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Ascension of the Dragon

The Dragon Lives
by Monkey Boy

I'm not gay. Let me clarify: I have no problem with gay people. I have gay friends, relatives, and co-workers. I think they deserve 100% equal treatement and rights, including marriage. But it's not my thing. Why bring this up in a toy review? Well, every now and then I develop what I refer to as a "man-crush." For example, some people (such as my girlfriend) might say I'm a bit too infatuated with the music of Freddie Mercury. And others might say I'm a little bit unhealthily fascinated by Bruce Lee.

I think Lee is the closest we ever got to a real-life superhero. He was an amazing physical specimen (again: not gay) and there's just something profoundly admirable about the speed, strength and ability demonstrated by someone who was 5'7" and rarely weighed more than 145 lbs. So I like to collect Bruce Lee things whenever possible. There's not really a shortage of Lee collectibles, but much of it is out of my range or not appealing to me. I can't really afford all the high-end statues and figures offered by companies like Hot Toys and Enterbay, and I don't really like those super-deformed plastic statues that are for some reason in the same series as UFC MMA figurines. So I've pretty much got a bunch of the blind boxed "Temple of Kung Fu" stylized figures, and a couple of Quick Kicks (who's obviously based on Lee, especially his more recent designs). I do have one Hot Toys Lee (in Casual Wear), and it's the pride of my collection. But the best comes from Art Asylum's 2001 The Dragon Lives line.

The figures are somewhat exaggerated in their appearance. Not exactly cartoony, but a bit... "Mezco-esque." This was roughly a dozen years ago, and sculpting hyper-realistic figures wasn't quite as much of a given as it is today. That said, the figures are easily identifiable as Bruce Lee. The Ascension figure is based on Lee's iconic look from Game of Death. It's quite ironic that such an enduring look stems from a mess of a film that was only "completed" in the loosest sense of the word after Lee's untimely demise. During filming of the movie, Lee was offered Enter the Dragon, the film that cemented his legacy as a martial arts movie star, especially for American audiences. So Game was put on hold, and before Lee revisited the project, he took a nap and never woke up.

The "finished" Game only utilizes about 11 minutes of Lee footage, making up for his absence by using such embarrassing and tasteless tactics as pasting a cutout of his face on a mirror and utilizing footage from Lee's actual funeral. Despite this, Lee's yellow track suit is one of the most recognizable looks for him, and you might recognize almost the exact same outfit on Uma Thurman's character in professional stealer Quentin Tarantino's martial arts epic, Kill Bill. Art Asylum's figure captures the look well, and actually uses sculpted edges for the black trim of the suit. The wrinkles are detailed without being overdone, and Bruce's musculature is visible underneath. His head is the classic "screaming" Bruce expression, and it looks just as ridiculous as it did in real life, but that's the point. The shoes appear to be a cross between Adidas and Asics sneakers, both of which were used in the film.

The paint is pretty solid, if not spectacular. The head is well done, particulary the eyes. The hairline is clean, and on the "screaming" variant of the Ascension figure, so are the teeth and tongue. The black piping on his suit is clean as well with very little slop, and there's a subtle orange-ish shading to his bright yellow suit. His "Adi-sics" get white laces, toes and sole on a yellow and black body. The skintone is nice, and there are some very subtle tone shifts on the arms and face.

While most of the articulation works very well, there's one glaring issue. The right hip hinge lets the leg move forward and backward, like a typical t-crotch figure. The left hip hinge, on the other hand, moves straight out to the side, like...no figure, ever. It basically means that Bruce can only use his left leg for perpendicular side kicks, and no pose looks good except for a very wide legged stance or a crouch. It also looks awkward since the hip joints are asymmetrical, especially the prominent cuts on the yellow tracksuit. If you have a hinge like that without an additional peg joint at the hips, it really hinders the motion and limits the figure substantially. I'm not sure what AA was going for with this, but it's a common feature in their Dragon Lives line.

By today's standard, Bruce is very well accessorized. All the figures get the same very ornate circular base, with a clear plastic stand with a foot peg that attaches above a relief sculpture of a Chinese dragon. "The Dragon Lives" is emblazoned on the front, with a pattern inscribed all around the edge. What sets them apart is the color: Ascension's is red with a nice black wash. The detail on is amazing, but it stands out quite a bit more on the red base. Back then Art Asylum gave all their toys a little plastic token, with a Yin Yang symbol on the front and the Art Asylum logo on the back. It's in folded over part of the ridiculously showy packaging, so it's easy to overlook. I almost threw mine out.

In addition, Ascension gets all the cool stuff he used in the movie. The reasoning behind the yellow tracksuit is that Lee's character is trying to infiltrate a motorcycle gang, and the tracksuit is their uniform, so his figure also includes a motorcycle helmet. It's blue with gold stripes on it and has a silver trim, with a clear face shield. It fits well on his head, but it can scrape of the paint on the tips of his hair, so be careful. He also comes with a pair of yellow nunchuks, a black saddlebag (that the nunchuks can fit into), and a funky green spiral rod thingy, just like in the film. The accessory looks more organic, kind of like a narwhal's tusk, while the film version is obviously a man-made object, but it's still a nice inclusion. He also gets an additional set of hands in addition to the regular grasping hands. The left hand is in a martial arts pose and his right seems suited to grip the helmet.

Overall, this figure is somewhat a product of their time. The cartoony sculpt and experimental articulation definitely date him. But so do the awesome base, and the multitude of accessories for a 6" scale figure. As far as Bruce Lee figures in this particular scale, this is your best option until someone revitalizes the license beyond the ultra high end, the designer toy crowd, and the MMA fans. This is especially true of the Ascension figure, as I'm unaware of another Game of Death-suited Bruce figure in this scale, and that's a classic look. Though the wonky leg is a serious issue, these are ultimately key to any good Bruce Lee display. It almost makes me want to track down AA's Bruce Lee Ultimate figure, a fully articulated 18" Bruce with two cloth outfits (including jumpsuit).

-- 02/15/14

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