was a martial artist, born in San Francisco originally but who lived in Hong Kong and made several movies over there and broke out as a worldwide star. Endorsed by his widower/wife, Linda, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is a biographical yet fictionalised account of the late great Lee's years, beginning with his upbringing in Hong Kong after his birth in San Francisco through to his marriage to wife, Linda to his encounter with his inner demons & his inevitable passing.  

Even though it was made and released in 1993 as a theatrical movie, it looks like a TV movie. The story and dramatic elements, which were present, were given the Hollywood treatment, there were some cringe-worthy scenes and I was shocked at the inaccuracy and omission of some of the facts. One example being Bruce's back injury was endured during a training exercise and not by a fight encounter by a long-haired burly guy. Another was that he was the only child of Grace Lee and Lee Hoi Chen when actually this is untrue. The tonality of the movie was messy; the scene where Lee beats up the cooks, I don't know if that actually happened, and if it didn't, then that is truly disappointing that they threw that scene in for no other reason but because it is an action scene. Then a couple of scenes later, there is a nightmare sequence where Bruce's biggest fears in a mysterious figure guy dressed in a samurai outfit, and identified as his inner demon, hoists Lee and throws him onto the wall. Now, that part was supposed to be scary, it was supposed to evoke fear and tension, yet it made me feel little for it. The complaints about the meshing of the two genres: action/martial arts with drama and the dissonance between the two are understandable and warranted. Also, Bruce Lee spoke Cantonese Chinese in some of his movies, yet this was never mentioned or highlighted anywhere in the movie, with Jason Scott Lee as Bruce speaking in predominately English. 

It is pretty ironic that the makers of this film tried to make a movie about a person who fought to raise and boost the profile of martial arts to the mainstream, beyond that of kung fu and karate enthusiasts and to wider audiences, yet they created a biopic movie that is by all essence a B-movie fit for television. It feels corny, far too lightweight and the direction, even for a drama should have been far more potent. The music can be overbearing and whilst the performances hold plenty of weight and merit on their own, thanks to the capable Jason Lee and Lauren Holly as Bruce's wife, Linda, they are often brought down by the film's insistence on turning the story into an overly melodramatic affair, which takes away from Dragon's potential as a film. 

All I could think of as I was watching this was it was a TV movie through the production values, the feel and the approach. I mean, it was watchable in places and it was compelling, but also there were times where it over-exaggerated things that had me wincing. Yet the decision for the writers and directors to cop out on Bruce's death & having a proper death scene, and instead have Lauren Holly doing a voiceover mentioning that Lee fell into a coma and died, pretty much tells me that all that potential for a great Bruce Lee biopic came to well, little or be it nothing. I am clearly more than disappointed.  

Dragon also doesn't emphasise or make references to Enter The Dragon and The Big Boss, amongst others, but it's more about Bruce's adversity and overcoming racism and various barriers in his life to promote the martial art that is known as jeet kune do. 


Final Verdict:

Dragon is not so much or be it a martial arts film, but a drama biopic on martial arts and not a movie I would place side by side with Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Lee's other movies. With an approach that is far too lightweight and leans more towards the hammy side and despite the skewed facts, which took away from some of the movie's enjoyment, I feel it would make for a better film had it not dumbed down for the sake of mainstream audiences and to present things in a more gritty, open and accurate fashion. 

But alas, B/TV movie Dragon is what it is and if you are after a more faithful rendition of Bruce Lee's life, you are better off with biographies such as Bruce Lee: The Celebrated Life of the Golden Dragon, because this is more of a fictionalised account of events that is also factually inaccurate and chooses to gloss over the truths & of which, is given the Hollywood treatment. I bought into the performances, the action, but everything else, just wasn't up to scratch in my book. 

But besides that, up until the ending, this was still watchable. 


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