A Hero Who Cheats Death

WHEN BRANDON LEE WAS ACCIDENTALLY shot to death on the set of The Crow in March 1993, he had only three days of filming left. The production shut down, and the devastated Australian director, Alex Proyas, wanted to abandon the $15 million production. it took the entreaties of Lee's fiancee, Eliza Hutton, and his mother, Linda Lee Cadwell, along with others associated with the film, to persuade Proyas to complete the production. "The real issue was psychological," explains coproducer Edward Pressman. 'Alex went back to Australia for a month to get his head together, and we took another month off to figure out how to continue."

The film's problems were not over. Beshoots added an extra $8 million to the budget. In September, Paramount, the original distributor, dropped the movie. claiming that Lee's death, coupled with the dark story line, made it uncomfortable. Based on the underground comic books of James O'Barr, "The Crow" is a violent fantasy in which Lee's character, Eric Draven, a Detroit rock guitarist. rises from the dead to avenge the brutal rape and murder of his fiancee and his own death. it was during the filming of this murder that Bruce Lee's son was fatally struck by a dummy bullet. The film of the actual accident was deliberately destroyed, though footage shot just before is seen in the completed film.

Miramax, the new distributor, has been careful to market the film without exploiting Lee's death, consulting with his family and fiancee throughout. But it will be hard for anybody to see "The Crow" unhaunted by the tragedy. The "fun" of the relentless mayhem the plot consists of little more than a series of murders, as Eric kills his killers in a fashion befitting each of' their vices-may be, for anyone past their teenage years, less of a kick than intended.

The early reviews, in the Hollywood trade papers and Rolling Stone, have been raves-perhaps a reaction to the speculation, after Paramount defected, that the film was a disaster. It's a slick and evocatively designed movie with a distopian Gothic vision that owes an obvious debt to "Batman" and "Blade Runner." It succeeds in bringing O'Barr's comic-book vision to life, but there's little else going on behind the graphic razzle-dazzle and the moody, ominous soundtrack. Proyas's virtuosity as a director of music videos and Nike commercials is all too obvious here: strobe lights, fast cutting and rock-star iconography. Some welcome touches of wit are supplied by Ernie Hudson, as a sympathetic cop, and Michael Wincott, as the gravel-voiced leader of the scurvy band of nihilists Draven dispatches one by one.

But it is the graceful, gorgeous Lee whose image lingers on the retina. Dressed in torn punk black, his face painted mime white with clown teardrops and exaggerated lips, Lee got to demonstrate for the first time his sensual charisma. It is both tantalizing and frustrating to watch him buried under the expressionist makeup, in a role that offers intensity but little characterization. Knowing you won't see him again, you want more than the few glimpses "The Crow" provides of his real face. The movie leaves you with the excitement, and the sadness, of great potential lost.