Picks and Pans Review: Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story

updated 05/10/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/10/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Jason Scott Lee, Lauren Holly, Robert Wagner

Sorry, Pull and Oliver J. fans, this bio movie is about another dragon, martial-arts movie star Bruce Lee ("Little Dragon" being his Chinese nickname from his birth in San Francisco). But even those who found Lee's films more risible than rousing can enjoy this only mildly earnest, briskly paced retelling of his life, which encompassed a youth in Hong Kong, a stint as Kato on the '60s U.S. pop TV series The Green Hornet, bouts with racism—both anti-Oriental and anti-caucasian—his eventual international stardom and an abiding relationship with his wife, Linda, upon whose book about Bruce this film is based.

While Jason Scott Lee is no relation to Bruce, he looks more like him than Bruce's late son, Brandon, did. He is also athletic enough to emulate Bruce's martial-arts prowess, down to the gratuitous gymnastics. Jason is also a superior actor to Bruce, which helps him handle the racism-centered subtext of the film. Holly, as Linda, is refreshingly convincing too, even though she is cast as a patient, understanding martyr-going-on-saint. Wagner, overdoing the sleaze factor by half, is less effective as the Green Hornet producer who eventually let David Carradine walk away with the Bruce Lee TV idea that became Kung Fu.

The film bogs down only in the sequences director Rob Cohen mounts involving mystical mumbo jumbo about an armor-wearing demon who haunts Bruce's dreams—as well as in a few outrageously overwrought scenes dealing with the actor's real life. Even Bruce's mysterious death at 32 in 1973 is connected to the demon, almost as if the raggedy old fiend lurched up and put Lee into the inexplicable illness from which he never recovered.

Things could have been worse though. Imagine Oliver Stone directing this film: Bruce turns into one of the most significant cultural figures of the century, and he gets murdered by the CIA. (PG-13)

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