I could be fairly described as a martial arts movie geek. Since discovering them with The Prodigal Son I’ve become a fan of all sorts of martial arts movies be it Jackie Chan’s comedy kung-fu, Sammo Hung’s harder edged films about the development of martial arts, Yuen Woo-ping’s wuxia epics or films from the US, Thailand or further afield. I love the martial arts stars, from the big guys like Jackie and Sammo to the more obscure likes of Lam Ching-ying and up and comers like Jeeja Yanin, and of course I’ve got enormous respect for the best known of them all: Bruce Lee.
All of which is a roundabout way of avoiding writing about In Pursuit of the Dragon. Because it’s rubbish. At 61 minutes, this documentary touring the surviving filming locations for Bruce Lee’s films is barely even a glorified DVD extra, let alone suitable for a stand alone release. In production for years (the Hong Kong and Macau sections were shot in 2009), this still feels like a proficiently shot holiday video with somebody reading guidebooks on to the soundtrack. Yes, it offers a little background on the locations, but I don’t believe there’s a single fact here that couldn’t be found on wikipedia, or in a Bey Logan commentary track.
As a travelogue it’s a failure, because there’s no sense of a personal journey. As a documentary it’s a failure because there is almost no insight, the most we learn about Lee is that he rehearsed a lot and that he stood here… and here… oh, and here, 38 years ago. Basically the film is a video guidebook for a holiday only the most psychotically obsessive Lee fan would want to go on, and for the most part all it does is show us places that were in Lee’s films, amazed that they look the same/different now. The absolute nadir comes early, when the film informs us that a massive rock that was in The Big Boss is – gasp – STILL IN THE SAME PLACE NEARLY 40 YEARS LATER!
There are a handful of interviews in the film, but most last about three sentences and offer less genuine insight than laughably fictionalised biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. There are also a handful of clips from Lee’s movies, but if you’re watching this load of cobblers then you know them backwards anyway, and you’d be better off reaching them down from the shelves for the 907th time.
Technical qualities are barely passable, with the soundtrack slathered with stock music and the picture betraying the cheap digital video origins of this obviously shoestring production. Ultimately, director John Little has made a film only the most droolingly rabid Bruce Lee fan could possibly be interested in, but included nothing that offers insight into its central figure. It’s a film for exactly nobody, don’t waste a single penny on it.