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A Compelling Look at Bruce, Brandon Lee

September 10, 1993|BARBARA SALTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Only a few months after the death of 28-year-old Brandon Lee, a documentary released by Warner Home Video on laser disc manages to link the young actor's fate with that of his father, martial-arts star Bruce Lee who died 20 years ago at age 32.

"The Curse of the Dragon" ($35) comes almost simultaneously with the wide-screen laser release ($35) of Bruce Lee's major--and posthumous--international success, the 1973 "Enter the Dragon." When seen with last year's laser release of what many considered Brandon Lee's 1991 breakthrough film, "Showdown in Little Tokyo" (Warner, $30), they offer a compelling look at two young screen presences now bound up in a mythology that embraces both their lives--and untimely deaths.

The direct-to-video documentary narrated somewhat overweeningly by "Star Trek's" George Takei provides reminiscences of Bruce Lee by those who studied with him, including James Coburn, Chuck Norris and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, as well as interviews with Bob Wall, the documentary's executive producer, and other experts on the life and times of the Hong Kong martial-arts phenomenon and actor who hoped for a career in Hollywood.

Robert Lee provides additional insight into the short life of his brother Bruce, with stills and film clips of the young martial artist demonstrating his incredible agility and fierce determination.

An interview with son Brandon Lee reveals a handsome, intelligent and witty young actor who shared much of the screen potential of his father. The possibilities were hinted at in Brandon Lee's earlier "Rapid Fire" and the TV film "Kung Fu: The Movie" and not lost in the predictable, violent "Showdown," co-starring Dolph Lundgren.

Clearly, father and son exhibited not only swift, snappy and sure martial-arts moves, but also a wit and playfulness that come through even in films built around continuous chops, kicks and bone-crunching.

Even those not interested in martial-arts films can't help but be mesmerized by the young Bruce Lee of "Enter the Dragon." His balletic, catlike moves combined with a steel-like resolve and even whimsy dominate the screen. Lee adds the purring and howling sounds of a caged animal as he goes about easily dispatching one body after another.

The remastered, digitized letterboxed "Enter the Dragon" laser does full justice to the beautifully choreographed fight scenes, especially the final mirrored showdown between Lee and the arch-villain of the piece. The Lalo Schifrin music is also well served, giving much of the film the qualities of a "Dr. No."

Behind-the-scenes, often scratchy, footage from "Enter the Dragon" in "Curse" shows Lee's sure hand in staging the martial-arts choreography. Hearing the filmmakers and fellow martial artists who appeared in "Enter the Dragon" discuss how Lee was constantly challenged, Old-West fashion, by Hong Kong street punks eager to build their reputations, puts much of that footage into unique perspective.

Lee's widow and Brandon's mother, Linda Lee Cadwell, seen speaking during a star-placing ceremony on Hollywood Boulevard honoring her husband, offers poignant moments barely three weeks after her son's tragic death. ("Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story," the film dramatization of her book, "Bruce Lee, the Man Only I Knew," released theatrically in April, to generally strong reviews, is not yet available on laser.)

Two earlier, far more violent Hong Kong-made Bruce Lee films that only hint at his potential, "Fists of Fury" and "The Chinese Connection," are being released this month by FoxVideo/Image Entertainment in letterboxed editions at $35 apiece.

Laserbits

Among new movies just out: "Groundhog Day" (Columbia TriStar, letterboxed, $35); "Chaplin" (LIVE, $40); "The Crush" (Warner, $35); "El Mariachi: the Director's Cut" (Columbia TriStar, $50); "Sniper" (Columbia TriStar, $35); "CB4" (MCA/Universal, $35).

Recent movies just out: "Field of Dreams" (1989, letterboxed, $35), with Kevin Costner and Amy Madigan; "Journey of Hope" (HBO, 1990, $35), director Xavier Koller's Swiss drama, winner of best foreign-language film Oscar; "Mrs. Soffel" (1984, MGM/UA, letterboxed, $35), Mel Gibson and Diane Keaton in tale of a strange affair between a prisoner and a warden's wife.

Coming soon: "Fire in the Sky," starring D.B. Sweeney and James Garner, is due next week (Paramount, letterboxed, $35); "Indecent Proposal," with Robert Redford and Demi Moore, is due Oct. 13 (Paramount, letterboxed, $35).

Old movies just out: "Clouds Over Europe" (HBO, 1939, $35), originally called "Q Planes," this pre-World War II thriller features Laurence Olivier.

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