Birth of the Dragon is a martial arts action “biopic” directed by George Nolfi. It’s 1964 in San Francisco, Bruce Lee (Ng) is trying to become a movie star and teach his students to fight using kung fu his way. Kung fu master Wong Jack Man (Yu) has traveled to the same city seeking penance, but his intentions are mistaken as a challenge to Bruce Lee. The two great martial artists are destined for a showdown to see whose fighting style is more impressive.
I had no intentions of watching this film or even the trailer. It seems from the response to early showings and the trailer that it should have been avoided. Birth of the Dragon is a heaping pile of garbage in terms of what it should be. The story of Bruce Lee this is not. It’s fan fiction that happens to have a version of Bruce Lee in their story. Most of the film revolves around everyone, except for Bruce Lee. While it has a pretty straightforward plot, the subplots are so distracting, that the narrative is muddled.
Birth of the Dragon is supposed to be about Bruce Lee, yet the film focuses so much on a character that didn’t exist. While the story is set up quickly, it soon transitions to being more about the fictitious Steve McKee (Magnussen), one of Bruce Lee’s students. In fact, Wong Jack Man is more of a main character than Bruce Lee. While the trio try their best to bring these characters to life, the script is so awful everything just seems amateur. Bruce Lee is too one-dimensional and uncharismatic compared to the real thing. No mention of his philosophical mentality, only an insecure fighter that is only concerned with kicking ass.
The fighting itself is very underwhelming. Even though Corey Yuen was brought on board to choreograph the film’s action, it looked very weak. That failing result may fall more on the people working in the scene than who choreographs the fights. Corey Yuen has help create some great martial arts films, but he also has directed garbage like DOA: Dead or Alive, so it’s hard to tell where the blame falls. In a film about Bruce Lee, the fights should be top notch and people shouldn’t have to settle for average. The showdown itself is so over the top and cheesy that it is a letdown. The better fight scenes are when they are busy beating down nobodies.
Birth of the Dragon was hard to finish, but not the worst movie I have ever seen. If you can block out that it was a semi attempt to create a biopic about Bruce Lee, there is an okay film with bad dialog there. However, with there being better martial arts films and depictions of Bruce Lee why bother. For me personally, Birth of the Dragon doesn’t warrant a watch as it just disrespects the memory of someone as iconic as Bruce Lee. Give the film, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, a watch as it is still the best Bruce Lee biopic. Also check out the best version of Bruce portrayed by Danny Chan Kwok-kwan in the tv series The Legend of Bruce Lee and in the film, Ip Man 3.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 1 hr 35 min
Director: George Nolfi
Screenplay: Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele
Cast: Philip Ng, Xia Yu, Jin Xing, Billy Magnussen and Jingjing Qu
Producers: Michael London, Janice Williams, James H. Pang and Leo Shi Young
Music: Reza Safinia and H. Scott Salinas
Cinematography: Amir Mokri