A kinder, gentler action hero for the New Age, Jason Scott Lee may be Hollywood's first male Asian-American sex symbol. (Another contender, Bruce Lee, first achieved superstardom in Hong Kong but failed to live long enough to cross over from chop-socky flicks.) Athletic and handsome, the young Chinese-Hawaiian actor's somewhat ethnically indeterminate looks led to a variety of roles in films and TV before he gained international celebrity as the star of the biopic "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" (1993). Though possessing little physical resemblance to the kung fu legend and no prior martial arts training, Lee proved an inspired choice. He not only captured many of Bruce Lee's physical and vocal mannerisms but also made him a complex and sympathetic romantic figure. The modestly budgeted film was quite successful in the USA and even more so overseas.
Lee made a strong impression on TV as the star of "American Eyes" (1990), a "CBS Schoolbreak Special," playing a Korean boy, adopted by an American family, who struggles to accept his heritage and identity. He played an Eskimo opposite Anne Parillaud in the romantic period drama, "Map of the Human Heart" (1993), also Lee's first starring role in a feature. A loincloth-clad Lee also starred as a 17th-century Easter Island native in the Kevin Costner-produced "Rapa Nui" (1994) which was barely released in the USA to disastrous box office but he and the film garnered some positive notices.
While his sculpted physique might give Sylvester Stallone pause, Lee lacks the macho qualities of most movie heroes. He brings a refreshing sensitivity and spirituality to his roles. Disney's live-action adaptation of "Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book" (1994) put Lee back in an exotic period setting. His Mowgli represents noble savagery at its best: innocent yet wise, fierce in battle yet gentle in love, and a friend to all the animals. He's an action hero one could bring home to mother--once he puts on some clothes. The film was a modest success in theaters but an unqualified smash on video.
His career momentum slowed a bit as the 90s waned. "Murder in Mind" (1997), a confusing thriller in which Lee played a police detective, landed on cable and video. A similar fate befell 1998's "Russell Mulcahy's Tale of the Mummy" (a.k.a. "Talos the Mummy"). Lee once again displayed his physique and action prowess as the next generation of a fighting machine taking on Kurt Russell in "Soldier" (also 1998). He returned to the small screen as Aladdin in the high profile ABC miniseries "Arabian Nights" (2000) which aired on the eve of his West End stage debut. While he had been approached about playing the monarch in the Broadway staging of the revival of "The King and I," Lee turned down the offer to concentrate on film work. When approached again some three years later, he felt the timing was right and agreed to make his musical theater debut. Although he considered other options, Lee even opted to shave off his long locks and go bald, emulating Yul Brynner. the piece's originator. Starring opposite London stalwart Elaine Paige, he proved a potent and surprisingly virile figure.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Moved to Oahu, Hawaii at age two
Joined the Friends and Artists Theater Ensemble in L.A.
Feature debut as an illegal Asian immigrant posing as a Chicano in Cheech Marin's comedy "Born in East L.A."
Made TV debut in guest role on the courtroom drama series "Matlock"
Starred in "American Eyes", a "CBS Schoolbreak Special"
TV-movie debut, "The Lookalike" (USA Network)
Breakthrough screen role, cast as martial arts star Bruce Lee in the biopic "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story"
First feature starring role, "Map of the Human Heart", a period romance in which he was cast as an Inuit Eskimo
Headed cast of the Polynesian-set "Rapa Nui"
Portrayed Mowgli in the live-action version of "The Jungle Book"
First released film in four years, "Soldier"
Co-starred in the feature "Russell Mulcahy's Tale of the Mummy/Talos the Mummy"
Cast as Aladdin in the ABC miniseries "Arabian Nights"
Made London West End debut in revival of "The King and I" opposite Elaine Paige; withdrew from production in July citing a family emergency
Opened the Ulua Theatre in Hawaii
Co-starred in "Nomad," a historical epic set in 18th-century Kazakhstan