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The Best Movie You Never Saw: Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY!

THE STORY: On the run from the law, martial artist Bruce Lee (Jason Scott Lee) travels to San Francisco, where his kung fu prowess leads to him opening a school, meeting the love of his life (Lauren Holly) and eventual big screen immortality.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Jason Scott Lee, Lauren Holly & Robert Wagner. Directed by Rob Cohen.

THE HISTORY: The cult of Bruce Lee was running at a fever pitch in the early nineties. His movies were perennial favorites on VHS and spooky documentaries about his death were all the rage. People still loved and respected him, with his son, Brandon Lee, on the cusp of big-screen immortality of his own thanks to a well-received star turn in RAPID FIRE.

(On Brandon Lee’s death) I think it was just after we were done, it was during the promotions of DRAGON, before it was released. I met him before I started the project. We had dinner together and sat and talked (as an) offering of respect…getting Brandon’s seal of approval for playing his father. It was realy nice meeting him and sad and tragic how he left us. – Jason Scott Lee Interview

When a big-screen American biopic was announced, Brandon Lee himself was actually approached to take on the part, with him (wisely) turning it down to go do his own thing. He still gave the film his blessing though and eventually American Jason Scott Lee (no relation) was cast in the part despite having no formal martial arts training. He threw himself into the part and DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY was coming together nicely when disaster struck. Less than two months before the film opened, Brandon Lee died in a freak accident on the set of THE CROW, suddenly making the film’s climax, where his father battles a ghost for his life, cringe-worthy. Yet, Universal (with the encouragement of Lee’s family) pushed on, and DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY was a modest success. Yet, in the years since, the film is often dismissed as Hollywood hokum, making it ripe for rediscovery.

WHY IT'S GREAT: DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY isn’t your typical biopic. Rather than an accurate account of his life and times, DRAGON plays out as romantic action story, with enough set piece fights and kung fu treachery to account for the fact that it’s maybe the only big screen biography to ever get a Sega Genesis tie-in videogame. There’s nothing realistic about it whatsoever, with Jason Scott Lee’s Bruce mixing it up in epic kung fu battles at the slightest provocation. In fact, DRAGON also started the urban legend that Lee was briefly crippled during an underground battle, the reality of which was that he faced off with Wong Jack Man in a courtly demo that didn’t leave either man particularly worse for wear. Here, Lee fights a hulking opponent, winds up crippled, recovers, has a victorious rematch and then faces off with his vengeful brother in a fight to the death on the set of THE BIG BOSS. It’s silly but undeniably entertaining.

The movie also plays right into the mystery of his death, with Lee being chased by literal demons throughout, with the finale a battle royale on the set of ENTER THE DRAGON. The reality of Lee’s death was a lot more routine. So, if you’re looking for a realistic account of Lee’s life and times, DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY ain’t it. This is very much a “print the legend” bio.

All that said, this is one of the better American martial arts films of the era. For one thing, it’s the rare Hollywood film with an Asian lead. It’s funny how in 1993, an Asian actor could be the lead in a Bruce Lee bio, but by 2017 he was turned into a supporting character in BIRTH OF THE DRAGON. This ain’t progress. Jason Scott Lee, while not resembling Bruce Lee in the slightest, is a charismatic hero and despite a lack of martial arts training, he moves well. I’m surprised this didn’t make him a bigger star (he was great in Stephen Sommer’s Indiana Jones-style riff on THE JUNGLE BOOK as well). Lauren Holly is gorgeous and likable as his future wife, Linda, and the two have great chemistry, making the love story aspect an easy sell.

If DRAGON has one major asset though, it’s the fact that it boasts one of the best scores of its era in Randy Edelman’s classic soundtrack, the theme of which wound up being a staple of 1990’s trailers. Edelman and director Rob Cohen would reteam three years later for another DRAGON movie – DRAGONHEART – which would feature another classic score.

BEST SCENE: Apparently the shoot of THE BIG BOSS was rough on Bruce Lee thanks to frequent clashes with director Lo Wei. However, I doubt it was ever quite this bad, with Lee fighting for his life on the ice factory set against an opponent bent on vengeance, who he finishes off in his classic ENTER THE DRAGON move. Whatever, it’s still fun.

SEE IT: DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY is pretty easy to find on DVD and Blu-ray, and it’s also available on iTunes, Google Play, etc.

PARTING SHOT: While only a shade more realistic than an actual Bruce Lee movie, DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY is something of a classic, especially in the pantheon of American Martial Arts movies and one of director Rob Cohen’s better films. I’m pretty fond of this one and if you can suspend disbelief, you’ll find it to be a pretty good yarn.

Source: JoBlo.com

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