movie reviews

Looking back at ‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’

With the premiere of Bao Nguyen’s Bruce Lee documentary, Be Water, on Sunday (as part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series), I thought it would be worth revisiting 1993’s Lee biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.

I’ve always been a Lee fan, though couldn’t call myself a diehard. But I certainly remember watching his movies on TV as a kid and marveling at an Asian guy kicking everybody’s ass (including Chuck Norris). Even my mother sat down to watch with me, and she never had much interest in the stuff I enjoyed.

However, my memory of Dragon — which I saw in theaters when it was released in 1993 — is that it wasn’t very good. My rewatch confirmed that opinion, maybe even more so now that I often watch movies with a more discerning eye.

I wrote about rewatching Dragon for Awful Announcing. An excerpt:

The kindest description of Dragon is that it’s a fairy tale telling of Lee’s story which takes significant dramatic license with real-life events and essentially turns his biography into a Bruce Lee action movie. That’s not to say that the film isn’t entertaining. But it strains believability to think that Lee (played by Jason Scott Lee) engaged in major action set pieces throughout his life.

As I wrote in the review, Jason Scott Lee’s performance is the best part of the movie and really deserves to be commended. To play a cultural icon is asking to be scrutinized by comparison. But Lee is excellent in the fight scenes and does just fine in the movie’s dramatic moments. It’s too bad he couldn’t have played Bruce Lee in a better, more grounded film.

Again, I’m no expert on Bruce Lee, but I was relatively familiar with his biography. (Be Water included plenty of new information, which was delightful to learn.) And I was certainly a fan of his son, Brandon. The Crow, and the tragedy of Lee’s death, hit me hard.

So when I visited Seattle two years ago, thinking it might be the last time I’m ever there, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t see Lee’s gravesite. My friend was surprised that I chose to do that, of all the things we could do during one last go-around in Seattle. But I wished I had done so on previous trips to Seattle and was grateful that A. took me there on this visit.

It was a more touching experience than I expected. And we weren’t the only ones to stop by Lee’s grave early on a Saturday morning. Bruce and Brandon are buried alongside one another, two lives taken far too early with so much left to achieve. But I can always say hello and feel genuine appreciation through their movies.

And I plan to read much more about Bruce Lee throughout the summer.

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