As I have said before many times the Bruces are some of the best action stars in my opinion: Bruce Willis, Bruce Campbell, and in this case one Mr. Bruce Lee star of Enter the Dragon and The Chinese Connection etc.
There have been many fine biographies of this particular Bruce, among them Bruce Lee: The Man the Myth starring Bruce Li, who also starred in one called Dragon Story. In The Man the Myth Bruce is depicted as a nationalist always out to prove the superiority of chinese kung fu over thai boxing, japanese karate, and fat Italian-American guys. Bruce Li at times looks similar to Bruce Lee although the karate or kung fu I guess is not as good. He has a good haircut and pants in my opinion but still does not capture the essence of the man.
Other Bruce Lees have also played Bruce Lee from Bruce Le to Bruce Lei to Bruce Liang, Bruce Leung, Bruce Lin, to even Dragon Lee and Conan Lee. They have told Bruce Lee’s life story as well as his exploits beyond the grave, etc. I have read about a lot of fake Bruce Lee films but I do not know where to rent them. They have Bruce Lee Fights Back From Beyond the Grave, Black Dragon Revenges the Death of Bruce Lee, The Clones of Bruce Lee, Ilsa Meets Bruce Lee in the Devil’s Triangle, and Bruce Lee versus Gay Power.
I also had a friend named Bruce Leee, a bootlegger who was probably the best Bruce Lee I have ever known. I am not easy to please when it comes to Bruce Lees, I have been around the block a few times, so I was skeptical about this Jason Scott Leigh Bruce Lee from Dragon. I mean what kind of a Bruce Lee name is that nobody’s gonna fall for that one.
More than that, this dude doesn’t even look remotely like Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee was a lean and compact Chinese man, Jason Leigh is this beefy Hawaiian dude. When you dress Jason Leigh up to look nerdy, you see the muscles underneath so your not surprised when he jumps into the air and flexes to rip the shirt off mid-air. If Bruce Lee had done that, which I gotta tell you I’m skeptical whether he did, it would have been more of a surprise.
But somehow this Jason Leigh makes the movie work. I mean fuck Jim Carrey in The Man On the Moon, anybody can play a guy who wrestles girls. Bruce Lee is a whole different ballpark, one of the greatest fighting showmen who ever lived, and this Jason Leigh manages to capture much of Bruce’s physicality. When he starts fighting, his face curls up and his body twists and somehow, for some reason, this beefy little bastard contorts himself into Bruce Lee. Fucking incredible transformation in my opinion and one of the better acting jobs of the ’90s as far as I can tell.
Like most biopics this movie is a lying sack of shit as far as telling the true story of Bruce Lee, but I like how it combines Bruce’s life with his work and his philosophy. This is kind of a melodrama/romance type deal about his struggles, his emotions, relationship etc. but at the same time it is a full fledged karate movie. And I tell you the karate is good. In real life Bruce was a braggart and liked to prove his superiority by beating ass or at doing a high kick from behind to nip somebody’s unexpecting ear. There is a legend of him going buck wild on the set of Enter the Dragon, kicking a guy so hard that he broke the ribs of a different guy. That’s what Bruces are all about.
Well in the movie most of the fights are probaly complete hogwash historically but it makes for a better movie than if it was all Bruce doing exercise and signing contracts. The best scene in the movie is when Bruce is working as a dishwasher, and some chefs get jealous of him. So Booker T and the MGs or something starts playing and Bruce goes out into the alley and fights about five evil chefs with meat cleavers. Now it is one thing how Seagal is an asskicking chef in Under Siege, but could he take on five other asskicking chefs at once? I don’t think so.
Another thing I like is the way this deals with racism between whites and asians like Bruce lee. (We don’t use oriental anymore, by the way.) Usually in a movie this is completely a white and black issue, but I know for example in the joint there is all kinds of tension with puerto ricans, samoans, asians etc. It is a lot more complicated than just whites accepting blacks and even though it’s nothing deep it’s nice to see a movie that mentions that.
Bruce has to deal with his white wife’s mother who worries about “yellow babies.” He also gets called gook by the UW Husky Football team before beating them all up and then teaching them karate. This is why the University of Washington wouldn’t let them film on campus, even though they are very proud that Bruce Lee attended there they thought it would be in poor taste to admit that football players are racist idiots.
There are also some parts about a demon curse and whatnot.
This is a fun movie that does a pretty decent job of showing how Bruce Lee’s enormous talents elevated asskicking and even the Badass movement to the level of art and philosophy.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.