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Film review: Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story

Published: Monday, May 10 1993 12:00 a.m. MDT

Young fans of Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme or any of the other myriad of martial arts movie stars may be unaware that their big-screen roots were established by the late Bruce Lee.

San Francisco-born, Lee grew up in Hong Kong as a juvenile delinquent and when he entered show business in America, demonstrated both an amazing physical prowess and a charismatic screen presence.

Lee died in 1973 at the age of 32, just before his most successful film, "Enter the Dragon," was released. It made him, posthumously, an international star.

As a result of his untimely death (and the supposedly mysterious circumstances surrounding it), Lee has been the subject of mythically proportioned legends for 20 years. Now, a new film, "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story," based on his widow's biography, attempts to set the record straight.

The film stars Jason Scott Lee (no relation), a Hawaiian actor who does not especially resemble Bruce Lee physically, but who does manage to capture Lee's spirit and certainly his specifically choreographed fighting technique.

Director/co-writer Rob Cohen has chosen to construct "Dragon's" fight scenes, even those that supposedly take place in "real life," after the manner of Lee's over-the-top, spring-in-the-air kung fu style in such films as "Fist of Fury," "Enter the Dragon," etc. And the result is most entertaining — especially the first such sequence, set at a 1961 Lantern Festival where Lee enters like Clark Kent and exits like Superman.

Much of the rest of the film leans toward Lee's romance and marriage to Linda (Lauren Holly), a blonde woman whose mother (Michael Learned) disapproves of their union. Linda also finds that being with a Chinese man invites a lot of racial friction on both sides. Some of these scenes are a bit less assured than the fights but are handled very well by the actors.

Much less successful, however, are a series of symbolic moments when Lee is literally tortured by a spiritual demon, which he eventually overcomes, though not soon enough to save his own life. The main problem here is the redundancy, which becomes not only expected but rather dull after the first couple of encounters. (There is an unintentionally chilling moment at the end, however, when the demon goes after Lee's young son Brandon, who grew up to make action movies on his own and was accidentally killed on a movie set some six weeks ago.)

Still, on the whole, "Dragon" is an entertaining film, especially for martial arts fans. And kudos must go to Jason Scott Lee, a very talented actor to watch for in the future. (Look for veterans Nancy Kwan and Robert Wagner in supporting roles.)

"Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" is rated PG-13, but an R might be more appropriate, considering the amount of mayhem, sex, nudity, profanity and vulgarity here.