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Bruce Lee: A Warriors Journey/In Pursuit of the Dragon
Four decades after his untimely death, Bruce Lee remains an enigmatic figure not just in the world of marital arts, but the entire film medium. Lee's film career spanned a mere six films, of which five saw Lee in starring roles, with his final completed film, "Enter the Dragon" cementing itself as a top genre favorite to this day. In 2000, John Little released a finely produced documentary, titled "Bruce Lee: A Warriors Journey" that would see separate release on DVD from Warner Brothers along with a bonus documentary titled "The Curse of Bruce Lee." A mere four years later, "A Warriors Journey" would find itself as a bonus feature in its own right on the anniversary edition release of "Enter the Dragon." It wouldn't be until 2011, that John Little's follow-up, "In Pursuit of the Dragon" would see the light of day. Now, perhaps in perfect timing with the 40th anniversary of Lee's death and recent release of his films on Blu-Ray, that MVD has released both of Little's documentaries as their own standalone release.
Chances are if you're even a passing Bruce Lee fan, you've seen "Bruce Lee: A Warriors Journey." While Little's feature does have the feel of a DVD supplemental in terms of production and brevity, there's no arguing its own of the most comprehensive and enlightening features on the life of Lee, namely due to the participation of those closest to Lee, including his widow, Linda Lee Caldwell, protégé Dan Inosanto, and celebrity students including Kareem Abdul Jabbar. "A Warriors Journey" first 60 minutes fly by rather quickly and viewers are left with a deeper understanding of what Lee's films meant on a personal level, in particular his work on "Enter the Dragon" and "Game of Death" which he saw as vehicles to elevate understanding of marital arts beyond the surface level. Sadly, as we all know too well, Lee died before "Game of Death" was completed and the resulting final product is considered an embarrassment by many, save for the finale.
It's the final 35-odd minutes of "A Warriors Journey" that makes it a must own (although most already own it from inclusion on the previously mentioned "Enter the Dragon" special edition), as Little presents an overview of "Game of Death's" intended plotline and all surviving footage of the finale (featuring three of the five floors of action; for comparison, the final released version of the film only utilizes about 12-minutes of this footage and fills the rest with a bastardized, relatively morbid narrative utilizing doubles for the deceased Lee) is presented in its entirety, technical glitches and all (the film quality is rough at times, there are strange dubs and some outright missing dialogue). Removed from "Game of Death," the footage is as engaging if not more so, highlighting Lee in his prime and his ability to work with any martial arts style. The most well known sequence, the finale pitting Lee against student Kareem Abdul Jabbar remains infinitely entertaining and visually iconic. If "A Warriors Journey" were merely an average documentary, this footage would have easily elevated the overall package, but fortunately, both are essential viewing for martial arts fans.
The same can't be said for "In Pursuit of the Dragon," Little's follow-up that takes the opposite approach, appealing strictly to the most ardent Lee fan. Less a structured documentary and more travelogue, "In Pursuit of the Dragon" sails the globe seeking out filming locations from Lee's starring roles in "The Big Boss," "Fist of Fury," "The Way of the Dragon," and of course, "Enter the Dragon." Little provides workman narration visiting locations that will come off as mundane to the average viewer. It's a truly tough slog to get through all 60 minutes, but the eyewitness recollections of filming from those who were there make it mildly interesting at best. Truth be told, "In Pursuit of the Dragon" fails as a standalone product and would feel more fitting as a bonus feature to "A Warriors Journey." Ultimately though, this entire release feels like a wasteful cash grab.
"Bruce Lee: A Warriors Journey" is presented with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio for the documentary portion of the program, with the footage from ‘Game of Death" appearing in its native 2.35:1 aspect ratio, although in a non-anamorphic format. It's a shame this re-release didn't at least sport a cleaned-up image or at least anamorphic presentation of the "Game of Death" footage, as the final product shows every bit of its 2000 origins as a DVD bonus feature. "In Pursuit of the Dragon" however, is presented with a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, although its no better and in fact worse overall, featuring low detail and a general washed out look, making the modern footage only a hair above the technical quality of the archival film footage.
The Dolby Digital English stereo soundtrack for both features is serviceable at best, with "A Warriors Journey" benefiting from a more balanced mix, although the "Game of Death" footage is not on the same technical plane due to its age and origin. "In Pursuit of the Dragon's" audio is generally acceptable, although some on-location footage suffers from muddled dialogue reproduction.
Although billed as two separate documentary features, "A Warriors Journey" remains the focal point of this release; the catch is martial arts fans and Bruce Lee fans surely own the feature already. That leaves "In Pursuit of the Dragon," which only speaks to those obsessive collectors wanting to know every last detail about the production of Lee's films. Even then, the flat presentation and bluntly, poor technical quality of this release make it impossible to recommend as a purchase. Skip It.