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THE LEGEND OF BRUCE LEE
DVD . Revolver.

The Legend of Bruce LeeThe idea of a Bruce Lee biopic was being mooted way back in 1973, shortly after his death, but it would take another twenty years for Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story to emerge as an effectively entertaining, if somewhat factually loose Hollywood movie. In the years before, there had been numerous cheap and tacky Hong Kong movies professing to tell his life story with look-alikes like Bruce Li, or simply using his name to feel anonymous martial arts epics, but Dragon, for all its inaccuracies, was at least a respectful biography. It was, of course, an American production, and in 2007, Chinese TV embarked on its own epic telling of Lee’s life, over fifty 45-minute episodes. These have now been whittled down to a three hour movie, which suffers both from extended length and heavy edited – not to mention cheap production values, thin characterisation and a story that is unfortunately no more factually accurate than any other version of Lee’s life, official or otherwise.

For a three-hour movie, there’s not much plot here – though perhaps that’s what’s been cut. Instead, the film simply follows Lee (Danny Chan, an effective lookalike) from fight to fight, making it feel unfortunately closer to efforts like Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth than any serious biography. Certainly, no time is wasted introducing other characters – we don’t know how he ended up in America, of how he met wife Linda, for instance, as both events have happened before the film starts, and his introduction to acting is equally vague (and inadvertently hilarious, as a Hollywood dressing room is represented by a warehouse with ‘GREEN HORNET COSTUMES’ spray-painted on the wall). Lee’s death is also handled dismissively, presumably because the filmmakers thought that him dying of natural causes was too dull but couldn’t quite justify re-writing it to include a fight.

Instead of plot, we get lots and lots of martial arts battles, few of which have any basis in fact, with Lee fending off rivals and old adversaries. Interestingly, the film copies the mythology of Dragon, with Lee suffering a potentially crippling back injury during a secretive battle with traditional Chinese kung fu practitioners who sneakily hit him in the back after he’s won the fight. In reality, Lee suffered nerve damage while training – rather less dramatic.

The film also changes the names – and downgrades the importance – of some of Lee’s American colleagues like director Robert Clouse, doesn’t bother to flesh out any other characters – even Michelle Lang as Lee’s wife isn’t allowed to do much more than look pensive (her performance isn’t helped by being dubbed into Mandarin) and engages in the sort of naked jingoism that would be embarrassing if any Western film dared to try it. Worst of all, while trying to make Lee into an almost mythical hero, the film still manages to have him come across as a rather arrogant prick, which is rather unfortunate.

Shot cheaply on what looks like ungraded video and with a soundtrack featuring shamefully awful songs eulogising Lee, this is severely disappointing. Kung Fu fans might get some satisfaction from the well-mounted fight scenes and guest appearances from the likes of Mark Dacascos, Michael Jai White and Ray Park, but anyone hoping to fins some genuine insight into Lee’s life – which was frankly interesting enough to not need all this crap adding to it – will once again feel let down.

DAVID FLINT

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