Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story Review

The Movie

The life of Bruce Lee has long been the stuff of legend, having been born in America but raised in Hong Kong, becoming a child actor and talented martial artist before moving back to the States to pursue his education. Bruce became a teacher himself as he espoused his philosophy to all who would listen and he kickstarted the Western obsession with all things Eastern, highlighting the grace, beauty and athleticism of the Chinese forms of combat and developing his own system along the way. Lee met and married Linda Emery, but with his American TV and movie projects stalling, Lee returned to Hong Kong to make a kung fu movie called The Big Boss for Raymond Chow. The rest is history, with Bruce ascending to superstardom in Asia before dying an untimely death from a brain haemorrhage in 1973, only weeks prior to the release of Enter The Dragon, the film which cemented his status as a cinematic icon around the globe.

Lee's rise to immortality was charted in the 1993 movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. It's important to note that Rob Cohen's film, starring Jason Scott Lee and Lauren Holly and loosely based upon Linda Lee's memoirs, is by no means an accurate representation of every twist and turn in Lee's life. The brief was to convey the spirit and the determination of the man in a story packed with equal amounts of romance and rough-and-tumble, using Hong Kong martial artists to provide as much authenticity in the fight scenes as possible. As a result, Dragon is a cracking action drama with a wonderful score by Randy Edelman and loads of easter eggs from Lee's films, but it tends to get looked down upon by the nunchuck-wielding cognoscenti because of the melodramatic nature of the storytelling and obvious massaging of the truth (the end credits even state that Bruce wasn't injured in a fight).

But the complainers are missing the point because the movie was designed to present Lee's journey in a larger-than-life way, the story being punctuated with fights (both literal and figurative) at key stages of his life, and while it doesn't specifically address his darker side we see him struggle to balance work and family once he finally hits the big time. He battles with his "inner demon" in several fantasy sequences throughout the film, which acts as a smart catch-all metaphor for the personal issues that he faced. And his final throwdown with the armour-clad apparition - protecting his son Brandon as he does so - took on an eerie prescience when Brandon was killed on the set of The Crow in the same year (the film is dedicated to him). Perhaps there was a curse on the 'Little Dragon' after all...

The Disc

Being a catalogue release from Universal (this US import Blu-ray is REGION FREE) I was fearing the worst as they have an utterly wretched record with regards to repurposing old transfers, utilising poorly QC'd dirt removal, heavy-handed noise reduction and obvious sharpening. But Dragon has only ever been released in the non-anamorphic letterboxed format on DVD (a holdover from the 1993 Laserdisc edition!) so this Blu-ray sports a proper 16:9 1080p encode, and in general I'm quite pleased with what I'm seeing.

Framed at 2.35 widescreen, it's not a fancy new restoration but it is a competent enough transfer, probably telecined from an IP owing to the infrequent black specks and very minor image instability. It isn't awash with grain but 35mm anamorphic movies of this vintage rarely are (coming well into the reign of Kodak's EXR T-Grain stocks), although it gets heavier in the darker scenes as well it should. Detail isn't blisteringly sharp (it drops off even more during the opticals) but, again, I wouldn't expect too much from a middle-of-the-road transfer of an anamorphic movie of this age. The colour looks fine, with nicely saturated primaries and consistent skin tones, and the blacks are good and solid. One of the biggest surprises for me was the lack of overblown sharpening, I'm genuinely amazed that Universal's knob-twiddlers resisted the temptation to tart it up. Overall it's good but not great - yet for a catalogue release from Universal that's high praise indeed.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track sounds every bit like the 20+ year old mix that it is (the film was made at the dawn of the 5.1 digital era). As you might expect, it's weighted towards the front of the sound stage, with an articulate arrangement of the music and effects across the frontal array. The rears sound a bit forced and echoey, providing sporadic atmospheric support rather than aggressive discrete effects. The dialogue is mostly fine but it seems to harden up a little in the louder moments, like when Bruce is yelling at Linda from his hospital bed. I liked the bass though, it's not a constant fixture but it adds an imposing presence to the scenes of Bruce fighting his demon.

The video extras have all been ported over from the Laserdisc in 480i60 SD, complete with frozen dot crawl and heavy moiré on the still-image sections. There's an audio commentary from director Rob Cohen, a short 'making of' piece (5 minutes), another brief 'behind the scenes' video (6 mins), Jason Scott Lee's screen test with commentary by Cohen (just under 4 mins, no original audio is available), Bruce Lee's oft-seen interview on the Pierre Berton Show (7 mins), the theatrical teaser and trailer (which show glimpses of deleted footage), plus a selection of storyboards, production photographs and Bruce Lee photographs which look bloody awful for the reasons outlined above. Last up is the Archival Introduction by Linda Lee Cadwell (almost 7 mins), where she welcomes you to this "special Laserdisc edition" of Dragon. While I'm glad that Universal have carried this stuff over, it's a bit lightweight and the presentation is hilariously outdated. It's a pity that they didn't do a quick retrospective on the film and/or provided some deleted scenes, but overall I'm pleased that I can finally retire my Laserdisc edition!

Overall

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story may play loosely with the facts but it's a thrilling piece of entertainment nonetheless. For this premiere Blu-ray edition we've been treated to a 16:9 transfer (at last!), one that isn't spectacular yet neither has it fallen foul of the usual Universal 'treatment'. The extras have been recycled from the Laserdisc and it's little more than a collection of press kit fluff, although it's better than nothing. Regardless, this is still a highly recommended upgrade for fans of the film.

Film
8 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
6 out of 10
Overall

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story may play loosely with the facts but it's a thrilling piece of entertainment nonetheless. For this premiere Blu-ray edition we've been treated to a 16:9 transfer (at last!), one that isn't spectacular yet neither has it fallen foul of the usual Universal 'treatment'. The extras have been recycled from the Laserdisc and it's little more than a collection of press kit fluff, although it's better than nothing. Regardless, this is still a highly recommended upgrade for fans of the film.

7

out of 10

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