Bruce Lee was pretty cool. After all, he hung with Steve McQueen even before he was famous. He wore great clothes most of the time and showed off his rock hard bare chest when he wasn’t. My favorite Bruce Lee moment is where he watches a huge guy try to psyche him out by breaking a bunch of wooden boards and laughingly informs the guy that indeed “Boards don’t hit back.” This will probably upset the connoisseurs, but I’ve seen every real Bruce Lee movie and even a couple of those knock offs that star Bruce Li or something similar, and for me Rob Cohen’s bio film Dragon is more entertaining than any of them. Sure it doesn’t have as cool a name as Fists of Fury or Game of Death, but you don’t have to see him fight a half naked Kareem Abdul Jabbar either. I figure it’s a good thing that Bruce Lee was born under the sign of something cool, because Enter the Turtle wouldn’t have worked nearly as well.
Instead of filming a straight Hollywood type ode to a fallen star, Cohen uses the lore and the legend to make it seem like Bruce Lee’s every day life was drop dead similar to the best moments of his films. Instead of dealing with the controversy of his last hours, Cohen provides a fan’s portrait of how cool it must have been to be able to kick large groups of a*s on an everyday basis. If you don’t believe me, check out the scene where he amorously pins a waitress next to a poster of James Dean. This film digs Bruce Lee so much that when there is any nudity involved the camera’s focus is on Jason Lee not Lauren Holly. It’s sort of what a Bruce Lee movie would have been like if it he had had the time and money of a major studio.
Brandon Lee died right before this movie came out, so the dream like scenes depicting a king-sized evil samurai out to get Bruce’s first born son resonate even spookier than they were intended to. There are some cute moments here with Holly, a nice statement against Chinese discrimination (How did Mickey Rooney ever get away with that nonsense in Breakfast at Tiffany’s?), and a sincere argument for Bruce as master writer philosopher, but after a few rentals you’ll probably be fast forwarding through to the fight scenes and they are all supremely entertaining. Care even seems to have been taken to show how much of his moves were cribbed from idol Muhammad Ali.
Jason Lee’s first scene is extraordinary. A quartet of drunken British sailors enter a Chinese dancing club (The movie later proudly points out Bruce’s award winning Cha Cha talents), one of the sailors forcibly grabs a young girl and forces her to dance. Enter the Dragon. He walks in with geeky black glasses like a hipster Clark Kent and tries to cut in. “This one’s mine. Get one of your own.” “She is one of my own” he answers proudly as if he is in a Dirty Harry movie and proceeds to mock them, send them all to the infirmary and make those cool squealing woop woop noises all at the same time. After disposing of one guy he does a joyous double back flip onto a table where he coyly tastes some pastries, and there’s an incredible move where he puts on a sailor’s jacket while the sailor is still wearing it. See if you can guess whether his shirt eventually gets ripped off. The only thing missing are guys with meat cleavers, the sound of his knuckles cracking when he warms up, the cool patterned skin lacerations, and the part where he becomes enraged when he tastes his own blood. Don’t worry those come later. This is the kind of movie where if you beat a guy up you have to take on his even bigger younger brother a few years later.
I find it impossible to resist anything with a back alley street fight set to Booker T and the MG’s Green Onions. If learning about famous people in school had been this much fun, I might have amounted to something.