The meteoric, tragic life of martial arts star Bruce Lee forms the basis of Dragon, an unlikely pastiche of traditional biography, Hollywood saga and interracial romance.
The jumping off point of the biopic [from Linda Lee Cadwell’s book Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew] finds the teenage Lee (the not-related Jason Scott Lee) as a young man in Hong Kong. Somewhat awkward socially, he transforms into a confident human dynamo when he’s forced to fight.
Lee’s physical prowess gets him into trouble with the authorities and he’s sent to San Francisco for his own safety. Lee holds his own against campus bullies. But the situation propels him into a new career teaching students the art of self-defence. One, Linda Emery (Lauren Holly), becomes the love of his life despite her mother’s fierce antipathy.
Director Rob Cohen, balancing disparate visual styles, keeps Dragon pretty straightforward. Lee’s metaphoric demons, visualized as a towering, faceless samurai, avoid cuteness; and the potential hokum ranging from the spontaneous fights to the forays into ‘inner strength’ sidestep the high-toned silliness associated with the kung fu era. Overall it maintains a high technical sheen.