‘Birth of the Dragon’
Director: George Nolfi
Cast: Philip Ng, Billy Magnussen, Yu Xia, Terry Chen, Jingjing Qu, Xing Jin
‘Birth of a Dragon’ is a part biopic of Kung-Fu cinema legend Bruce Lee and takes its name from the classic showdown between hitherto unknown Bruce Lee who went up against the Kung-Fu master Wong Jack Man- the battle that really set-off the Lore.
As a Bruce Lee fan who grew up watching his onscreen exploits it’s a little tough to get involved in this flaky inspirational take that feels nothing like the real deal.
Writers Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson along with director George Nolfi fashion a preposterous fantasy that owes its origins to an attempt to please the white skinned audience. So the lead-up to the showdown includes romantic troubles involving a pretty centrefold type looking worried and anxious on the side lines. Thankfully not Lee’s gal but their go-between, Steve McKee’s (Billy Magnussen) who got mixed up in Triad politics when he fell for a waitress under the thumb of a local crime lord (Xing Jin). Wong Jack Man (Yu Xia) fighting on behalf of the Shaolin order nearly kills his opponent from the Tai Chi school (Wang Xi’An) so as penance he goes to San Francisco and does dishes at his cousin’s Chinese restaurant. It just so happens that Bruce Lee (Philip Ng) is there as well, teaching Kung Fu to Americans and Chinese alike. Lee believing Wong is there to challenge him wants to make a city-wide sensation of their match-up. Clearly real life has been fictionalised to a point where incredulity sets foot.
Too many questionable facts hound the narrative. The action should have been set in 1964 but the narrative feels like it’s in the 70’s. The music score also soars to a crescendo everytime there’s high drama.
Lee died early in the ’70s, and his son, Brandon Lee also met a similar fate in the 90’s but at no point in his life or career was he ridicule-worthy. And he may have been sure of his incredible skills but certainly not to the level of arrogance displayed here. Interpretation is everything and Nolfe seems to believe that spicing up his life and unnecessarily inserting white characters into it would make this hatchet job become more widely appealing. In fact it’s anything but. There’s hardly any tension or excitement in the telling and the action doesn’t surprise either. The fancily projected fight scenes show off different frame rates and have wide-ranging aperture effects – but the fights themselves don’t pass muster. So what was the point of making this movie if not to tell a heroic slice-of-life tale? Get the cash registers ringing through faux theatrics? It doesn’t work though!
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