Birth of the Dragon, D
Rated PG-13, 103 minutes
Bruce Lee was one of most influential martial artists and a cultural icon. You wouldn't know it by seeing the unfocused, badly executed film about Lee, "Birth of the Dragon," and his supposed, legendary fight with another kung fu master. In spite of an intriguing premise, the only thing worth seeing about the film, is unsurprisingly, the kung fu.
Young Bruce Lee (Philip Ng) is trying to make a name for himself while working as a martial arts instructor in 1964 San Francisco. When Lee meets Wong Jack Man (Xia Yu), he challenges the kung fu master to a no-holds-barred fight that became the stuff of legend.
"Birth of the Dragon" is directed by George Nolfi ("The Adjustment Bureau") and co-written by Christopher Wilkinson ("Ali") and Steven J. Rivele, this is a standard-issue, lackluster martial-arts film that sheds little insight into Lee (played with bland appeal by Hong Kong-American actor Ng), his philosophy or artistry. Much of the film is a fictional look at the brief fight between Lee and legendary kung fu master Wong Jack Man (who is still living), portrayed by Chinese actor Yu here. The fight was supposedly a no-holds-barred, legendary battle between the two, though in reality it went much different than portrayed here.
Outside of the energetic kung fu, "Birth of the Dragon" fails on most levels. Interestingly, the film tries to be a comedy too, adding some comedic elements that give it an awkward, bizarre feel of a bad TV show. In addition, "Dragon's" script inexplicably focuses on one of Lee's caucasian friends, Steve ("American Crime Story's" Billy Magnussen), an unwise move that has prompted some to voice concerns of whitewashing the film. Even the title itself, "Birth of the Dragon," is a bit of a misnomer, as the fight, in reality, didn't do much to promote or advance Lee to superstardom, which would come later.
Bruce Lee was a legend in his own right and he deserves a much better story than the lackluster, dull "Birth of the Dragon" provides. To really see Lee in action, watch some of his classic films, including "Fist of Fury" and "Enter the Dragon."