As much as I found Dragon — a biopic of Hong Kong actor, martial artist, and philosopher, Bruce Lee — enjoyable and entertaining, I found it rather melodramatic in places. Many wouldn’t argue with the opinion that Lee was a larger-than-life character, and I know biopics are supposed to celebrate the life of a particular person, but the film lacked substance and almost felt like a parody in places, to me.
Based on the book, Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew by Linda Lee Cadwell (his widow), this film tells the story of an icon, from his childhood in China, his emigration to the U.S., working as a waiter in a San Francisco restaurant, to his development of the hybrid fighting system and life philosophy “Jeet Kune Do” (a.ka. “The Way of the Intercepting Fist”). Lee later relocated back to Hong Kong with his family and starred as the lead role in a number of successful martial arts action films, beginning with The Big Boss in 1971. He tragically died two years later.
Unlike unbiased biopics, such as Malcolm X, Dragon doesn’t offer a detailed examination of the icon’s background; rather, it celebrates Lee’s life in the most basic sense. There are some touching scenes involving Bruce (played by Jason Scott Lee (no relation)) and his future wife, Linda (Lauren Holly), a blonde white woman whose mother (Michael Learned) disapproves of their interracial relationship. The (fictional) fight scenes do well to capture the energy of Lee and are enjoyable to watch, even if they do appear overdone to the point that it seems like we’re watching a Rush Hour movie.
My main gripe is that there a quite a few aspects of Lee’s life that I would have liked to have seen explored in more detail. What about all the controversy surrounding his mysterious death, for example? (This is not even shown in the movie.) There are also a few symbolic moments where we witness Lee being tortured by a Samurai demon — a representation of his inner fears — which could’ve been a lot more interesting had it been explored further (i.e. Where are these fears coming from? And is this the so-called “Lee family curse” that many consider to have so tragically killed Brandon Lee, Bruce’s son, also?) It would’ve been much more interesting if screenwriters Edward Khmara, John Raffo, and Rob Cohen would’ve had Lee speak of this inner conflicts further with his wife.
Since Dragon is based on Cadwell’s book, it’s not surprising that it does seem more like a love story than an in-depth portrait of the Lee’s mind (this is Bruce Lee as seen through wife Linda’s eyes). The film is exciting, which makes it accessible to a mainstream audience, but it doesn’t really provide much background to those that already have a basic knowledge of the man in question. In that sense, my advice to anyone interested in studying the philosophy of Bruce Lee would be to read his books Tao Of Jeet Kune Do, Chinese Gung-Fu, and Fighting Method.