Birth of the Dragon
It’s difficult to imagine a Kung fu movie about Bruce Lee’s famous showdown being anything less than gripping-the-edge-of-the-seat entertaining. George Nolfi’s biopic of America’s most beloved Kung fu master disappointingly falls short of the hype and leaves one with much to be desired. What could have easily been not only the next big kick-ass fighter film, but also an insightful glimpse into the life of an American icon, Birth of the Dragon never fully takes off.
The scene is 1960s San Francisco and Bruce Lee (Philip Ng) has taken the US by storm. A fellow Kung fu master by the name of Wong Jack Man (Yu Xia) has come to the Bay Area in a self-imposed exile and Lee is itching to fight him for the title. It’s a fusion of east meets west in every sense; from the ideology behind the martial art to its practice in the real-world, Wong and Lee stand in opposing camps. One of Lee’s students, Steve McKee (Billy Magnussen), meets and befriends Wong Jack Man and subsequently learns the more traditional values of the martial art from him. As his world expands, he meets a Chinese girl, Xiulan (Jingjing Qu), whom he’s determined to save from a dark future. Ultimately, Wong accepts Lee’s invitation to fight, with the provision being that Xiulan will be freed from her servitude if a clear winner emerges.
Perhaps the key fault of this film is that Philip Ng as Bruce Lee, titular character and supposed hero, feels more like the villain in this story. He’s painted as a sell-out who pawned the secrets of an ancient Chinese art to the American masses. Wong Jack Man is more or less sent to give him a dose of humility and play into the cliche of old versus new. Furthermore, the climactic battle – the clash of the masters, the whole premise of the film – is somehow overshadowed by the distracting subplot of the chivalrous white guy who’s hell bent on winning the love of his Chinese damsel in distress. Birth of the Dragon is hardly a story about Bruce Lee and this iconic duel but more so a confused amalgamation of fight scenes, an obligatory love story and hackneyed genre stereotypes.
The title alone suggests that Birth of a Dragon would be a flattering homage to the Kung fu craze and the masters who started it. Somewhere along the way we get lost in the augmented storyline and end up with something that feels forced and therefore uncompelling. It’s as if in trying to make the story even more interesting, the creative team actually damaged the potential impact. Although the film ends with positive resolutions across the board one is left feeling anything but satisfied.
Birth of the Dragon is relseased nationwide on 23rd February 2018.
Watch the trailer for Birth of the Dragon here: